1883 to 1901, the Lethbridge Coal District was the most
important coal mining area in Alberta, out producing the
combined efforts of all other districts in the province.
From 1883 to 1891 the Lethbridge mines produced more than 86
percent of all coal in Alberta, and for the next ten years they
contributed no less than 51 percent or more of the province's
coal. Much of the dominance of the Lethbridge Coal
District had to do with the proximity of the
CPR line and
its need for coal.
After 1931, Lethbridge miners continued to supply Canada well
into the twentieth century. Instead of supplying the CPR
locomotives, Lethbridge became a supplier of domestic coal, and
thus the area was notoriously sensitive to market forces.
Domestic coal users consisted of thousands of households buying
a large supply for winter heating and cooking and the occasional
summer cooking as well. Since the
buyers in the prairies tended to be farmers, coal demand
fluctuated with agricultural prices and weather. A year of
long, cold winters or completive prices for wheat meant good
fortune for Lethbridge coal.
The ties of Lethbridge's mining industry to domestic users led to
significant demand fluctuations from year to year. Months
of full employment could suddenly shift to mass layoffs.
During the early twentieth century, labour relations between
company officials and miners strained with each fluctuation and
layoff of seasonal workers.
Miner unrest ensued leading to
commonality of strikes and lockouts between 1905 - 1931.
Watch Julius Peta as he reminisces about his career in the mines
at Drumheller, including the tragedies and benefits, in this
video produced by CFCN Television.