This mining company was established by two representatives of
the United Gold Fields Corporation, French prospectors who were
exploring the Gold Creek and Grassy Mountain region in
southwestern Alberta in 1901. The name was soon changed to the
Société anonyme de chemin de fer houllier de Canada and a
railroad was built between Frank and Grassy Mountain, very
difficult terrain which required 20 trestles. Only three loaded
cars could pass at the time. This was to serve the company
established in 1903 by Jules J. Fleutot and C. Remy, West
Canadian Collieries, Limited with the rights to exploit 20,000
acres of coal lands from Lille to Blairmore, with its head
office in the latter town.
Fleutot had been chief engineer with the marine steel mills
in northern France before coming to Canada. The management
personnel of the mine at Lille, named for the French city, and
at Bellevue, were French, as were many of the employees. Early
on, Lille was called the French Camp. Bellevue was named by
Fleutot’s 18 year old daughter, Élise, who visited from France
and exclaimed at the westward view: "Quelle belle vue!"
The mines at Lille and Bellevue were very progressive. In
1905, four Belgian coking ovens were installed, which were
considered to be the most modern in North America. The Lille
mine was very difficult to access and its quality of coal became less desirable;
the town was shut down and abandoned in
1913. Bellevue mine was devastated by an explosion in 1910 which
killed 30 miners. French and Belgian miners from this region
were very active in supporting the Free French Movement
championed by Gen Charles De Gaulle during World War II, and
helped to finance a schooner.
West Canadian Collieries, in a sense a very French name,
"West" and "Ouest" being pronounced identically, continued to
operate in the region through to the 1950s.