Crowsnest Highway
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Coalhurst, Alberta : History Printer Friendly Version

by DMWilson
With thanks to the Coalhurst History Society and the contributors, editors and writers of Our Treasured Heritage, Marge Williams, the Monarch History Book Club and the contributors, editors and writers of Sons of the Wind and Soil, “Paddy” Bowman, Geoffrey Lester, Alex Johnston, A.A. den Otter, B.R. Peat, and Barry Potyondi.
posted 2005/10/02
revised 2008/03/12

Towards Kipp
Towards Kipp

        With Monarch seen, the cyclist retakes Highway 3A eastward. Along the far side of the Oldman valley, the Crowsnest Highway, the No. 3, howls its traffic of trucks to and from Lethbridge, less than 25 kilometres away. Not a mile east from Monarch an incongruous, 1960s bi-level interchange adds the 3A to the No. 23 coming down from Vulcan, divides the total into four lanes and sends the two south-bound streaking off to intersect with the 1997 re-alignment of Crowsnest Highway about two miles on. There is much less traffic now than the Interchange can handle, and it gives cyclists time to appreciate that they are here travelling on a height of land, the last of Coyote Flats reaching down from the north on the Highway’s south-bound left side, to the right the view giving out over the gouge of the Oldman.
        Before all the new road construction in the late ‘90s, this little, 10-kilometre stretch of the No. 3 from the Monarch Interchange down to Kipp was a hell to travel on a bike. A seemingly endless series of what? expansion cracks?, broke the road surface from ditch to ditch every ten metres or so. The lips of the cracks had been forced up over the years, and viciously kicked every tire that rolled over them. Within seconds spines and kidneys began to feel that they were deep into a 12-rounder with Mohammed Ali back in the day. Some sadist must have designed these into this section of No. 3; they were too regularly spaced to be Mother Nature’s frosty handiwork. However, the 1997 re-alignment cut this miserable little piece of work out and only those who need to visit Monarch are subject to the punishment.         
        The road surface improves as the 3A/23 slides beneath the twin 1997 concrete monsters which fly the four lanes plus of the new No. 3 over its former alignment. As the 3A/23 merges itself into the into the Crowsnest Highway beyond, a rest stop pulls out to the right. Crowded between the Oldman’s trench and the high concrete curbings which separate it from the Highway, the rest stop masquerades as a long parking lot, unshaded but for a couple of plastic faced information boards which, when last seen, were fighting a losing battle with the wild westerly winds. Photo-engraved tablets affixed to robust concrete tables address subjects like the “Chinook” phenomenon, the fauna and flora of the mixed-grass prairie that used to carpet these hills with blue grama grass—“prairie wool,” before the invasion of the Whites. From the edge of the parking lot, beyond the gritty clouds of gravel dust arising from the road along its edge, the valley complex of the Oldman River falls away from Prairie level in scraggly, wolf willow and chokecherry snagged ravines gouging their way down 100 metres to the River—“Napi Tahta” to the Niitsitapi, the “Blackfoot.” This is “the cut-off,” and somewhere down there, at the confluence of the Belly and the Oldman, archæologists have located “Fort Kipp,” one of the pestiferous whiskey posts which helped poison the Blackfoot peoples, the Niitsi-tapi. Beyond the River, miles and miles of open short grass Prairie undulate away toward the 9,000 foot-high fang of Chief Mountain, south-west some sixty miles away. We are looking down the length of the Blood Reserve, I.R. No. 148, lands of the Kainai Nation of the Niitsi-tapi people. Presently occupying 547.5 square miles of rolling hills between the St. Mary River on the south-east and the paralleling Belly fifteen miles north-west, it was for over a hundred years the largest I.R. in Canada.1


        After enjoying the view over the Reserve and squinting to try and spot some trace of a waggon road to Fort Kipp on the prairie across the River, travellers retake the Highway. Fans of the “iron road” are pleased to note the legions of rail cars are parked on the prairie to the left, the north-east side of The Highway. This is Lethbridge’s marshalling yards. When the CPR stopped offering passenger services to it in 1971, Lethbridge invited the Company to remove its stinking, dirty, noisy old Yards from the centre of the city, sooner being better. This area here, flat as a pancake and already carrying the Company’s Crowsnest Line (CNL)2 and two of its junctions near the moribund outpost of Kipp, was the obvious choice. Some 20 miles of sidings, mentions R.F.P. Bowman in Railways in Southern Alberta (Historical Society of Alberta, Whoop-up Country Chapter, lth, 1973 [2002]), controlled by 100 switches were laid down in a giant “British” trapezium. The move was completed by the fall of 1983, leaving Lethbridge happily building a shopping mall, condos and a seniors’ health centre on the vacated property. CP is happy, too; excellent highway access and lots of room to make all the din it wants in the biggest railyards in the region. Squadrons of fat pigeons wheel in tight formation above the grain-leaking railcars parked on the miles of sidings. Packed on the roofs of boxcars like sunbathers on a Coney Island beach, these cooing sky rats dedicate every waking moment to white-washing the tops of the Railway’s rolling-stock.
        A mile or three southward from the Rest Area, approaching Kipp (933m), one passes the junction switch which the CPR spiked into its CNL in 1909 to lead a spur north to Vulcan. Bridging the Little Bow River two years later, the Company was able to complete its Aldersyde Subdivision as an 85 mile-long alternative route from Lethbridge to Calgary.

