May 23rd, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 21
New director, new dreams at Bellevue Underground Mine
Mine hosts grand opening to kick off 2018 season
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Anna Kroupina Photo
The Bellevue Mine’s new executive director and curator William Raccah stands at the counter at reception. At the bottom of the desk, painted by one of the interpreters at the mine, Mel Daviel, is a train of pack rats. These little rodents are painted throughout the mine reception area and are a fun “find the packrat” game for kids that visit the mine. Daviel, a graduate in Fine Arts from the University of Victoria, has worked at the mine for seven summers and is also currently designing a new logo for the Bellevue Mine.
Pass Herald Reporter
Dr. William Raccah is a dreamer.

That's the impression you get after a mere few minutes of speaking to the new executive director and curator of the Bellevue Underground Mine.

He has ideas for programs, events, activities and visual presentation of the mine.

But underlying his dreams is a sense that he's also a man that knows how to make reality out of those dreams.

Change is coming at the mine, that much is certain, and in speaking with Raccah, that change will take manifestations both big or small. Big in the sense of changing the inherent purpose and perception of the mine and its service to the public, but small changes in the superficial cosmetics of the premises, from fresh coats of paint to revamped signage.

The Bellevue Mine has traditionally been known as a place to don a hardhat with a flashlight and descend into the chilly, damp underground of a historic coal mine. With a 4.5-star rating on TripAdvisor, it's clear that this unique experience is something the Bellevue Mine does exceptionally well. But it's what's on the surface where Raccah sees protentional, enhancing the out-of-mine experience as a place for telling the stories of the mining history of Crowsnest Pass and its residents.

"We are also classified and qualified as a museum. Therefore, we want to develop that museum part with artifacts, history and stories, complementing what's happening at the Frank Slide and the Coleman Museum. Together, we can complement what visitors are learning about the Pass. We can certainly cooperate and validate each other. We want to see things happen here," says Raccah.

The mine does exhibit several artifacts in the museum where people gather and wait to be led out on tours, but it's incomplete, lacking a "tug of the heart" as Raccah puts it.
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"We have lunch pails, but they are just a box of metal. There is no information as to which date they are from or whether they come from a certain family. We also have lamps, but what year are they from? Some of them are different shapes, different colours. We don't have identifying tags and that, to me, is what makes a museum," says Raccah, adding that the mine has many artifacts kept in storage because of space constraints. Finding a way to identify and expose them is one of the curator's goals.

Located in the perfectly strategic spot along Highway 3 with picturesque mountains all around, a small river at the base of the mine and lots of green space, Raccah sees so much potential to utilize the surroundings to enhance the tour and museum experience.

Such as the "meal in the mine" idea that combines a culinary and educational experience. Or opening up the vacant grassy lots on the property to camping opportunities. With ghost stories aplenty in an industry that experienced many grim accidents, the Bellevue Mine is planning to host the first Halloween party this October for youth and young adults since eight years ago.

On the visual side, the mine is in the process of revamping their logo and updating their website. Wood carver Daron Jones will create an intricate welcome arch at the intersection of 213 Street and the mine entrance, carved right on the spot in mid-July. The material has been donated, and Jones is donating his skills and his time for the project.

And from the sounds of it, this is just the beginning...

"We are trying to impact the community and be part of the Pass by contributing however we can and attracting visitors to show that this is not a dead place. We have received some grants and will seek more," says Raccah. "We are addressing things. We are putting things in order."
Engaging and stimulating youth is a primary focus for the new curator, with particular importance placed on liaising with schools and teaching local youth about their history.

"Mining was very important here and most of the people who live in the Pass are related to or are descendants of people who made a living out of mining," says Raccah. "Don't shy away from your ancestry or what your parents have done. You exist today because of them."

Beyond the importance mining plays in our local community, Raccah expresses a desire to reestablish that significance across the province and even across the country.
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"We developed much of what is happening in Alberta. That needs to be rediscovered, promoted and enhanced through some of the stories. I want this to become a resource center about the mining industry concerning mining here and how it has contributed to the province and the economy of Canada with the union movement and health and safety. There was a big contribution from the mining industry and people ignore that. Big cities benefited from smaller areas like Crowsnest Pass. We need to recapture our proper place."

And as a man from France, Raccah certainly proves that the mining industry has touched each and every one of us, directly or indirectly.

“My wife is from Lethbridge. Her grandfather used to train the horses at the mine and her father used to be the bus driver to bring miners from Lethbridge," he says.

As executive director, a big aspect of Raccah’s job is employee management which, in many ways, is an extension of what he specialized and enjoyed throughout his entire career working in leadership development for post-secondary education. Raccah holds a PhD in Ethics and Cultural Anthropology from Laval University and a Master of Business Administration from the Satell Center for Executive Education, Pennsylvania.

"It is so important to bring youth on board to catch the vision and help them develop the vision. We want to invest in our community. We want to make our local young adults part of what's happening, whether it's concerning tourism, interpretation, history or future development. Employees are part of what's happening here," says Raccah.

Raccah, originally from France, moved to Canada in 1975, “from downtown Paris to downtown Lethbridge,” as he puts it. The globe-trotter – who has visited 96 countries and lived in cities across Canada - chose Crowsnest Pass as his retirement home three years ago, when he purchased a house in town and moved from Calgary with his wife.

Although he is still invited to teach at universities and colleges across the world, Raccah officially retired three years ago.

In early 2018, the mine installed a new board consisting of one returning and six new members following a conflict with the previous board. The mine currently employs seven interpreters and last year, saw over 22,000 visitors. The Bellevue Underground Mine has regular operating hours from May to September, but is open throughout the rest of the year for tours by appointment.

The mine hosted a grand opening for the season on Friday, May 11 to introduce Raccah to the public and to celebrate the prospective changes. The mine's website is currently under construction and expected to be accessible by mid-June.
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May 23rd, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 21
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