At the turn of the 20th century, Hillcrest was a
model settlement for mining towns in the Crowsnest Pass. Admired
for its well-organized streets, planned waterways, and safe
mines, the town flourished, between the years of 1905 and 1914.
In the early years, the town prospered as the markets continued
to demand the commodities produced in the town.
Hillcrest was born from the strength of the coalfields in the
vicinity. In 1898, Charles Plummer Chippy Hill of Port Hill,
Idaho, came to the Crowsnest Pass and chanced upon a rich coal
outcropping. Four years later, he staked out a claim on the
land, purchased the mineral rights, and created the Hillcrest
Coal and Coke Company.
The company built a town that would become a model of forward
thinking. Town-planners looked well into the future by mapping
its main streets to be 24 metres wide to account for future
growth. Laying tracks was the first task when the town was built
in 1905, and by 1910, workers constructed the Hillcrest Station,
completing the sidetracks for Hillcrest cars.
The company chose its townsite well. Fresh water was drawn
from nearby Drum Creek, the Chinook winds created a lovely
climate, and the coal was of high quality. The Hillcrest Coal
and Coke Company built one of the fastest growing towns in the
Pass. By 1914, the population of Hillcrest had reached 1,000
Apart from the town, the mine was also well organized. When
the town was first constructed, the Hillcrest Coal and Coke
Company moved quickly to draw a population by building cottages
and homes for its workers. Early on, the company aimed high, and
believed that it was possible to draw 2,000 tonnes of coal per
day. By 1914, the company built a mine considered one of the
safest and best run in the Pass, could boast 344 men on the
payroll, and were fast approaching their lofty goal.
That was before tragedy struck. On 19 June 1914, when the 237
miners trundled off to work in the morning, no one knew some of
them would not return home. At 9:30 a.m., a massive explosion
tore through the mine, collapsing the roof, burying miners and
horses alike. The magnitude of the blast destroyed any structure
nearby. The engine house that stood 30 metres from the mouth of
the pit was completely destroyed, the roof blown 12 metres back
and its 20 centimetre concrete wall smashed.
Although rescuers acted quickly to find survivors, it became
apparent that few lived through the explosion. In total, 48 men
came out alive, while the rest remained buried 30 centimetres
apart in a mass grave. Almost every family in the area lost a
family member, leaving 400 children fatherless.
Since the mine closed in 1939, the coal industry in the area
has since shut down. Today, Hillcrest is a quiet town marked
with three large gravesites surrounded by a picket fence. The
cemetery was designated a Provincial Historic Resource in