        According to some road maps issued by the Land Information Services Division of Alberta’s Provincial Mapping Section, Kipp doesn’t exist. Yet, official Department of Highways signage indicates that we are arrived at Kipp. Towards the south end of the railyards, an overpass carries 509 eastward over the tracks and away ten Kay to Park Lake Provincial Park. An informal sign cordially invites us to turn left here to access the Miners’ Campground on the old road to Coalhurst, two miles away. Westward, the gravelled 509 drops down the Oldman’s ‘scarp and heads off south across the vast Blood reserve. If occupied, the lone, old house near the overpass shelters the last residents of Kipp; a casual sign used to boast “Population 8.” Actually, what little there was of Kipp was built on the south-west side of the CNL: likely the original alignment of the No. 3 ran right down its main street. Kipp is beneath our wheels.
        The place takes its name from one Joe Kipp, a second generation whiskey trader3 who built and operated the whiskey fort that we would have almost been able to see from the rest stop had we been here in 1872.
        The early 1870s were busy years for Joe. He and his first partner, writes Barry Potyondi in Where the Rivers Meet: A History of the Upper Oldman River Basin to 1939 (Lethbridge, 1992), the literate Mr. Jas. Willard Schultz, had established a whiskey post called “Stand-Off” in the environs of the Bloods’ main modern settlement of the same name in 1871. Competition from nearby “Fort Hamilton” curtailed Joe’s business, so in 1872 with a new partner, Charlie Thomas,4 set up Fort Kipp where the local branch of the Fort Edmonton–Fort Benton trail found a ford in the Oldman River. A bit-player in the whiskey business, Kipp kept his post open until 1874, though when James Macleod and his North-West Mounted Policemen rode by the place on their way to establish Fort Macleod that October, the roof was caved in and Kipp had evidently seen fit to quit the Territory either because of fear of the Queen’s Law, or because he had, supposèdly in self-defence, killed Calf Shirt of the Kainai in his store and didn’t want to face Native justice. The N-WMP preserved Kipp’s fort, a multi-roomed U-shaped structure, and used it for a detachment post for many years. It has the distinction of being the site of the first ever treaty money payout to the Kainai, in 1878. Across the river W.H. Long and his friend, R.T. Urch built their ranch house in 1886. This gradually became the “Stopover House” where travellers could put up for the night and get a rough meal. When the Oldman was high, Long launched his old North Western Coal and Navigation Company-built reaction ferry out into the current and carried traffic until the waters subsided and the ford was useable again.
        Anticipating the boom in regional fortunes sure to come once the CPR completed its Lethbridge Viaduct and spiked down its new rails, James Hannon Watson5 and his wife, Isabella, built a store on property that they acquired near the right-of-way and began to promote a townsite they called “Prairie View.” The evidently CPR took a dim view of the Watsons’ town-founding efforts and when it raised its station in 1910, it located it some 100 yards away northwards on its own property, and named it “Kipp.” The locals added “Fort” to the name for fun, and thus it was known into the ‘20s. Nearby, the Taylor Milling Company built its trackside elevator.
        The Station was apparently far enough away to discourage the Watsons. They sold out to T.E. Skieth in 1911 and concentrated their efforts on the store they had built a couple of miles away at “Bridgend,” now Coalhurst. Skieth suffered a year of dreary business in the store and then abandoned it to stand unused for years until it was converted into a home.6 Meanwhile, on the west side of the “Macleod Trail” opposite the store, Sam Phillipe and his family had built a home and restaurant. They soon sold out and a succession of owners fed the hungry and kept the local bureau of the Post Office. Mrs. Phillipe and her step-son returned without Sam in the 1920s and reprised her previous efforts, adding a convenience store to her new restaurant and eventually stole the postal bureau from its original location.
        A considerable population of railway workers accumulated at Kipp, but not so many as to warrant anything but a one-room school house north-west of town overlooking the River. It was brick-built, apparently, but never needed to be larger; most of the men stationed at Kipp living the single life. Families farming to the east of the community sent their children to Rolling Hill School some three miles from Kipp, and those students seeking to further their education beyond the elementary level betook themselves two miles south to the big Coalhurst School.
        Main Street, the “Macleod–Lethbridge Trail,” was graded in 1918, labelled “the Red Route” and gravelled in 1928, around the year that Calgary Power brought electricity into the region. By then, however, Kipp was moribund. Concluding this, around January of 1928 the CPR jacked its station onto a couple of flatcars and trundled it two miles back down the Crow’s Nest Line to Coalhurst, the local centre of population. Slowly the buildings at Kipp were moved or destroyed. The Red Route became the No. 3 and was paved and in the mid-60s widened into a four-lane divided configuration which all but obliterated the remains of Kipp.

