The economy of mining towns was precarious and dependent on
economic cycles based on the increase or decline in demand. When
coal prices and demand were high, mining companies expanded,
opening more mines and establishing new settlements. Jobs were
plentiful, and companies hired all of the able-bodied workers
they could find. The call for employees extended beyond Canada,
and ultimately many immigrants found work. A coal miner could
make a decent living, providing coal prices were good. With few
worries about their income, miners often spent their money
freely. As a result of the spending, businesses prospered, new
enterprises were started, and many new settlements thrived.
Sudden downturns brought on
difficult times. Mining towns were dismal when coal markets were
in decline and mining companies wielded their sizable power,
threatening mine closures and layoffs. The threat of
unemployment pushed stressed miners to turn to unions for
supportan approach that often resulted in labour unrest and strikes. Once
a strike happened, the future of the mine could be in doubt.
Bankhead is an example of a town effectively ended by labour
disputes. Opened by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in 1904,
the Bankhead Mine was created to supply the company with fuel in
the Canmore area. In its first year, the town boomed, employing
135 new labourers underground, and another 39 on the surface.
The following year, the enterprise grew and the figures doubled.
In the next decades, relative success was maintained. In the
midst of such success, miners chose to refuse to work, as a
method of gaining rights. After two months of picketing, the
company issued an ultimatumend the strike or the mine would
close. Workers held out only to discover the threat was real. On
15 June 1922, the Bankhead Mine was shut down for good.
A 1946 Royal Commission on Coal Report summed up:
"Markets, rather than resources, are the fundamental problem of
the Alberta coal mining industry." The fate of the towns
explored in this section illustrates the utter dependence on the
market value of coal. In some settlements, success was rapid,
while others, deemed unprofitable, were abandoned as quickly as
they were established.
Bibliography of the Crowsnest Pass