Tuesday, March 10, 2009  
   Volume 79 - Issue 10 Website:www.passherald.ca   email: passherald@shaw.ca   $1.00   
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Quote of the Week

“Usually if a cougar comes to town, there’s something wrong with them. Usually they don’t want anything to do with us.”

- John Clarke  
- on cougar safety   


If you’re heading west  towards Banff on the highway and you turn right off the traffic circle just outside of Banff and go down the Lake Minnewanka loop road about 4 miles you will pass by the remains of a turn of the century coal mine known as "Bankhead".  Very little remains of the mine and town site today but there is a nice interpretive walk around trail with signs set up by Parks Canada at the site.
Bankhead was named after a Scottish town of the same name and means, "The head of the seam".  It was developed in 1903 by a natural resources arm of the CPR known as the "Pacific Coal Company."  Its development occurred about the same time as the Hosmer Mine site just east of Fernie, which was another CPR mine. They were CPR's attempt at getting into the coal market to supply its own needs and also to capitalize on a booming market at the time.  CPR invested heavily in Bankhead and like Hosmer overequipped it in the unsteady coal industry.
The coals that were mined in its brief 20-year history were semi-anthracite and semi-bituminous grades from the Cascade Basin and proved to be very friable.  That is to say a good percentage, about 35 of it, broke up and turned to dust after sliding down steeply pitching chutes underground.  Bankhead coal was good for domestic and industrial use but the amount lost to fines convinced CPR to install a briquetting plant in 1907.  Briquette coal was in high demand back then and could be used in all areas including locomotive steam generation, a fact rather important to CPR.  Briquettes were a popular form of coal for consumption for some time.  They were coal fines mixed with molten pitch, poured into molds, pressed and allowed to cool.  In Bankhead's case the pitch was imported from Pennsylvania via Sault Ste Marie, no doubt making it an expensive process.
As mining towns go Bankhead was as typical as they get with it's collection of serviced and unserviced cottages and a complement of stores.  There was also a Chinese ghetto area by the slack heaps close to the Cascade River.  The Chinese were employed in the cleaning plant as "slate pickers", picking rock and boney coal from the good coal on picking tables. Bankhead was projected to reach 2,000 plus population but it barely made half that.  The populace was highly mixed with Germans, Italians, Swedish, Polish, Irish and Chinese and unlike allot of other mining communities all ethnic peoples got along well.  Also, like Hosmer, the mine's powerhouse provided electricity for the town except in Bankhead's case it supplied the Banff townsite as well.
Like many boom and bust mine towns Bankhead came and went quickly, meeting its demise in 1922.
The coal friability problem combined with reduced demand and growing competition brought this overbuilt mine to the edge of collapse.  A general strike that lasted 8 months in 1922 was the final blow and the mines were closed.
It is said that when Hosmer closed in 1914 all the lights in town went out at once.  In Bankhead's case the powerhouse was kept running long enough for the government to build a hydro powerhouse below the Minnewanka Dam.  By 1928 Bankhead had ceased to exist as a town.  As happened with many mining towns that closed down, the whole town was dismantled or scrapped.  National Park policy that had been lenient enough to allow resource development there at the time was tightened and the decision was taken to remove all evidence of Bankhead.  Houses were sold for $50; some 38 of them were moved to Banff, others to Lake Minnewanka and Canmore.  The Catholic Church wound up in Calgary's Forest Lawn area and the CPR station now resides at the corner of Moose and Otter streets in Banff and has been made into a very nice youth hostel.
The parallels between Hosmer and Bankhead are many and varied but there is one interesting difference between them.  While Hosmer had a fairly well developed cemetery Bankhead's on the other hand had only one occupant.  He was a worker of Chinese descent who was murdered on the avalanche slope south of Bankhead.  Originally when a death occurred in Bankhead the burial took place in Banff, resulting in a very long funeral procession to that town. (About 5 miles).  Since no off sale liquor was allowed by CPR in Bankhead, apres funeral imbibing in Banff generally got out of hand.  In 1907 the park superintendent's protests to the Bankhead mine manager on this issue resulted in the planning of a cemetery at the mine.  It was completed 9 years later! (So what's to construct?)  The problem was, no one wanted to be buried there.  Local superstition held that the family of the first person buried there would be forever cursed with bad luck.  When this fact was finally realized, in 1921, 14 years after the cemetery's conception (bad word for a cemetery) the superintendent arranged for the first burial there.  It was, you guessed it, our lone Chinese friend, named Chee Yow.
Bankheaders never had a chance to use the cemetery as the mine closed the following year, in 1922.  In 1939 the cemetery was closed and its sole occupant, Chee Yow, was disinterred and shipped back to China.
So if you get the chance, drop by Bankhead and take a stroll around its scant remains. They are in a beautiful setting, tucked up against the foot of Cascade Mountain. If you’re lucky you'll find some exotic Chinese rhubarb growing wild over by the slack heaps.
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John Kinnear Archives

   Volume 79 - Issue 10 Website:www.passherald.ca   email: passherald@shaw.ca   $1.00   
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