        The re-alignment of the CNL encouraged entrepreneurs to exploit easily-minable deposits of coal near the ‘scarp of the Old Man River to the east. In 1910 CP laid down a spur north-eastward 16 kilometres to the site of the Chinook Coal Company mine and its attendant community, Commerce. Chinook worked its self-named mine for nearly 14 years, from September of 1910 till February of 1924, digging 856,867 tons of coal out of the earth before the mine became uneconomical. CP pulled the spur in 1926. A glance at Google “Earth” at 49º 47' 26"N / 112º 51' 32"W reveals the confirmation of a spur continuing north-east two miles up to the Chinook mine from where the old Diamond Railway Company line bends to run due east into Diamond City. When it was laid or lifted: ? Interestingly, if one uses imagination one can see what looks like a second spur departing the Diamond Line about a mile further east, on the outskirts of Diamond City 49º 47' 24"N / 112º 50' 52"W, curving gracefully away to the north for a mile or so in tandem with highway No. 25. This might be a caprice of Æther, however.

        There are no places to stay in Kipp, but there are two nearby camping options. North-east across the Highway on the 509’s overpass and then due north four gravelled miles on Road 224, the redundantly named and showerless Park Lake Provincial Park entices Lethbridge’s low budget holidayers with its forty sites, while to the south-west, four kilometres down gravelled Secondary Highway 509, the Kainai Nation has laid out the 33 sites of its Crossroads Campground adjacent Many Spotted Horses’ medicine wheel and the scant remains of Conrad’s Post, one of the old whiskey forts. Again, no showers.

        Before leaving Kipp, however, one could let imagination layer the landscape with, say, fifteen centimetres of snow, and plunge the temperature to, oh, -15º Centigrade (umm, -15 multiplied by nine divided by five plus 32 equals ... five degrees above 0º Fahrenheit). Chilly, huh? The sky is grey with low cloud, the North Wind abrades your cheeks like a rusty razor and has blown a hard crust on the snow which screeches underfoot like finger nails drawn across a blackboard. Cars, if they’ll start, ride like lumber waggons, people caught outside unprepared can die of hypothermia in minutes. Say it’s been like this for weeks and you are really beginning to wish that your ancestors had chosen to emigrate to Australia instead of this God-forsaken country, but suddenly you notice in the western sky a band of blue over the Mountains. As you watch, the band quickly widens, the interface between band and cloud seems to arc from the south-western to north-western horizon. This is the famous “Chinook Arch.” What has happened is that warm Pacific Westerlies have finally gathered enough strength to bull their way over the Mountains in spite of Arctic opposition. Robbed of their moisture by the Mountains, the Winds have crested the Divide and rushed down to Prairie level, heating 5.5 degrees Fahrenheit for every 1,000 feet of decent and shovelling aside the cloud cover. Called “Chinooks,” the relatively hot, dry Wind is about to change the weather dramatically. Here at Kipp, the temperature has been recorded as rising 17 degrees Celsius (34 degrees Fahrenheit) in seven minutes. Duck in to a caf… for ten minutes to warm up with a cup of coffee in minus fifteen degree weather and by the time one pays and exits folks are walking around with their parkas slung over their shoulders. Give it an hour and kids at the skating rink will be surf-scooting. Of course, this same phenomenon is not so welcome in the heat of a long summer when the thirsty Winds come to lick every last molecule of moisture from the soil and blow both into Manitoba. Chinooks happen on average 11 times a year.

        The Highway heads south-east out of Kipp. On the right, the valley of the Oldman diverges, heading almost due south for a couple of miles before hooking back north to side-swipe old Lethbridge. On the left, south of the 509 overpass, the Yards tail out. At the southern tip the CNL mainline crosses the throat of a wye which headed a 27 mile-long spur north-east out through Picture Butte and on to Turin. The first seven miles of this spur was laid in 1909 as part of a seven-odd-mile-long spur that the owners7 of the Diamond mine snaked out from the CNL to their mines at Diamond City, on the edge of the Oldman’s ‘scarp to the east. With their own 2-6-0 Mogul locomotive, pictured in R.F.P. Bowman’s Railways in Southern Alberta, the Diamond Railway Company8 hauled the Diamond Coal Company’s “gons” to its tipple on the CNL at Kipp.9 The Diamond broke a succession of owners while out-putting 319,700 tonnes and was finally abandoned in 1930, though it worked but sporadically since the Great War when, reportedly, the spur was lifted. In 1925, when CP decided to tie the CNL to its Mainline at Brooks, it purchased Diamond’s right-of-way, repositioned the switch on the CNL at Coalhurst and built the spur as far as Turin before the Great Depression dissuaded the Company from further construction. Come the late 1980s the line was little used, and in the mid-‘90s CP pulled most of the steel, leaving a few miles intact upon which to park spare rolling stock.

