Crowsnest Highway
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Morrissey, B.C. : History Printer Friendly Version

by DM Wilson
With thanks to Bruce Ramsay, W.J. Cousins, Lorrie Felski, Sharon Babaian, John Kinnear, G.W. Taylor, M.A. Kennedy, Jo-Anna La Grandeur, J. Brian Dawson, Naomi Miller, Wayne Norton, R.G. Burrows, Ella Verkerk, J.A. Eagle, G.H. Buck, Chris & Constance Graf, T.D. Regehr, David Davies, Diana Wilson, J.D. McDonald, the Fernie and District Historical Society, and the East Kootenay Historical Society.
revised 2009/02/16

Into the Crowsnest Pass
The Crow’s Nest Pass Coal Company and the B.C. Southern Railway
The Crows Nest Southern Railway
Mining in the Morrissey
Concentrating “Enemy Aliens”
Towards Fernie
Into the Crowsnest Pass

        Northward from Elko the Crowsnest Highway appropriates the alignment of the old Crows Nest Southern Railway as it cuts through the purple and green stone of the Lizards’ toe-nails. The languid Elk River, dawdling southward to drown in the Kootenay some 20 miles away, is on the right, its bottom-land flats a pasture for great, cylindrical bales of hay curing in the summer sun. Below the Highway the CPR’s tracks sneak from shadow to woodsy shadow having just come off the four spans of the 150 metre long Elk River Crossing where the crews of McGilvary and Leeson began work in May of 1898 driving the piles that carried the original bridge. Not two miles from Elko, nestled into shallow cleft to the left of the Highway, the Sieders’ Mountain Tracks Wilderness Campground beckons the weary sundown cyclist. Gone, regretfully, is the Haren Down ice cream stand, but the Sieders still serve dairy treats. Farther on, like the brawny shoulder of a zealous doorman assigned to guard the door and scrutinize invitations to a black-tie social, a large limestone outcrop crowds the Highway, dramatically constricting the valley. This, many contend, is the western portal of the Crowsnest Pass.
        Ktunaxa, of course, are very familiar with this constriction. Though preferring the higher and more open North Kootenay Pass to the south for their forays out onto the Plains, tribal hunting parties occasionally came this way to slip over the Crowsnest Pass or one of its neighbours in an effort to avoid detection by their vigilant Plains dwelling foe, the Piikani and the Kainaa. Well armed and bent on punishing the invaders of their hunting grounds, the Piikani sometimes came this way, too. And still they come, peacefully now to visit other Nations, reinforcing ties and forging new ones, the commonalities of their cultures far out-weighing the differences in the face of the White inundation.
        Following the Indians’ trail, father Pierre-Jean de Smet came this way in the fall of 1845, heading for the White Man Pass at the headwaters of what he called Rivière Des Chutes, on his way to the HBC’s Rocky Mountain House to over-winter. Trudging along, he noted in his travel journal miles of exposed coal seams. Lieutenant T.W. Blakiston, a member of the Palliser Expedition which was sent out from London in the late 1850s to assess the potential of the British part of the western plains, led a small contingent over what he called the British Kutenie Pass—now the North Kootenay Pass—and into the Trench in late August, 1858. He met the Ktunaxa on the Tobacco Plains, named a few physical features, came far enough up the Elk to note the coal, and made his way back onto the Prairies likely by the South Kootenay Pass to deliver his resignation to his commander and hie himself back to England.
        Had Blakiston but remained on Tobacco Plains for a few days longer he could have handed his resignation to Palliser in person, instead of leaving it at Rocky Mountain House. Palliser had crossed the Rockies in the Kananaskis area around August 23rd and had made his way down the Kootenay River’s valley to arrive on the Plains within five days of Blakiston’s departure. As had Blakiston, Palliser found the Ktunaxa a bit deschevelés and dirty, but wealthy in fine horses and a few oxen which they had obtained from the Hudson’s Bay traders at Fort Colvile. Eager to return to the Prairies before Winter barred the passes, Palliser exchanged horses, bought an ox for meat and retraced Blakiston’s steps over the North Kootenay Pass. On their way to the Coast the next year, Palliser and his Expedition’s secretary, John William Sullivan, crossed the North Kootenay yet again. From the Tobacco Plains they followed the Kootenay River southward, Palliser all the way to its mouth, Sullivan only as far as the Hudson’s Bay path which traversed the height of land between the River and the Pend d’Oreille and led to Fort Colvile where he met Palliser on the 6th of September, 1859.
