September 16th, 2015 ~ Vol. 85 No. 36
Looking Back - John Kinnear
A Mountain, a Major and a Tunnelling Company
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Photos courtesy of Joe Pozzi and Bellevue Mine and Herald Contributor
R.W. Coulthard and family 1910
There is a giant semi-circle of mountains to the southwest of Coleman that lie at the headwaters of North York Creek. They are part of the Flathead Range and consist of Mount McLaren, Mount Parrish, Andy Good Peak and Mount Coulthard. In the upper reaches of this cirque are the entrances to a major cave system within Mount Coulthard and at the base of Coulthard lies the remains of that DC-3 that crashed in 1946 claiming seven Canadian Military men’s lives.

The man this mountain was named after has a fascinating history but try as I might I could not find the exact date as to when “the powers that be” decided to attach his name to this magnificent peak. I did find a reference however in the Blairmore Enterprise in December of 1941 saying that members of the Crows’ Nest Pass Ski Club had planned to drive out to Mount Coulthard for an outing. So sometime before that date I would guess.

Looking back we find the mountain’s namesake, Robert Wilson Coulthard, was in his early career a sales agent for the Crows Nest Pass Coal Company in Fernie. In 1909 he left there to come to work for West Canadian Collieries (WCC) here in the Pass as mine manager for the Blairmore and Bellevue operations. It was during this time that the Bellevue Mine Explosion of December 9th, 1910 occurred and R.W. Coulthard was right in the middle of it. That horrific blast took the lives of 31 men including one of the rescuers. Research by respected Canadian labour, military and political historian David Jay Bercuson, in a paper done in 1978, shows R.W. to be a typical hard-nosed manager who resisted and ignored repeated government inspectors warning about conditions in Bellevue.

The most shocking of Bercuson’s revelations about this event comes from a little know fact about the inquest of 1910 in which Bercuson states: “No correspondence between the company, mines inspector E. Heathcote, who regularly visited the colliery, and Chief Provincial Mines Inspector John T. Stirling, was entered into evidence. Stirling told the inquest that those documents were "confidential and privileged."6 The deliberations of the jury were thus based solely on the testimony of witnesses though the correspondence would have shed much light on the company's sorry record of violations of safety standards and its failure to comply with government orders.”
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So it was that Coulthard continued on in his duties with WCC until February of 1912 when the Blairmore Enterprise (B.E.) reported his somewhat abrupt resignation from the company. It stated: “Mr. Coulthard has been for two years the president of our local Board of Trade in which he always took a great personal interest and with the sole purpose of furthering the welfare of those whom it represented, namely the townspeople of Blairmore.” The next reference to him can be found several months later when the paper refers to him being engaged by the city committee (of Calgary) to: “make a preliminary report on the coal leases that are still available.” A most curious commentary that suggests that cowtown was looking to get into the coal business back then.

A December 24th, 1915 article in the B.E. entitled “Mining Engineers For New Company” reveals that Bob Coulthard was now: “commander of the No. 2 Tunnelling Company of engineers at present being formed in Calgary”. The 2nd Canadian Tunnelling Company was one of three tunnelling companies of the Canadian Military Engineers formed at this time during World War I. These tunnelling units were occupied in offensive and defensive mining involving the placing and maintaining of mines under enemy lines, as well as other underground work such as the construction of deep dugouts for troop accommodation, the digging of subways, saps (a narrow trench dug to approach enemy trenches), cable trenches and underground chambers for signals and medical services.

By the time R.W. Coulthard was charged with No. 2 Company’s formation he had been a mining engineer for sixteen years and had considerable military experience with militia regiments, having held commissions in the Kootenay Rifles of Fernie and the 4th Field Troop of Canadian engineers in Calgary.
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The Canadian Expeditionary Forces (CEF) nominal roll of officers, non-commissioned officers and men for No. 2 Tunnelling Company has about 300 names listed with Major Robert Wilson Coulthard at the very top. They came from all across Alberta and British Columbia. Of those 300 Joe Pozzi, an dedicated and thorough CEF researcher with roots here in the Pass, sent me a list of 25 men from Coleman, Blairmore, Bellevue, Hillcrest, Frank and Lundbreck that sailed from Halifax on the S.S. Missanabie on January 22, 1916. The Missanabie was eventually sunk on September 9th, 1918 by German U-Boat U-87 off the coast of Ireland with the loss of 45 crew.

The story behind the whole underground war conducted beneath the trenches and battlefields of the Western Front during World War One is as bizarre and disturbing as anything I have ever researched in military history. I hope to share with you in future articles how it all unfolded, as I delve deeper into this remarkable story. Suffice to say that the sappers played an extremely important and poorly recognized part in bringing about an end to the insanity that was World War One. You will come to understand the significance of names like Mount Sorrel and Messines and have a broader understanding of how coal miners from Canada, Australia and Great Britain pitted their skills and their lives against their German counterparts who early in the war in France understood the significance of Kriegsgeologie – geology in warfare.
September 16th ~ Vol. 85 No. 36
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