        Not two miles along the CNL from Kipp is Coalhurst (935m), more a suburb of Lethbridge than a self-sufficient town. Local commuters face with a smile the daily six kilometre drive into downtown Lethbridge knowing that their property taxes are a fraction of those of their city-dwelling co-workers, and that their evening’s journey into dreamland will be eased by a lullaby of growling diesel locomotives accentuated by the resounding smashes of trains being made up in the Kipp yards.
        Guessing from the community’s name, eastbound travellers surmise that they are once again in coal country. Not since Lundbreck have they come across the site of a coal mine. Rogers Coal Company, a hole-in-the-wall outfit, scratched out a “gopher-hole” mine of sorts at “Bridgend”10 in June of 1908. It was an unsuccessful venture, though when the CPR ran in its Lethbridge–Macleod “cut-off” in 1909, it named the siding here “Colliery.” according to a map reproduced in Alex Johnston’s The CP Rail High Level Bridge at Lethbridge (Occasional Paper No. 12, Whoop-Up Chapter of the Historical Society of Alberta, Lethbridge, 1984 [1977]). Having been granted a licence on June 30th, 1910, under the Irrigation Act, Lethbridge Collieries acquired the Rogers property and on August 15th of that year broke ground for its Imperial mine. Recorded Alex Johnston and A.A. den Otter in Lethbridge: A Centennial History (Historical Society of Alberta, Lethbridge, 1985), the few inches of fertile lacustrine soils and loess deposits were cleared away and miners began to sink a vertical shaft down some 20 metres through three separate glacial tills underlain by some ten metres of ancient outwash from the rising of the Rockies—the Saskatchewan Sands and Gravels—to get into the sandstones and shales of the Paleocene Age strata. Down through the Upper Cretaceous strata—St. Mary River, Blood Reserve, Bearpaw— of more mainly sandstones to get to the carboniferous shales of the Belly/Oldman River Formation wherein thousands of tons of ancient forests had lain pressed and heated by geologic forces for 60 million years to become “C” bituminous coal. Hacking the shaft down into the Oldman, the miners located the main coal measure and began running “drifts” out into it, finding that it varied in thickness from 1.4 to 2 metres. Some six slimmer seams totalling about a metre in thickness were ignored. Meanwhile, millwrights erected a headframe and hoist, fitted an elevator—the “cage”—into the shaft, and raised a tipple whither CPR crews laid “the colliery spur” in March, 1911. Development of the Imperial took a year, but finally, on August 1st of 1911, from a depth of 526 feet, a crew of 200 miners began digging the heart out of the seam and dispatching skip loads of soft bituminous coal to a surface plant that had begun to spread over the 18 acres attached to the mining licence. A thoroughly modern enterprise with electric lighting and air-operated equipment, the Mine was putting out 1200 tons a day by 1912, enough to fill 35 CPR 50-ton coal gondolas run in on the Spur.
        Though Lethbridge was only six miles away across CP’s newly completed Viaduct, Lethbridge Collieries decided to lay out a little twelve-block town-site on its property, Section 20 of Township 9, Range 22W4, west of the Imperial pit-head. The Company erected the Mine View Hotel for its single workers and built some 30 cottages which it offered to rent to families. Not wishing to enter the real estate business, and maybe thinking that the settlement might have to be removed should the land be needed for plant, the Company refused to sell lots. Though it was not legal in Alberta for a company to own a townsite, the spirit of the law was unbroken in this case because employees were not forced to live in company housing. Kipp was within walking distance and Lethbridge was a short train-ride away. The owner of section 22, however, seized an opportunity and subdivided part of his land, offering it for sale. Perhaps leery of living in housing at the company’s pleasure, several families bought lots and built houses.
        Though the two parts11 of the nascent community were separated by a mile of open field, parents of school-aged children quickly co-operated to form the Bridgend School District No. 2394 on March 25th, 1911, under the chief trusteeship of Archibald Morrison. Originally designated a rural district, it was declared a Village District on September 11 of that year, and soon had a two-storey school house erected and a teacher hired.
        When approached for permission to open a local bureau, the Post Office had reservations about using the name “Bridgend”: perhaps there was a settlement of a similar name somewhere else in its system. Alternatives were discussed and on April 26, 1912, write Alex Johnston and B.R. Peat in Lethbridge Place Names and Places of Interest (Historical Society of Alberta, Lethbridge, 1987), the name of the community was officially changed to “Coalhurst,” the name under which J.J. Beaton opened the postal bureau on September 1st of 1912. The bureau, recorded the compilers of Our Treasured Heritage (Coalhurst History Society, Lethbridge, 1984), was surrounded by the enterprises of a working community—a hardware store, a pool hall, a general store, a restaurant or two and a confectionary—and had attracted enough of a population—about 800—that residents with vested interests applied to incorporate the community as a Village in January of 1913. After some to-ing and fro-ing12, the Ministry of Public Works granted permission in a letter dated the 17th of December, 1913. Frank Barrington was appointed as the interim reeve until James Isidore McDermott was elected early in 1914.
        J.I. McDermott can fairly be credited with the establishment of Coalhurst. The manager of the Molson’s Bank branch in nearby Diamond City, McDermott evidently put some stock in the Kainai warning that the Diamond mine would not profit as it was sited on an Aboriginal burial ground. He bought one of the first building lots at what was to become Coalhurst, and with his brother, William Ernest, “Ernie,” raised McDermotts’ Hardware store. A booster at heart, J.I. helped organize a Board of Trade, sitting as its secretary-treasurer. Over the years, while Ernie ran the hardware, J.I. sat off and on as mayor, village council auditor, post master and Justice of the Peace.
        By November of 1914 Coalhurst’s 1200 residents were served by Watson’s General and two other general stores, a meat market, McDermotts’ Hardware store, two grocery stores, and Gammon’s blacksmiths and livery stable, a hall in which dances could be held and “moving pictures” shown, the 32-room Mine View Hotel which had been moved over from CC&C property in 1913 to become the Coalhurst, two churches and the school. Electricity from the Mine’s generating station lit low wattage bulbs dangling on wires above a couple of the major intersections or installed in any building whose occupants were willing to pay, and powered the pumps which lifted water from an intake on the Oldman River to the west and pressed it into a rudimentary distribution system. To catch a train, or send a parcel or a telegraph, however, folks faced a two-mile ramble across the prairie to the CPR station at Kipp.
        In November of 1913 Lethbridge Collieries had transferred operation of the Imperial to its subsidiary, the Canada Coal and Coke Company (CC&C). CC&C made several capital improvements to the plant. A locomotive was acquired to marshal CPR gondolas on the seven miles of Company spurs and yard trackage and line them up on the Colliery Spur for pick-up by the Railway. To reduce costs, CC&C begun a stud farm to produce horses for use underground. The venture was soon producing animals enough that the company was able to subsidize the operation by selling the excess to local farmers. And in a divergence from custom, the Company began hiring non-European labours—specifically, Japanese—who it employed in the technically skilled jobs on the site. A company in tune with its times, though, it segregated the Japanese in the row of houses next to the pit where the dust and dirt settled thickest. A company hospital served the community and the nearby mining settlements of Commerce, Shaughnessy and Diamond City.13
        The economic slowdown of 1914 eroded the CC&C’s finances and the Company was forced to close the Mine late the next year. Reorganizing, Lethbridge Collieries transferred the Imperial operation to North American Collieries, Limited (NAC) which reopened the Mine in February of 1916 and was soon calling in three shifts of 200 workers each to supply coal to factories which were themselves working around the clock to keep “our lads” in the trenches, if not safe, happy and comfortable, at least well enough supplied with the killing implements needful to keep the boys on the other side of the barbed wire from advancing too far across the bloody mud of Flanders. Come 1919 and the eve of the post-war recession which destroyed so many businesses, 2,000 men were employed at the Imperial
        In 1915 the Pacific Hotel, located halfway between Coalhurst and Kipp, had burned to the ground,14 but its loss was more than off-set by the opening of a branch of the Standard Bank of Canada on February 23rd, 1916: G.F. Bletcher, manager. The new bank couldn’t convince the Watsons to stay, and that year they sold their general store and departed the neighbourhood. On December 7th of 1917 the School District changed its name to “Coalhurst” and the name “Bridgend” disappeared. The local RN-WMP officer had, of course, been replaced by an Alberta Provincial Policeman of Lethbridge’s “D” Division when the Mounties lost their provincial policing contract on the 1st of March, 1917, and the Town had served as a kennel since 1921 for the seven bloodhounds of Constable Chas. D. McWilliams which the APP employed in ferreting out bootleggers.
        The ‘20s started badly for Coalhurst. In February of 1920, despite all the Mine’s fire-fighting equipment and personnel, the school burned to the ground, killing the caretaker. For the remainder of the academic year the students attended classes in the miners’ hall and local churches. That summer the school district borrowed $20,000 to build a four-room brick edifice north of the Village, and matched it in 1927 with another four-roomer that was either moved in from elsewhere, or built across the road from the first. In 1920 the Pentecostal Assembly acquired and converted the old butcher’s shop into a church, the first formal Sunday-go-to-meeting house in Coalhurst. The Village’s Catholics were not far behind with Saint Joseph’s, and a couple of years later a United Church was raised. In 1923 McDonald’s Grocery and Dry Goods store downtown went up in smoke. Confident in Coalhurst’s future, the McDonalds immediately rebuilt.
        Not withstanding the conflagrations, by the mid-‘20s, Coalhurst was a considerable settlement that twelve hundred people called “home.” The mine continued like clockwork to put out 2,000 tons per day of Imperial brand coal with no end in sight. It enjoyed Alberta Government Telephones’ long-distance service and in 1922 a branch of the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District’s main canal reached down to water the Village’s northern skirts. Electricity still came from the Mine and clean water from the Oldman well upstream from Lethbridge. The Village had no debt and a low tax rate. So encouraged by its prospects was A.E. Cunning, a heavyweight in local politics and storekeeper for Lethbridge Collieries, that he added a drugstore to the community’s enterprises around 1925. An ex-miner had built a grist mill to grind flour, the miners’ union had built a Community Hall with attached library, the Company hospital was open to all, as was the Mine wash house to youths on Saturday nights.
        In April of 1928 North American Collieries vanished from the tax rolls and was replaced as operators of the Imperial by Coal Producers, Limited. There was a strong market for Imperial coal, and 450 men were at work on the property. Around Christmas time that year, CP jacked up the Kipp station, slid onto a couple of flatcars and rolled down the line two miles, reversed it on the colliery spur and set it down on the eastern side of the rails at Coalhurst. Nearby was the 40,000-bushel grain elevator that the Ellison Milling and Elevator Company was building beside the CNL. Northern Bus Lines, a harbinger of transportation’s future, arrived in Coalhurst to compete with the CPR for passengers. The Town was doing well with stores and services enough to keep the 953 folks enumerated by the 1931 census from routinely taking themselves off to Lethbridge to shop. The Bank of Commerce and the Standard Bank had merged in 1928 and as the Canadian Bank of Commerce anchored Coalhurst’s commercial affairs. The Coalhurst Hotel hosted the inter-urban bus depot in its coffee shop, Lee Wing’s Restaurant and Confectionery shared frontage on Main with Willis’s Confectionery, McDermotts’ Hardware and its post office15, Paven’s General Store16, McDonald’s “Red & White” general store, Saboro’s general store and meat market, Bublik’s shoe and clothing store, Tedesco’s17 garage and Gammon’s blacksmithy. The Independent Order of Odd Fellows Hall and the Miners’ Community Hall were both on Main. Patton and Neidick ran a boarding house in the Village, as did the A.P.Police, though theirs was harder to check out of. In the east end, in “Wigan” as the old company housing district was known, was Aunt Doty’s Confectionery.18 North of the community, the Locatelli farming family built and operated a flour mill in competition with the giant Ellison milling operation in Lethbridge.
        Coal Producers, Limited merged with the Galt and the Cadillac Coal companies in February of 1934 to form the Royalties Oil and Share Corporation Limited which was soon bargaining with its Workers. Royalties Oil was not a member of the Western Coal Operators’ Association, and was therefore unfettered by the anti-labour politics which motivated that organization. Neither were the men members of the United Mine Workers of America, the Association’s nemesis. Rather they were part of the One Big Union (OBU) movement which, though radical, was less centralized and allowed its constituents a great deal of autonomy. By the agreement of August 30 of 1934, Miners were to receive a day rate of $5.20, rather than so much per long ton19 delivered to the tipple. In the depths of the Depression, it was a reasonable reward for a day spent underground. The Mine, however, was nearing the limits of its life. The equipment was wearing out and the length of the reach from the hoist to minable measures was becoming inconvenient. The company had been weighing the costs of refurbishing and expanding the works, or starting a new mine on the same seams nearer Lethbridge. It evidently decided to invest no more capital in the old works and directed its workers to begin cleaning out the remaining pockets of coal and the far pillars of coal which supported the mine’s roof.

