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.
Never 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.
Alberta's coal resources, development and distribution
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