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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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People of the Coal Mines

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Seager argues that the process of cultural integration was never complete. Residual ethnic loyalties, suspicions, and hostilities lasted into the 1940s. Nonetheless, there was a growing emphasis on commonality and mutuality, as successive generations of native-born children succeeded the original immigrants, and the communities grew closer together. The process was cut short prematurely by the decline of the industry and the collapse of many of the coal towns in the 1950s.1

The Middle Class

Luigi was born in Meritto de Tomba and came to Canada in 1903 settling in Bellevue where he worked in the Bellevue and Hillcrest Mines.A substantial group of merchants and professionals also emerged in some towns to stand between the mine owners and workers. This middle class offered a point of view that was independent of the other two, though usually more sympathetic to the owners, and their emphasis on property rights and social order, than to miners and their strike weapon.

The strength of the middle class varied in different communities. It was very small and ineffectual in towns where the companies controlled the property and granted leases only to selected merchants, doctors, and other professionals. In other towns, dependent solely on mining, such as many in the Crowsnest Pass, the middle class was often slow to appear, but eventually became a significant factor. In centres like Edmonton, Lethbridge, and the town of Drumheller, where economic activities were more diverse, the commercial and social elites were much more imposing. 2

Domestic interior exhibit, Crowsnest Museum.The middle class in many towns tended to be divided from the miners and sympathetic to the mine managers. The merchants, doctors, and other professionals usually lived apart from the workers, sometimes in the same neighbourhoods as the company officials. The families of the businessmen and the managers often socialized, and sometimes were connected by kinship. Ethnicity played a part in separating the two groups from the working class. In Lethbridge and the Drumheller Valley, for example, the middle class and the managers were primarily English­speaking people of British descent, many of whom had journeyed from eastern Canada. They had little in common with the majority of the workers who were continental Europeans. The social vision of the two groups tended to stress the value of entrepreneurial initiative and, sometimes, respect for the British Empire-qualities not necessarily admired by the miners.3

In spite of these tendencies, the middle class in some communities strove for greater independence from the coal companies. The first step was municipal incorporation which established an authority separate from that wielded by the company. This was not possible in the towns of the Coal Branch and in Nordegg, where restrictions on land use precluded the emergence of local government, and was never achieved in some communities in the Crowsnest Pass and elsewhere. In other cases, however, formal town status did occur by the early 1900s, and the middle class took control of local government. By no means subservient to the companies, local politicians at Blairmore set a course with which the companies did not agree, raising taxes to support new schools. At Lethbridge, after 1900, the administration encouraged irrigation projects to open up the surrounding area to agricultural settlement, and make it less dependent on coal.4

William N.T. Wylie, "Coal-Mining Landscapes: Commemorating Coal Mining in Alberta and Southeastern British Columbia," a report prepared for the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Parks Canada Agency, 2001.

See Also: The Coal Industry—Overview, Rapid Expansion, Domestic and Steam Coalfields, 1914-1947: The Struggling Industry, Collapse and Rebirth, Settlement of the West, Issues and Challenges—Overview, Entrepreneurship, Technology, Underground Techniques, Surface Technology, Surface Mining, Social Impacts, Unions, 1882-1913: Unionization and Early Gains, 1914-1920: Revolutionary Movement, 1921-1950s: Labour Unrest and Setbacks, Mining Companies, People of the Coal Mines, The Middle Class, Miners and Local Government, Politics and Economics , Environmental Impacts, Health and Safety—Overview, The State and Labour Relations, The State and Development after 1918.

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