        With irrigation in 1922 came a new crop for the Coalhurst area farmers to try. Sugar beets had been introduced into southern Alberta in the early 19-aughts but struggled with the dry climate. Demand for cereal crops in the opening months of the Great War diverted all arable lands into grain production and forced the Knight Sugar Company to relocate its plant from Raymond, Alberta, to Cornish, Idaho, in 1914. In the early ‘20s sugar processing returned to southern Alberta when the Utah-Idaho Sugar Company, encouraged by an eager Alberta government, salvaged its under-used equipment from its plant in Sunnyside, Washington, and installed it in the old Knight works in Raymond, calling it Canadian Sugar Factories, Limited. In 1925 several farmers in the Coalhurst area contracted to grow beets for CSF, but the costs of getting the crop from the field to the mill destroyed most of the profit. CSF designated “receiving stations”—“dumps”—where its agents weighed the farmers’ deliveries and piled the beets at trackside until cars and labour could be mustered to remove them to the plant. The closest station to Coalhurst was built at Diamond City in 1930. The BC Sugar Refining Company of Vancouver bought out CSF in 1931 and opened a second plant at Picture Butte in 1936, about 25 rail-kilometres from Coalhurst, establishing a dump just out of Coalhurst. In the middle of the Depression, when grain crops wouldn’t pay their costs of seeding, sugar found a steady market and many a farming family in Alberta irrigation districts credited the crop with saving their farms. (For the details of the story, pls. see Coalhurst Sugar Beets