        Michael Phillipps was the next European to record a trek through this region, on his way to discover the Crowsnest Pass. From Naomi Miller’s “Michael Phillipps : Prominent Kootenay Citizen” (The Forgotten Side of the Border, Wayne Norton and Naomi Miller, eds. Plateau Press, Kamloops, B.C., 1998) a student learns that the Englishman Phillipps was sent in 1862 by the Hudson’s Bay Company to assist John Linklater at the Tobacco Plains post. The next year Phillipps and one Peter Boyle hiked up the Elk, panning for gold and trapping. On June 15th of 1864, Linklater, after spending sixteen years on Company service in the Kootenays, retired, leaving Phillipps as factor in charge of the post on the Plains. As such Phillipps moved the operation to Wild Horse the next year to better serve the miners there. In 1866 he married “Rowena” (also “Rowen”), daughter of “David,” chief of the Tobacco Plains Ktunaxa, pre-empted 320 acres on the Plains a year later and settled there. When the Company closed the post after it decided to retrench itself in the Athabaska district after it sold Rupert’s Land to Canada in 1869, Phillipps quit the service, bought the Company’s local assets, raised a store at Perry Creek and combined his mercantile endeavours with farming and a little prospecting. In 1873, according to his memoirs published by the Fernie Free Press in 1905 and referred to by professor W.J Cousins in A History of the Crow’s Nest Pass (Historic Trails Society of Alberta, 1952 [1981]), Phillipps and his partner, John Collins, worked their way up the Elk looking for gold, branched off up what they named “Michel Creek” for “Michel,” chief of the upper Ktunaxa, and kept on heading east up the valley until, upon finding bison hair adhering to the trees, they supposed that they had crossed the Great Divide. Hoping that traffic would benefit his businesses, Phillipps began promoting the Pass as an ideal transport corridor and a source of what looked to be mountains of coal. He sent a sample of the coal to Dr. George Mercer Dawson of the Geological Survey of Canada, and approached the newly appointed regional gold commissioner, William Fernie, with the proposal to build a trail from Wild Horse through the Pass to the Plains. Though Fernie opposed the idea on the grounds that the Ktunaxa claimed that there was no path, Phillipps, Jim Morrissey, William Sanders and another went ahead anyway and blazed the trail in 1874. The next year one of members of the provincial parliament for Kootenay District, Robert Leslie Thomas Galbraith, obtained funds and paid Phillipps and William Ridgeway $75 to improve the path. By 1879 the trail saw enough use that Fernie’s brother, Peter C., won a contract to build two bridges to carry it over the Elk River. In 1882, with the completion of the bridge over the Bull River in the Trench, the trail connected Galbraiths’ Landing to Fort Macleod. It was along this path that “Kootenai” Brown led Sam Steele’s N-WMP “D” Company, accompanied by Galbraith, back to the Fort in August of 1888. The Colonel declared himself favourably impressed by the path’s prospects.

        Despite the Highway on one side and the Railway on the other, the Elk’s valley above Elko is a wildlife paradise. Here and there along its course, the River swells into ponds where rushes grow high near the water’s edge and willows drive roots deep to hang on during spring floods: moose country. Loons laugh at the Eared grebes’ outrageous head-gear as the odd pair of Wood ducks go about their business in the reeds. Rosy finches are numerous, disturbed in their chatter only by the occasional fisherman stalking the cut-throat and bull trouts the exist naturally in these waters. Patience and careful observation will eventually reveal a Least Chipmunk, the most numerous and wide-spread Tamias on the continent, here on the very south-western fringes of its range.1 Squeezing scenery and inhabitants into an intimate association, the Lizard Range towers to the west, eye to eye with the Macdonalds to the east. High on crags brushed by the wings of Golden and Bald eagles, travellers sharp of eye might spy Mountain Sheep way up on their high summer pastures. Mountain Goats, antelope refugees from the Plains, share the Sheeps’ world. Bears appear as dusk begins to pour shadows into the hollows.
