April 15th, 2015 ~ Vol. 85 No. 15
Looking Back - John Kinnear
When Everyone Used Coal
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Archive photo
Victory Coal - Every Car Trademarked
I think we tend to forget that not so long ago it was coal and only coal that heated our houses, churches, schools and factories. Every place had to take delivery of a few tons now and then and coal was stored in sheds or shovelled down chutes into basements.
I recall while working for Manalta Coal in their Calgary office in 1972 that I had occasion to walk into the office of a man in charge of coal marketing for their subsidiary, the Great West Coal Company. One of his walls had a giant map of western Canada on it on which there were hundreds of color coded pins. When I asked what they were for he informed me that they demarked all the places that the company shipped coal to. I was astounded at the implication and then got to thinking that, unlike here in the mountains, so many small prairie towns had no ready access to coal supplies and that coal would have to be shipped to them.
This selling and shipping business was a part of the coal industry that had a lot of competitiveness connected to it and producers advertised their products across the prairie provinces in magazines and in the press regularly. Ads from different mines across Alberta promised cleaner (water washed) coals that were hotter burning and lower in ash. Coal was advertised as being available in various sizes from lump, nut, egg and pea. Lump was also referred to as cobble and meant anything over 4 inches in size. Brazeau Collieries at Nordegg (near Rocky Mountain House) claimed to have Canada’s most modern fuel, that being Brazeau briquettes. They were made with: “the most up-to-date cleaning equipment” and it was stated that they were the perfect household fuel.
Alberta Coal Sales out of Edmonton sold Victory Coal which they claimed in their ads was free from dust, had no fly ash and would be promptly delivered. Many Victory coals were oil-treated which they claimed made it ignite quickly and give good heat. This type of coal was often referred to as oil stoker.
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Michel coal was advertised as “Canada’s Highest Quality Steam Coal” and the Crows Nest Pass Coal Company ad showed a branch office in Winnipeg.
It was not uncommon to see the name Winnipeg Supply and Fuel Company on buildings all across Western Canada. They helped facilitate the sale of a lot of different coals along with building materials like wood, brick, lime, Portland cement, fire brick and clay, sewer pipe and so on. At one time this company owned a lime kiln operation in the Pass. Those kilns are visible as you drive east through the Frank Slide on your right. Their head office was in Winnipeg but ads show them having agents in places like Yorkton, Edmonton, Regina and Saskatoon.
I recently discovered an ad for Hillcrest Mines steam coal in an old Spokane, Washington newspaper which showed more or less to what extent companies went to provide to far reaching markets what they all claimed was the finest steam coal around. CPR knew that mountain sub-bituminous coals usually delivered the highest heat value and when mined and cleaned properly could provide the best train coals.
Canmore Mines advertised in 1952 that their “Nu-Seam” briquettes were weather proofed and dust-treated and was Canada’s hottest fuel. Coal companies usually had distinct trade names for their coal like Drumheller’s Atlas Coal Mine’s “Wildfire Coal.” Sometimes suppliers randomly painted pieces of their coal with bright paint to distinguish them from other products.
Bryan Mountain hard coal, south of Hinton in the old Coal Branch area, was sold as Phoenix Premium Elkhorn Stoker coal. Their ad said their coal was: “Now Available in New 2 inch by 12 inch Domestic Furnace Size.” Lethbridge Collieries ads said: “Good Coal Makes Warm Friends” and sold Galt Mine Coal – “Burns All Night” and Cadillac Coal – “High In Heat.”
All across Western Canada coal products were marketed aggressively and with the assurance that theirs were the best burning, highest calorie and cleanest coals around.
April 15th ~ Vol. 85 No. 15
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