        At 10:30 of the clock in the evening of Wednesday, December 19th, 1934, flames again reached out for Village businesses. It got a good start likely from the old stove in McDermotts’ hardware store, and goaded into a rage by a pushy west wind, lashed out at adjacent structures. The fire brigade quickly realized that they were out-matched and summoned the their colleagues from Lethbridge. Combined effort succeeded in confining the blaze, but the morning light revealed the entire core of Coalhurst razed. McDermotts’ was gone, as was Paven’s pool hall, the new community hall, Willis’s Confectionary. The loses totalled $35,000 at a time when insurance was an expense few businesses could afford. Most poignant of all was the loss of all the Christmas mail which had just arrived in the post office located in McDermotts’.
        Though the Fire was unarguably devastating, had it not been trumped by a second disaster, the Village likely would have recovered. But a year later, around 4:30 in the Monday afternoon of December the 9th, 1935, three men, clothes burned and faces blackened by blast, staggered out of the Imperial. A pocket of methane perhaps ignited by an electrical spark from a damaged helmet lamp had blown the Mine out some 15 minutes earlier. No-one on the surface heard or felt a thing. Sixteen men had died: luckily, for the explosion occurred during a shift change, when only about 20 men were underground.
        With the Sixteen died the Mine. After the Commission of Inquiry finished its investigation and tabled its report exonerating the company despite some workers’ contentions that unsafe mining methods resulted in the uncontrolled collapsing of the works and puddles of methane collecting in unvented areas, Lethbridge Collieries Limited, which had again assumed direction of the Mine in April of 1935, declared the Imperial, officially designated “Galt No. 9,” abandoned on May 30th, 1936. The Company dismantled and removed the tipple to its new Galt No. 8 which was nearing completion at the end of the Viaduct. Salvors were permitted to strip the Imperial of its hardware after which the shaft that had seen more than 3.75 million tons of coal delivered to daylight was filled in. Then the surface plant was salvaged. The new powerhouse was gutted of its fine, modern machinery, the horse barns were torn down for their timbers, the locomotive shop and the blacksmith shop cleaned of their equipment and pushed over. The hospital building disappeared and the hoist was dismantled and removed. Come Christmas next, all that was left was the empty warehouse building and a 300 metre-long by ten-metre-high mound of rusty-red slag that had grown by the tipple. Smoking and by night glowing, it long remained a local landmark.
        Without work, Coalhurst collapsed. Families vanished, the schools stilled, commerce dried up, the tax base crumbled. On December 1st, 1936, the Village dissolved itself. The School District was folded into the Lethbridge School Division No. 7 on January 21, 1937. Lethbridge Collieries sold its cottages for a maximum of $100, a price that ensured that many were purchased and hauled away. Many of those unsold, along with some of the commercial survivors of the Big Fire, burned over the years, either torched for fun or the victims of Nature’s whims. Classified as a hamlet,20 the administration of Coalhurst was taken over by the City of Lethbridge, and the first group of disenfranchised ethnic Japanese to arrive in Alberta from The Coast stepped down off their special train in April of 1942 into a tattered Coalhurst, a shrinking collection of cheap little cottages scattered around the Pentecostal Assembly church21 and St. Joseph’s, a seldom-used rail station, a grain elevator to which Ellison’s added a 42,000-bushel annex around 1943, an all-but-abandoned bank building, a homey little confectionery and a smouldering bean-shaped hill. Soon even the bank building stood empty as there was plenty of room for the hamlet’s mail in the confectionery.

