March 30th, 2016 ~ Vol. 85 No. 13
Looking Back - John Kinnear
On Knowing Your Watersheds – Pelletier, Blairmore and Gold
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
John Kinnear photo
Topographic map of drainages labelled and referred to in text
Returning once again to our precious waterways, let’s move north from Blairmore and look at some of the streams that make their way to the Crow from that direction. The three courses I want to look back at historically are Pelletier (1), Blairmore (2) and Gold Creek (3) which, like almost every other drainage in the Pass, have seen some form of major industrial activity around them at one time or another.

Pelletier Creek is named after Henry S. Pelletier an entrepreneur who is credited with the discovery of coal at the base of Turtle Mountain in 1900 and who promptly sold this claim to Samuel W. Gebo. The following year Gebo had an entry driven into Turtle Mountain, 45 feet above the river and the rest is history as they say. Pelletier ran a logging operation up the Forestry Trunk road north of Coleman and had a mill just west of McLaren’s on the west side of Blairmore.

Pelletier Creek starts on the northeast flank of Saskatoon Mountain and its eight kilometers of stream runs along the east side of Coleman, crosses under the highway and passes along the edge of the pole mill on its way to the large willow pond across from Servus. A pair of geese has been nesting in this swampy area for years and when the water levels get too low they move off across the tracks with their goslings to the old river meander. I actually had to help a couple of these goslings on that move one year as they were too small to jump over the rails. They kept falling back and you would not have believed the fierce show the parents put on as I approached these hapless little critters running down the edge of the tracks.

I was stunned by the massive extent of Blairmore Creek tributaries once I had hi-lighted it on a topographic map. I had not realized how far north its beginnings were and exploring its length is yet another bucket list item for me. Its main course starts 15 kilometres north of the river and at least twenty first and second order streams East McGillivray Ridge and West Grassy Mountain combine to maintain this gorgeous mountain gem that eventually runs past the golf course. It seems that before we started rearranging water courses around here Blairmore Creek used to run straight south through where the hospital and shopping center properties are (see 1913 map photo). Probably right past the McLaren’s Mill.
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Moving on finally to Gold Creek I was even more gobsmacked when I studied its drainage expanse. Gold’s beginnings are no less than 19 kilometres north of where it enters the Crow and it has three named creeks (Caudron, Morin and Green) that feed into it. I have labelled the source and two of these creeks with letters in the topographic sketch photo so you can locate them.

The sources waters (A) start on the west slope of Centre Peak (8364 feet), the highest point on that massive limestone China wall we call the Livingstone Range. Four kilometers south of where Centre Peak’s streams meet Gold the flows from Caudron Creek (B) move down off of the flanks of Caudron Peak (6826 feet) to join Gold.

There are about fourteen kilometers of sub-drainage in Caudron and where the three main branches of it meet is where one can see the abandoned platform of an oil and gas exploration attempt. Yet another unsuccessful probe into the geologically complicated Livingstone Anticlinorium. Thankfully!

Another four kilometers south along Gold Creek is where it merges with Morin Creek (C) and on a terrace near that confluence is where the historic Lille town and mine site existed. Lille is an amazing story and it was originally called French Camp. The Frank and Grassy Railroad built to get to the mine had 23 trestles and several switchbacks. The mine failed in 1912 and everything was hauled away. Houses, trestles, rails. It is all gone now except for the embattled coke oven remains, the hotel foundation and solitary reminders of a time gone by like a nearby Ludlow fire hydrant with bullet holes in it. Ludlow started making hydrants out of New York in 1866 and continued for 70 years. You won’t believe how many different and crazy looking styles of Ludlow’s were produced.

For a mining historian like me the story of the Bernard retort ovens constructed up at Lille is just plain amazing. The ovens were assembled in Belgium and then shipped overseas and by rail to the site. The foundations were prepared by local contractor E. Marino so that the ovens only had to be reconstructed. Each of the 40 to 50 uniquely-shaped red firebrick used had several different numbers on each face and had an exact location in the oven. The world’s biggest jig saw puzzle. The Lille ovens were totally different than all the other ovens in Western Canada and used their exhaust gases to reheat the ovens in a unique venting system. It is painful to accept the fact that we stood by and, despite the site being classified a provincial historic place, let it be systematically vandalized.
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So having cruised these amazing streams I thought I might talk a bit about the aforementioned rearranging of the flow of the Crow. From East Coleman to East Blairmore one is hard pressed to find a stretch of the river that hasn’t been redirected and there-in lies a tale (or two). A 1917 registered plan of Blairmore shows a couple of original river features that many may not be aware of.

Firstly, on this plan we find that the Crow split apart right about where the middle entrance to Blairmore is off the highway. (See the rectangle in 1913 forestry map photo). The arrows on the topographic map show the locations of these two areas of interest. So the 1917 registered plan photo shows the Crow hilited in red and that that old south split on the river made it almost to the Alberta Hotel at one time. Present location of Neat and Nifty and Dr. Johann Maritz’s clinic. So the Bamboo Bistro and the new dental clinic lie on what was originally riverbed.

Secondly, the registered plan shows the presence of what is called Spring Creek , a large pond bisected by the CPR and a smaller pond labelled spring water near what used to be the old Rocky Mountain Cement Company. This is on the very east side of Blairmore and I have heard locals mention this spring and creek which I hilited in orange on a second photo-sketch of the plan. So spring waters generally are warmer as we know and therein lies the probable explanation for a phenomenon we observe each winter. That is, the mysterious ending of the freezing over of the Crow right about where the Blairmore Legion now stands. That water percolates to surface here and warms the river should be no surprise really, as Blairmore is basically one end of a giant bathtub (basin) and for subsurface waters to make their way out of the Pass they must rise up to get through the narrow gap formed by Turtle and Bluff Mountains.

I don’t believe there is a very good understanding of how subsurface waters move through the Crowsnest Pass but we do know they are a critical part of stream feeds in many of our upper watersheds like Crowsnest Creek (sometimes called Glacier), Star Creek and probably just about every other watershed I have touched on.

I’ll wrap up this series next column and then as I said we will back it up and take a hard look at our southern Alberta lifelines and their health.

Tracing the Flow of the Crow:  Part1 - Part2 - Part3 - Part4
March 30th ~ Vol. 85 No. 13
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