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Heritage Community Foundation Presents
Alberta Online Encyclopedia
When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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Mining Methods
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Coal miners "pick mining" at the Newcastle mine, season of 1914/15. This coal seam is very low. Notice that, with even the miners kneeling, the mine roof is slightly over their heads, making this seam slightly over three feet. There is a lack of timber placed for protection, so the roof must have been very safe and durable. There are only two miners wearing carbide lamps.Until the 1960s, when technology changed the way coal could be removed, accessing buried coal in Western Canada involved digging a tunnel near a seam. Branching off this main tunnel were smaller passages that ran in the seam and allowed miners to retrieve the coal. If the coal seam was extensive, the mine would consist of a complex network of tunnels many kilometres deep. The first miners often worked by hand, using picks and shovels to dig and load the coal into one-ton coal cars. "Pit ponies" or horses moved the coal from deep in the mine to the surface using coal filled car trains. However, in cases where horses were could not access the tunnels, pit crews pushed the cars themselves.

Labour accounted for the biggest expense to mining companies, and the search for technologies to reduce manual labour developed throughout the 1900s. Mechanization became important to coal mining as devices such as the "air pick" reduced labour costs and increased efficiency. In some mines however, hand mining continued for many years in areas where sparks and explosions were of greater concern.

The most common underground techniques were "room and pillar" and "long wall" mining. These were traditional techniques that had been used in Europe before the development of mines in North America. Today, "surface mining" is more common and safer method of accessing coal that is close to the surface and is not impeded by mountains.

This section explores the most common methods of coal mining in the early 1900s to today.


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