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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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Mining Companies
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Mine office sign and miners' safety helmets, Crowsnest Museum.The impact of the miners was balanced by the pervasive presence of the companies in the towns. After establishing the communities, the mining firms continued to exert substantial influence, not only at the mine sites but also frequently in the towns proper, by controlling housing, stores, and public works. The situation tended to deepen the conflict between capital and labour. Company stores tended to charge high prices. During strikes, the owners sometimes used housing and stores as weapons, evicting miners and refusing them credit to buy supplies.1

Old miner's cabin in the Crowsnest Pass.The extent of company influence varied in different parts of the region. It was most complete in towns where owners controlled all the property. Beginning in the 1880s, conservation and tourism concerns led governments to set aside virtually all of the Alberta Rockies to the north of the main line of the CPR at Banff for parks and forestry reserves. This land remained crown property. Paradoxically, industrial activity was still permitted. Governments allowed coal mine owners to obtain long-term leases, which permitted them to set themselves up as the sole `proprietors' of the area. Individuals could not own property, nor could communities incorporate themselves. The companies in the secluded camps of the Coal Branch, Nordegg, Bankhead, and Brule controlled all the housing, stores, hotels, and theatres.2

Store interior exhibit, Crowsnest Museum.In other coalfields, entrepreneurial control was considerably less extensive. In the Drumheller Valley, for instance, many owners did not have enough sufficient capital to invest in housing or company stores. In the Crowsnest Pass, company influence tended to lessen over time. At first, a series of towns emerged in which the companies owned all the property-at Michel, Coal Creek, and other places. The owners, however, soon realized that this situation tended to worsen relations with workers, and greater stability tended to result when miners were allowed to own their own property. Shortly after 1900, the Crows Nest Pass Coal Company, and other firms, began offering lots for sale. By the First World War, most entrepreneurs had divested themselves of company stores, which had proven a great provocation both to miners and independent businessmen, and were in the process of selling their residential holdings.3

Miners' CottagesRegardless of the housing situation, the company continued to be physically represented in most towns by its managers. Managers usually lived apart from the miners in better housing provided by the companies, often in more attractive locations. At Hillcrest and Frank in the Pass, for instance, the houses of the officials were perched on hills overlooking the rows of miners' cottages. At Nordegg, managers and workers literally lived on different sides of the tracks.4

William N.T. Wylie, "Coal-Mining Landscapes: Commemorating Coal Mining in Alberta and Southeastern British Columbia," a report prepared for the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Parks Canada Agency, 2001.

See Also: The Coal Industry—Overview, Rapid Expansion, Domestic and Steam Coalfields, 1914-1947: The Struggling Industry, Collapse and Rebirth, Settlement of the West, Issues and Challenges—Overview, Entrepreneurship, Technology, Underground Techniques, Surface Technology, Surface Mining, Social Impacts, Unions, 1882-1913: Unionization and Early Gains, 1914-1920: Revolutionary Movement, 1921-1950s: Labour Unrest and Setbacks, Mining Companies, People of the Coal Mines, The Middle Class, Miners and Local Government, Politics and Economics , Environmental Impacts, Health and Safety—Overview The State and Labour Relations, The State and Development after 1918.
 

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