July 8th, 2015 ~ Vol. 85 No. 27
Looking Back - John Kinnear
The Cycle of Lime - Ancient Chemistry
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Herald Contributor,photo
Lime kilns showing steam hoist and stack of slab wood on east side
So it seems that the history of the usage of lime, like that generated for a time at the Frank Lime Kilns, goes back at least 14,000 years. Burning limestone rock at high temperatures produces a mineral (lime) that was used in such historic monuments as the Great Wall of China and the Coliseum and Pantheon in Rome. They, along with places like Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, serve as a global legacy of lime use. As a chemical, a useful material for medical purposes or food preparation, a building material or an artistic medium, lime has and continues to touch our lives in many ways.
The term cycle of lime, I discovered, is the simple chemical explanation of how this product is produced and ironically then returns to its former state. It seems that when limestone (calcium carbonate - CaCO3) is heated, the carbon dioxide (CO2) is driven off to produce quicklime or CaO. Then water is added and we get what they call slaked lime, Ca (OH)2-calcium hydroxide, which can be used as mortar. Once applied it begins to reabsorb CO2 from the air and we come full circle- Ca(OH)2 + CO2 yields CaCO3(limestone) + H2O (water). Tadah!
Recently I had occasion to revisit the Frank kilns with one of the consultants working on Phase Three of the Municipal Heritage Inventory Project. Robert Earley, who is an associate and researcher with Community Design Strategies, met me at the site to formally document it by photograph and investigate its value. Incidentally government regs mandate that this photo documentation has to be in black and white and on film, not digital. Robert and I spent a fascinating couple of hours wandering the site and here is what we found.
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A brief history is in order here first. The property was purchased, in 1909, by Henderson and Christie from Guelph, Ontario, who used local realtor Joe Little as their front-man when acquiring it. Construction of the first two cast concrete kilns occurred in 1910 and then the operation was sold to the Winnipeg Fuel and Supply Co (which still exists today) in 1912 and its manager George Pattinson had a third stone kiln added. There was a strong demand for quick lime for construction in those days.
The history of this demand in Canada can be traced back to the 1600’s and is a founding industry of this country. There is a beautifully reconstructed kiln at the Fortress of Louisburg where lime was essential to Louisburg’s growth. Around 1740 it became one of the most extensive (and expensive!) European fortifications ever constructed in North America.
The first two Frank kilns were poured concrete, built by H.J. Pozzi and according to the Blairmore Enterprise each contained 600 cubic yards of concrete. In order to burn limestone (calcination), a small narrow gauge railway bed was insinuated into the east edge of the slide and limestone of no bigger roughly than a football was either collected or broken to size for the kilns. (stonebreaker - what a God awful job!) It was loaded onto metal cars and pulled by horses back to an elevated platform behind the kilns. There was a steam hoist there that lifted the containers up and dumped them into the top of the kiln.
Part of our detective work that day was to find this road bed and retrace its length to its end. The way the rock lies in the slide, trust me when I say we knew where it ended. Even ground is rare in the slide. What we discovered instead was a beautiful myriad of dozens of interconnected trails wending amongst the massive boulders in what must have been a back breaking exercise for years. Put retracing this remarkable network of trails on your bucket list. You will not be disappointed and the walk is relatively easy. Our wanderings also revealed another roadway going briefly east from the backside of the kilns and cutting north directly to the CPR tracks which are close by. There we found evidence of old coal alongside the tracks and a small rock ramp in the trees.
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The assumption was then made by us that coal was used for generating the 900 degree centigrade temperatures needed for calcination. But the picture of the kilns in Crowsnest and Its People (page 141) reveals a huge stack of slab wood on its east side which could mean either it was a wood only heating process or a combination of both. According to Jean (Pattinson) Read in her account of the site “slab wood was used for fuel (probably from McLaren’s Mill west of Blairmore”). Very little clinkers are in evidence around the kilns so it is entirely possible that the coal was used elsewhere, perhaps for the small community that existed just to the south of the kilns known as Lime City. Lime City had bunk houses for the men and most residences there were built well back to avoid the considerable smoke from the kilns.
The third kiln made of limestone boulders that was added early on in this industrial site’s short history is obvious on the west side by its different appearance and required large wooden cross bracings to help hold it together. All kilns were of course brick lined but the process of how the limestone was heated is not in evidence at the site as it appears the kilns were stripped of their hardware. Lime drawn from the bottom of the kilns was loaded into barrels and shipped by rail from the spur line at the site.
World War One lessened the demand for lime and by 1918 the lime works were shut down and permanently closed in 1922. The kilns have protective cages blocking any entrance to them and special fencing to prevent any falls from their platforms. Today these silent sentinels stand quietly on the slide’s east side. They are missing a lot of the original wood framing around them, but appear to be none the worse for wear after sitting unused for 93 years. To my mind they are indeed a candidate for designation.
Developing this site further is also an interesting exercise to contemplate. In Stonewall, Manitoba a similar site with three limestone towers has been converted into what they call Stonewall Quarry Park. The quarry and kilns ran for over seventy years until 1967 and the site has been converted by the community into a wonderful park and interpretive area. (see stonewallquarrypark.ca)
July 8th ~ Vol. 85 No. 27
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