        Coalhurst is changed from what the airmen in the BCATP saw. Much of the heap of oxidized-red slag is gone, mined over the years to surface roads and paths and make decorative patio blocks. The old United Church burned up in February of 1952 and the owners, the Pentecostal Assembly, immediately rebuilt. In 1955 Lethbridge hooked the Hamlet up to natural gas, and this helped attract new development. Coalhurst Mobile Homes Park laid out its 108 narrow lots in 1969, but these sold slowly until the City installed water and sewer service in 1976. Gifted with an Elementary and the first composite high school in Alberta, the Hamlet felt confident enough to declare itself an independent Village on New Year’s day, 1979. A volunteer fire department was organized in February of 1982 and celebrated the erection of its new fire hall by torching the Village’s venerable old railway station on April 30th, 1983. CP had discontinued passenger service on the CNL in January of 1964, and ran its last Budd RDC “Day Liner” on the Aldersyde subdivision between Lethbridge and Calgary in 1971. On July 1st, 1995, Coalhurst was incorporated as a Town.
        Demonstrating a surprising streak of non-conformity, Coalhurst’s street grid is aligned neither cardinally nor square with the Railway. On that grid there are no architecturally valuable edifices. Other than residences, there is really not much to the Town. The plain-jane fire hall lays on 51st Avenue, reaching out eastward past the mine site. There is a Shell station, and Babb’s Place—a sometimes diner/bar/liquor store.
        In the Alberta Hotel and Lodging Association’s Official Alberta Campground guide for 2003, the shower-equipped 14 sites of the Miners’ Memorial Campground is located in Coalhurst, within a good stone’s throw of both the Crowsnest Line and The Highway. I’ll have to tent there one day and listen to clatter and growl of commerce as it hastens through the night. Lethbridge, however, is but five miles away.


