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Nordegg, Settlement

Nordegg was named after its founder, Martin Cohn, who changed his name to Nordegg in 1909. Cohn came to Canada (May, 1906) on invitation from Colonel Onésiphore Talbot, a Canadian Member of Parliament who believed Cohn was the type of man Canada needed. Cohn came to Ottawa representing the Deutsche Kanada Syndikat, which consisted of a group of Berlin investors. An Ottawa lawyer advised Cohn to form a limited liability company with a Dominion charter. In November, 1906, the newly formed, and larger, German Development Company consisted of the Deutsches Kanada Syndikat and a group of Canadian investors from Ottawa.

In 1907, D.B. Dowling, of the Geological Survey of Canada, guided Martin Cohn to coalfields Dowling had surveyed previously, along the Bighorn, North Saskatchewan, and Blackstone Rivers. The German Development Company purchased these, and the Kananaskis coal claim. Shortly afterward, the upsurge of interest in western Canada’s mineral potential resulted in new regulations, whereby coal fields would be leased, not purchased.

In 1909, Martin Cohn joined William Mackenzie and Donald Mann, Canadian Northern Railway barons, creating a new company, Brazeau Collieries. Coal holdings were amalgamated, creating a chain of coal fields along the Rockies’ eastern slopes, from Grand Cache area to Kananaskis. As the company name indicated, most Brazeau coal fields were near Brazeau River. Brazeau Collieries intended to supply much of the coal shipped onto the Canadian prairies, creating a coal mining empire. At this time Cohn changed his name to Nordegg which, in German, indicates "north corner."

The South Brazeau field was chosen to develop but, in 1911, the Nordegg coalfield was discovered. Building a rail line into this field, instead of South Brazeau, would save millions in construction costs. The Nordegg field was chosen for development, and as headquarters for Brazeau Collieries.

In late 1911, Nordegg mining began, with coal stockpiled until the railway arrived. The rails reached Nordegg late in 1913 and, in March 1914, the Canadian Northern Western Railway was taken over from the contractors. From Red Deer, Baird and McKenzie carpenters moved in, to construct the new town of Nordegg. Permanent minesite construction was done by Roberts and Schaeffer, of Chicago.

Martin Nordegg planned his town in a semi-circle, following the Canadian Northern Railway's Township plan for their subdivision in downtown Montreal. This subdivision later became known as Mount Royal, his Canadian Northern Railway partners had their “model town” blueprint hanging in the Toronto office where all three men worked. Nordegg saw how the western portion of the design would adapt beautifully to his western Alberta town.

In 1914, approximately 100 homes and many commercial buildings were constructed.
Beginning in 1914, all Nordegg buildings, including homes, had electricity generated at the minesite. Not even Alberta cities were fully electrified at that time. Nordegg eventually had almost 300 family homes, boarding houses for single men, churches, a hotel, Miners’ Club, the Bighorn Trading Company General Store, bakery/coffee shop, drugstore, meat market, bank, gymnasium, library and reading room, ice arena, curling rink, tennis courts, race track, baseball field, golf course, and the largest and most modern hospital outside of Edmonton and Calgary.

In June, 1915, Martin Nordegg, as a German citizen, was asked to move to the United States during WWI. This began the eventual disintegration of the dream of a western Alberta mining empire. By 1919, the Canadian Northern ran into serious financial difficulties, and was nationalized. That same year, Nordegg’s railway station was renamed Brazeau, although the post office remained Nordegg. Financial institutions now held controlling shares, making the decisions affecting Brazeau Collieries.

In 1923, Martin Nordegg sold the remaining shares in Brazeau Collieries, returning the money to original investors. Although he no longer controlled the town’s destiny, subsequent local management followed his plans. In 1947, Kananaskis coalfield was opened, and plans were reconsidered for South Brazeau and Bighorn fields.

However, in the 1950s, railways began converting to oil and diesel, and coal markets declined. Brazeau Collieries, and the town of Nordegg, closed in 1955. In 1963, a minimum-security prison was established in Nordegg, remaining until late 1994. In 1996, the Nordegg townsite and surrounding area was transferred to County Clearwater. Plans include redevelopment of the town core, following historical guidelines.

Unballasted Railway

Unballasted Railway

Brazeau Collieries

Brazeau Collieries