April 17th, 2019 ~ Vol. 89 No. 18
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Looking Back - John Kinnear
What Lies Beneath Us - Part I
Looking Back
Source: Alberta Energy Resources (AER)
Sketch showing part of Coleman mines and falls location
Relax! This isn’t going to be yet another column about cemeteries which if you haven’t noticed is something I am quite preoccupied about. I will however be writing next week about a wonderful new cemetery guide book for the Pass that the museum has just published. This week’s offering tho' focuses on the extent of the underground mines that operated throughout the Crowsnest Pass area for 60 years or more. In this column I will use government maps to study where they were located and how far they reached in area. It is a substantial part of Pass real estate and quite interesting to look at what lies beneath us and where.

Most of us are aware that there were nine or so large underground coal mines that operated throughout the Pass. Starting from the west to the east we had in Coleman the McGillivray and International Mines and in Blairmore the West Canadian Collieries (WCC) Greenhills Mine. Franco-Canadian Collieries ran the mine on the south side of Frank and WCC operated the massive Bellevue Mine. They also ran the mine at Lille to the north of Bellevue. Immediately east of Bellevue mine was the Mohawk underground operation and moving south from there was Hillcrest Collieries, Byron Creek Collieries and the Adanac Mine. Lastly moving to the east one finds the ill-fated Leitch Collieries Mine.
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So looking first to the west lets study the two Coleman mines- McGillivray and International. There is a wonderful Alberta Energy Resources Coal Mine Map viewer available on line that allows one to zero directly in on any mine in Alberta. It identifies the mine by a registered number and one can use that to refer to a spreadsheet that outlines the mines official name, location, operating period, production and even the seam thickness.

For the Coleman Mines the size of the McGillivray (#0204) and the International (#0088) reveal that they extended south and north of the town for three miles or more in each direction. The International’s entry was just across the river from the old Coleman plant site and was the subject of a reopening a couple years back to seal and secure the portal properly. That main entry ran south for almost a mile in solid basal sandstone, a remarkable feat unto itself. Its southern ¾ mile wide workings passed under York Creek and stopped just west of the old York Creek strip pits.

The mine also ran north of that entry about a half mile and passed under the Crowsnest River and most of West Coleman. Its northern limit lines up pretty well with the McGillivray Mine portal which is visible from the highway as you head west past the Coleman Collieries office. There is only a very narrow unmined strip showing on the map viewer between the McGillivray and International with no apparent connection to the two.
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Moving to the McGillivray it is interesting to note that its rock entry near the collieries office runs north briefly and then angles off in a gentle curve to the east into the coal measures. When one studies this tunnel closely one can see it runs under McGillivray Creek which is immediately east of the entry. In fact that main access tunnel passes under the creek directly north of the beautiful McGillivray waterfall. It is fascinating to stand below the falls and realize that above you in the rock under the creek is that entry. The creek takes an abrupt westerly turn in front of the falls which I suspect is a result of a massive fault in the basal sandstone. As my father used to say: “Lots of monkey business going on there.”

McGillivray Mine ran north about three miles from that entry and eventually passed under Nez Perce Creek and up into the west flank of Saskatoon Mountain. The old surface workings above the Miner’s Path (wash house, cable hoist, lamp shack etc.) provided another access to the mine. The buildings are long gone and the subsidence cracks that we used to explore as kids in the basal sandstone (Cadomin conglomerate) nearby have been filled in for safety reasons.

Moving to Blairmore we find that the West Canadian Collieries Greenhills underground mine operated both north and south of town. The southern mine (#0193) ran from 1909 to 1919 and its entry started into the measures a couple hundred yards south of the end of 130th street. It ran south for about a mile into the beginnings of Willoughby Ridge. I recall hearing a story about an oil and gas rig accidentally drilling into these old southern workings. You can imagine the effect on that drill, which has a lot of pressure on its bit, when it hit that coal mine void.

The northern half of Greenhills Mine (#0396) ran for three miles directly north of Blairmore and was also about a half mile wide in its development into the Kootenay coal bearing formation . The surface location (outcrop) of the Kootenay formation is what drove for the most part the location of most of the entries and surface works of Pass coal mines.
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Greenhills North was eventually shut down as WCC had developed surface stripping on Grassy Mountain in the early 1950’s. The combined production of both underground mines was just under 14 ½ million tons of coal. Greenhills Mine claimed 25 lives underground in its history including Jack Peressini and Paul Zimka in 1941.

Further east we find Franco Canadian Collieries (#0048-Frank Mine) which operated from 1900 till 1918. The polygons of most mines are quite wide on the map viewer except for Frank. The coal seam that ran up the flank of Turtle Mountain was vertical so the map outline of the workings is a long narrow strip that runs south all the way to the west edge of the Hillcrest Mine limit. Interestingly enough the map shows another narrow strip running north starting at about the bottle depot and angling under the highway and the old zinc smelter site (Goat Mountain Get-A-Way) to the toe of Goat (Bluff) Mountain. Go figure. Probably a big exploratory adit.

Further east is the Bellevue (#0087) and Mohawk (#0133) mine workings which extend more or less side by side north from Bellevue following two synclines of the Kootenay. Bellevue Mine’s width varied but reached almost a mile across north of town. It trends 2 ½ miles northwest and made it all the way to Gold Creek at its perimeter. A lot of the town of Bellevue lies above this mine and there is an old dubious story that goes around about women on dairy road claiming to be able to hear the miners below!
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Bellevue produced almost 14 million tons of coal and in 1941, during the war, kicked out almost a half million tons of some the finest steam coal CPR ever used. The Mohawk mine outline is a complicated series of workings that stayed just off the east side of East Bellevue (31 ave. Maple Leaf). Bellevue claimed 82 lives in total while Mohawk claimed 9.

South and west of Bellevue were the Byron Creek Collieries (#01275) and Hillcrest Mines (#0040). Byron was a smaller narrow width mine that operated from 1927 to 1937. It shows as a long narrow strip that runs under part of East Hillcrest Drive but stays west of the Crowsnest River. It also ran under Byron Creek in a narrow band east of the Adanac Road.

I was surprised to see that part of Hillcrest’s extensive workings shown in the viewer ran under Drum Creek and westward onto the lower slopes of the north side of Turtle Mountain. I had always assumed that the workings were confined to the big ridge directly south of town. According to the AER stats Hillcrest produced 587,000 tons between 1905 and 1940 and like Bellevue produced a highly desirable steam coal.

North of Bellevue was the short lived WCC Lille Mine that operated from 1902 to 1913. The spreadsheet total production number of just over 900,000 tons was surprising considering the mines limited life. Lille lies outside of our municipal boundary but played an integral early part in the remarkable coal mining development that continues to amaze me.

Lastly east of Passburg was Leitch Collieries which ran from 1909 till 1915. It appears that bad timing and economics shut down this very ambitious business venture. It shows as a narrow development and about a mile in length. I noted this mine is referred to as Passburg #2. Passburg #1 is listed as being located immediately south of where Byron Creek Collieries ended and worked south in another narrow strip. It is listed as having produced 393,000 ton and operated from 1907 to 1915. Most curious? It was well away from the Leitch surface plant , across the valley and ran south from the big bend in the East Hillcrest Road before the Hillcrest bridge.

Hopefully the maps and photos will help everyone get a better grasp of how spread out these mines were. The AER’s coal map viewer is a remarkable resource and while a bit tricky to navigate allows one to closely examine any coal mine location anywhere in Alberta

What Lies Beneath Us - Part II

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April 17th, 2019 ~ Vol. 89 No. 18
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