        For 55 or so kilometres of its course up the Elk from Elko, No.3 is built upon the railed of the Crows Nest Southern. About ten kilometres from Elko travellers come to the only tunnel on the Crowsnest Highway. Locally called the “weather tunnel” for the dramatic difference in weather that can pertain to either side of it, it is not a grand affair. Perhaps 50 metres long, crudely hacked through a little toe of limestone, its portals unadorned with any concrete cosmetics, the top of its vault is, after all these years, still smoke stained. High enough to drive a steam locomotive through, it has been widened only enough to allow two shoulderless lanes of highway to squeeze through.
        Up the valley another six kilometres is the tiny and easily missed Morrissey Provincial Park, approximately the site of Swinton on the CNS. To the right narrow little Morrissey Road heads across a riverside pasture to cross the Elk on a skinny Bailey bridge. From the middle of the bridge, ponging and pinging as its metal expands in the high-noon sun, one can see downstream past the mouth of Morrissey Creek and follow the line of the B.C. Southern down the River’s left bank.
        This is coal country.

The Crow’s Nest Pass Coal Company and the B.C. Southern Railway

        The Crowsnest Pass area is underlain by billions of tons of excellent bituminous and anthracite coals interbedded in thick layers with limestone strata. Exposed by tectonics, the coal is fairly easy to get at, and a century ago industry and transportation and even grandma’s kitchen stove required it.
        As quoted by J.B. Dawson in Crowsnest: An Illustrated History and Guide (Altitude Publishing Canada, Canmore, Alberta, 1995) Michael Phillipps groaned in his journal that he and John Collins found “...nothing but coal and more coal everywhere...” as they poked their way up the Elk’s valley in 1873. Seeking gold, they were disappointed. To them the coal was worthless, a curiosity to be yarned about.
        Among those hearing the yarns was Colonel James Baker, the lord of Joseph’s Prairie. Though Phillipps’ tales might have amused the Colonel, the reports of the Geological Survey of Canada fascinated him. Dr. Dawson of the Survey had followed up on Phillipps’ reports of fourteen foot thick coal seams and had travelled himself through the Crow’s Nest Pass to confirm this, as his notes for 1878 reflect. Three years later, and again in 1885, Dawson had returned to the area and, while identifying commercially uninteresting deposits of impure iron and copper, marvelled anew at the bounty of coal squeezing out of the mountains. By that time the CPR was completing its Mainline and a far-sighted man could see the day when raw materials from B.C. would fuel the Nation’s development. Baker determined to position himself to benefit, and when Dawson’s reports were released in 1886, the Colonel saw how he could manage that. He immediately formed a syndicate to assess the coal measures and decide how best to exploit them. While Baker was organizing himself to run for one of the Kootenay’s two seats in the Provincial Parliament, one of the Syndicate members, William Fernie, journeyed with his brother, Peter, up into the Elk’s valley to take a look-see.

        William Fernie had arrived in Victoria on the barque Vickery from San Francisco on June 30th, 1860. Too late to stake a good claim in the Cariboo gold fields, he had investigated the Colony’s possibilities and was considering his options when he met Edgar Dewdney in the Kootenays in 1865. Dewdney had just won a contract to extend his Trail into the East Kootenays and was looking for an able foreman to supervise his Chinese construction crew. Fernie fit the bill, and under his direction the Chinese built the Trail eastward from Fort Shepherd on the Columbia River to Wild Horse. Completing his contract in early 1866, Fernie left many of his labourers diligently reworking the Wild Horse’s sands and busied himself likely looking for gold until 1868 found him ranching with his brother, Peter C., near Galbraith’s Ferry. Reportedly rustled out of that business, William became the Provincial Constable at the nearby Perry Creek gold camp by 1873 while Peter became the superintendent of the Walla Walla–:Dewdney Trail from the Ferry south to the Boundary. Around this time, too, William accepted the appointment of regional provincial Gold Commissioner, and in that capacity opposed Michael Phillipps’ 1873 proposal to build a road through the Crow’s Nest. In 1876 William became the local Customs Collector in the Trench, and three years later was named coroner and Assistant Commissioner for Lands and Works in the Electoral District of Kootenay. Political fortunes changed when William Smythe’s regime gained Provincial power on January 29th, 1883, and that July 10th Edward Kelly took over as regional Gold Commissioner, likely displacing Fernie from his other appointments, as well. How Fernie occupied himself for the next three years is unclear, but by the time Baker proposed forming a syndicate, Fernie was available to go take a look at the Elk’s offering.