  1. Until May 11th, 2000, when the Nisga’a Final Agreement came into effect, and the Province of B.C. repatriated 1992 square kilometres (769+ sq. miles) to the Nisga’a Nation on Canada’s north-western coast. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  2. Originally, of course, CP ran its Crow’s Nest Line south-eastward out of Lethbridge in 1897, curved westward down into the Oldman’s valley to cross the St. Mary River at its mouth on furlongs of timber trestling, and arrow off across the Kainai Reserve to bridge the Oldman before wheezing into Fort Macleod. There were several problems with this alignment. The grades approaching the river crossings were steep, the trestles over the St. Mary were expensive to maintain, and the Kainai resented the intrusion of a omnipresence of a machine which served them but poorly, if at all. A much better alignment could be found by lofting the line across the Oldman at Lethbridge, a feat the Company accomplished in 1909, opening up the Coalhurst, Monarch, Pearce area. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  3. His father, Jas. Kipp, came up the Missouri with the American Fur Company, and established Fort Peigan at the mouth of Maria’s River for the company in 1831. Joseph Kipp was born at the AFC’s Fort Union in 1847. See Americans on our page for Brocket. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  4. who was wanted below The Line for trading whiskey to Natives. Schultz stayed in the neighbourhood, living off and on the Blackfeet Reservation with Natahki until 1903, absorbing their culture and ceremonies and the old stories. Retired to write in Colorado, he continued to visit the Piikani and the Kainai into the ‘20s. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  5. Some confusion exists as to the name of this gentleman, even within the book Sons of the Wind and Soil (Nobleford, Monarch History Book Club, Nobleford, 1976). It could have been either Jas. Hannon Watson, or H. Grant Hannon. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  6. Other sources mention the Fuller brothers running a general store in Kipp in 1914. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  7. J.E. Woodworth, Manitoba MPP from Brandon, had obtained an advance information from the Geological Survey of Canada and bought up what would become the Diamond Coal Company lease in October of 1906. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  8. Statutes of the Province of Alberta for 1907, (7 Edward VII) Chapter 25, “An Act respecting the Diamond Railway Company, Limited” received royal assent from Lieutenant Governor Bulyea on March 15th, 1907, and permitted the company to lay rail from its mines in an unspecified section of 10-21W4 “…westerly … to join the proposed revision of the Crow’s Nest Branch …” !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  9. As well, Diamond Railway occasionally delivered to Diamond Coal’s tipple gondolas of Chinook Coal, to whose mine a spur had been run for the Diamond spur, according to Geoffrey Lester on his Coalhurst page of the on-line Atlas of Alberta Railways (University of Alberta Press, Edmonton, 2005). !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  10. So called because it was near the western end of the CPR’s impressive new viaduct over the Oldman at Lethbridge. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  11. The original townsite on company property became known as “Wigan” and apparently always considered itself a suburb of Coalhurst. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  12. On January 4th of 1913 the Board of Trade petitioned the Minister of Public Works, Chas. Stewart, for permission to incorporate a Village. The Board confused the issue when in February it requested that the Minister send them information on incorporating a Town. The Minister pointed out in March that until the community went through the process of becoming a Village process, it couldn’t become a Town. In April the Ministry requested a better legal description of the Village’s proposed boundary. In May the chair of the Board of Trade’s Incorporation Committee, Jas. Hannon Watson, sent the Ministry a note telling it to speed things up as the community was in danger of an epidemic caused by poor waste disposal. Watson was eventually informed that the Minister had not received any petitions from Coalhurst, and further, that a subsequently submitted proposed extension to the Village’s boundary wouldn’t fly because, among other reservations, there was no “Village.” The Minister eventually got the Petition, and sent it back for clarification. In October the process finally played itself out and notices of intent to Incorporate were run in the Lethbridge papers and posted at the post office. By a letter dated December 1st, Stewart’s deputy, John Pierrie, informed Watson that no objections had been raised and that Coalhurst could go ahead and select candidates for a council and an enumerator. On December 10th Watson informed the Ministry that this had been done, and that the local Justice of the Peace, Finlay McDonald, had been elected enumerator. McDermott confirmed this by separate letter, and on December 17th the deputy minister sent the orders of incorporation. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  13. Among health workers such as Dr. Rose, Dr. Woodcock and Dr. Murray, Dr. Warren W. Inkrote is particularly well remembered at the hospital. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  14. As did the Mine View at a date unknown. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  15. James Isidore McDermott was now Justice of the Peace, as well as the post master and agricultural land owner. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  16. Paven operated a small abattoir, as well. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  17. Tedesco owned a revenue property of several houses, one of the very few accommodations not owned by the Mine. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  18. Aunt Doty was the McDermott brothers’ sister. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  19. 2240 pounds, as compared to a 2,000-lb “short” ton, to compensate for rock and other debris in the loads delivered to the tipple by the individual miners. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  20. Formally declared a “Hamlet” on April 23rd, 1945. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  21. The former United Church building which the Assembly had bought during the ‘30s. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

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