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Nordegg: A German Entrepreneur's Bold Dream and Heartbreak
When Mountain Park closed, miners raced to other nearby Coal Branch towns for work. Scores journeyed south to Canmore and the Crowsnest Pass. But some headed southeast to Big West Country—a vast alpine wilderness just inside the first eastern range of the Rocky Mountains. It was a land of pioneer dreams since British explorer David Thompson trailblazed there in the early 1800s.

CottagesA century later, a German entrepreneur named Martin Cohn unveiled another vision—a revolutionary Rocky Mountain garden city paradise known as Nordegg. It was planned to be a coal mining community unlike any other. But the town ultimately faced heartbreak and oblivion. And so too did its founder.

By the turn of the 20th century, thousands of European immigrants had established roots in the Prairies. Officials in Ottawa were looking westward. The Canadian government advertised heavily to lure foreign investment. European bankers were attracted, and in 1906 the German Development Company sent ambitious young entrepreneur Martin Cohn to scout out business opportunities in the new country.

Cohn had a talent for people. Everywhere he went he was liked, by rich and poor. This talent proved important throughout his Canadian story, and it enabled him to mix and survive in any social and political circle. Shortly after arriving in Canada, Cohn was in the company of Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier and senior Ottawa bureaucrats. The prime minister suggested to Cohn he look into mining ventures and the German businessman followed his lead.

When Cohn met noted Dominion Geological surveyor Donaldson Bogart Dowling in 1907, he had already located, mapped and assessed large quantities of coal strata in the Rocky Mountains, north of areas being mined in the Crowsnest Pass and Banff. Using his high-powered Ottawa connections, Cohn persuaded Interior Minister Frank Oliver to have Dowling accompany him on a western prospecting tour.

MineAfter setting up camp at the magnificent Bighorn Falls in the summer of 1907, the prospecting team staked four coal fields in Big West Country. That same year, another coal field was staked southwest of Banff on Mount Allan, the eventual site for alpine skiing at the 1988 Winter Olympic Games. On that tour, Dowling also drew the first boundaries for Jasper National Park.
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Reprinted with the permission of Johnnie Bachusky.
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