by Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D.
The Drumheller Valley is located in a unique geographic location of central Alberta described as badlands (likely from the French, terres mauvaises). It is an area where wind and water erosion have shaped the landscape to create winding gullies and outcroppings of rock known as hoodoos. The Red Deer River is the major river system. While today Drumheller is world-renowned for its dinosaur fossils and the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaentology, in the early part of the 20th century, it came to prominence for its coal resources. The area began as a ranching community in 1897. The coming of the railroads meant that coal mines had to be located strategically close to rail lines. For the Drumheller Valley, it was the building of the Canadian Northern Railway branch line to the Drumheller Valley that spurred the development of the region. In 1910, Col. Samuel Drumheller bought the townsite just before the economy of the region took off. As Howard and Tamara Palmer note in their Alberta: A New History:
Drumheller was transformed from a ranching backwater to a transportation, commercial, and coal-mining centre. By the 1920s, the Drumheller Valley had a population of 10,000, including approximately 200 miners who worked in twenty-nine different mines producing coal for domestic use. Drumheller itself had a population of 2500 by 1921.
Myrtle Toshach and Bill Murphy, writing in The Hills of Home: Drumheller Valley (Drumheller: Drumheller Valley Historical Association 1973) note that, between 1912 and 1960, 124 mines were producing in the region. As with the other mining areas of the province (including Edmonton region, the Rockies, Nordegg, the Coal Branch and Lethbridge/Coalhurst) immigrants from Italy, as well as those already in eastern Canada and the US, were attracted by plentiful work.