        What the Fernie brothers saw in the Elk’s valley impressed them. They couldn’t know it, but they were standing on the western edge of basin that even after a century of intensive mining still contains billions of tons of coal, much of it accessible by modern mining methods. On the basis of the brothers’ observations, on January 14th, 1887, Edward Bray, J.E. Humphries, William Fernie and F.W. Aylmer applied for a coal prospecting permit in the Elk. The Fernies forthwith accompanied Aylmer, a surveyor, to the Valley to stake out 1,920 acres of the best coal lands. The province granted the group Licence Number 21 on March 29th, and on December 16th issued Number 25 to Aylmer, Number 26 to William Fernie, Number 27 to C.S. Lewis, and Number 28 to Peter Creake Fernie; all were of 480 acres and adjoined Number 21.
        Recorded by Jo-Anna La Grandeur in her 1984 compilation, Elk Valley Heritage Resource Inventory, James Baker stated in 1900 that within a few months of staking their coal claims, he and his Associates concluded that they would profit best if they owned a permit to connect their property to the outside world with a railroad. They therefore applied to the province for a charter, proposing to capitalize the road to four million dollars. On April 28, 1888, after the Syndicate had posted the required $10,000 bond to prove that it was serious about the project, Victoria passed the Crow’s Nest and Kootenay Lake Railway Act which permitted the emplacement of tracks of not less a three-foot gauge from the apex of the Crow’s Nest Pass to the mouth of the Goat River which at that time made its own way to Kootenay Lake. The line was granted a 99 foot wide right-of-way and some additional land for stations and sidings, but the mineral rights to the grant were withheld and a proviso was appended which required that construction be commenced within two years and completed within five.
        In the meantime, as the Syndicate’s coal licences were good for only one year, William Fernie had applied on behalf of Edward Bray, Humphries, Aylmer, and Baker’s son, Valentine Hyde Baker, to buy 1,350 acres of the best coal lands covered by the licences. The Crown made this grant on March 20th, 1889, and five days later, naming Colonel Baker, the Fernies, Bray and the Victoria financier, J. Despard Pemberton, as trustees, the Associates incorporated the Crow’s Nest Coal and Mineral Company (CNC&M) with a nominal capitalization of two million dollars. Baker awayed to scour the financial districts of New York, London and Montreal for development money but, with no governmental incentives other than the miserly the right-of-way grant to aid in the construction of the railroad, Baker’s offerings, reports Bruce Ramsay in 100 years of Coal Mining - The Elk River Valley (Ramsay Publications, Sparwood, B.C., 1997), gained few subscriptions. Though the Syndicate acquired an additional 2,400 acres in 1889 and a further 8,160 the following year, investors refused to buy into the Project and the construction commencement date stipulated by the railway charter, April 28th, 1890, came and went with not even a survey stake set.
        In 1890, writes G.W. Taylor in Mining : The History of Mining In British Columbia, the Province of B.C. enacted its Railway Aid Act which promised 20,000 acres per mile to eligible railroads upon their completion. Not only did the CN&KL qualify, but the province also amended its charter. The amendment, passed on April 29th of 1890, substituted J. Despard Pemberton for Aylmer, Bray and Humphreys on the board of directors, extended the completion deadline to 1893 and endowed the railway, states Lorrie Felske in his research papers entitled The Coal Mining Industry of the Crow’s Nest Pass (compiled by Sharon Babaian for Alberta Culture, 1985), with “...the mineral rights to the land chosen” under the Railway Aid Act.
