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Christopher S. Donaldson (1877-1949)

Mining innovator Christopher Donaldson spent a lifetime in the mining industry, and was just 13 years old when he first went to work in the coalmines of Stirlingshire, Scotland. Though he was soon working full time to support his family after his father died, Donaldson was encouraged to attend night classes, five days a week at a nearby college. He eventually quit his job at the mine to attend full-time school in Edinburgh. He earned his mine manager certificate and returned home as a manager's assistant.

In 1907, Donaldson moved from Scotland to Alberta, settling in Lethbridge to take a low level position at Galt Mine No.3. He was soon promoted to fire boss, and with the increased earnings, was able to marry his fiancée, Katherine Wilson, in 1908.

The following year, Donaldson was badly injured on the job and, during his seven-year recovery, founded the North Lethbridge Realty Company, enjoying great success until the boom collapsed several years later.

Christopher Donaldson with a group of pupilsNever one to stray far from mining, however, from 1917 to 1920, Donaldson taught night classes in mining at the Westminster School under the Lethbridge school board. He was appointed manager of Grace Mine and held the position until 1919 when he accepted a proposal to open a mine near Diamond City, just north of Lethbridge. This venture was grounded when the money ran out and Donaldson left the project to work for the Federal Mine (formerly Grace mine).

In 1921, when fire ripped through a powerhouse at the Federal Mine and normal operations ground to a halt, Donaldson seized the opportunity and took over. The mine soon proved to be profitable, as a large seam of coal was left exposed and recent additions to the nearby Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) made transporting coal to eastern Canada cost effective.

As an inventor, Donaldson patented a coal and rock separator in 1924, which was a device that used a system of inclined planes to mechanically separate coal from gravel. He also devised a method of sorting the coal according to size, which increased plant production to 200 tonnes per shift and created jobs for 50 men.

In 1927, Donaldson received two freehold sections of coal rights north of Lethbridge and set up operations in the area. A deep valley ran through the section, exposing coal seams of up to nine feet in height. With the financial backing from a Montreal investor, he combined his two mines under the name Cadillac Coal Company Ltd.

After a nearly a decade of success in the area, Donaldson joined in the amalgamation of the CPR mines and the North American Collieries under the new name, Lethbridge Collieries. He remained the manager of Cadillac Mines, but took on the further responsibility of director of the new firm. He was appointed general manager of Lethbridge Collieries in 1943, retiring just a few years later.

A truly innovative and dedicated mining professional, Christopher Donaldson received a lifetime membership in the Engineering Institute of Canada for his contribution to the coal mining industry.

External Link: Alberta's coal resources, development and distribution

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