        The land grant, should the entire line be constructed, would total more than 1.33 million hectares. However, because of previous promises to the CPR and Baillie-Grohman’s Kootenay Valley Company, and having already sold properties to private individuals including the Crow’s Nest Coal and Mineral Company, the province was unable to grant certain lands to the CN&KL in areas through which it was destined to pass. To make up the deficiency, writes Taylor, the railway was to get land in belt five miles wide on the east side of the Elk River from five miles below what is now Morrissey Creek to 28 miles above Michel Creek, another five mile wide belt centred on Coal Creek from its mouth to the top of its watershed, and a third belt of six miles in width centred on Michel Creek from the Elk to the Continental Divide. Despite the potential wealth represented by the properties, venture capital had retreated in the face of the tightening North American recession of 1893.
        Baker’s hand can be plainly seen in the government’s treatment of the CN&KL; he had been designated, after all, the Chairman of B.C.’s Standing Committee on Railways. On February 27th of 1890 Baker proposed that the CN&KL’s charter be extended and transferred to an new entity which would involve the Spokane magnate, D.C. Corbin, in the completion of the project. The Committee voiced no objection to Baker’s plan and amended the CN&KL’s charter.
        By the end of 1890 the Associates realized that the CN&KL had established a poor reputation in the money markets, and were doubtless very pleased when the government amended the CN&KL Railway Act on April 12th, 1891(?), granting an extension which enabled the company to build along Dewdney’s trail all the way to Hope and on to Burrard Inlet upon which nascent Vancouver was burgeoning. As well, spur lines down the Tobacco Plains to the Boundary, and from Cranbrook across the Purcells to either Lardo or Pilot Bay, were authorized. Time constraints, discouraging to Corbin, were again applied; the eastern portion, between the Pass and Kootenay Lake, was to be completed by 1894, and the remainder within two years following.
        Taking advantage of Baker’s influence, the Syndicate prevailed upon the director of the Geological Survey of Canada, Dr. Alfred R.C. Selwyn, to meet with Wm. Fernie and Baker and assess the Crow’s Nest Coal and Mineral Company’s holdings. In the August 2nd, 1891, entry in his report to his boss, federal Minister of the Interior, Edgar Dewdney, Selwyn enthuses about the measures of coal he has been shown in the upper Michel Creek. Later that month, having ridden with Fernie into the Flathead River valley to the east of the Elk, Selwyn confirms the presence of petroleum there. Perhaps on the strength of the Doctor’s findings, the Syndicate was able to gain $40,000 of operating capital by selling a one third interest in the Crow’s Nest Coal and Mineral Company to a consortium of Eastern investors which included the Hanson brothers of Montréal, Mr. Howland of Toronto, and the Galt family, whose Alberta Railway and Coal Company also owned a charter to build a railroad through the Pass and had, by 1888, surveyed a right-of-way thence and on down the Moyie River with the intention of striking the Northern Pacific Railway at Sandpoint, Idaho. With the capital, the B.C. Southern surveyed ninety miles of right-of-way or which sixteen were cleared, and cut and distributed thousands of ties. Failing to obtain a Dominion cash subsidy for construction, however, the project remained an unattractive prospect for Big Money.

        In September of 1891 J.J. Hill pushed his Great Northern Railway westward through Marias Pass and down into the Pacific watershed. Aiming for the Coast at Everett, Washington, Hill’s right-of-way came to within 45 miles of the Boundary near Jennings, on the Kootenay River some 75 miles south of the Crow’s Nest Coal and Mineral Company’s lands. Like every railroad magnate at the turn of the century, J.J. Hill was intensely interested in coal. Not only did his steam engines rely upon it, but it was one of his best revenue generating cargoes, and James Baker did not neglect to draw Hill’s attention to the Crow’s Nest Coal and Mineral Company and the Crow’s Nest and Kootenay Lake Railway. Hill’s war with the CPR was running hot, and though it was his avowed intent to drive his rival into bankruptcy, in the fall of ’91 and the year following, his objective was getting his steel to salt water and he could not yet afford to be side-tracked into the Pass. The CPR, however, tracing the progress of Hill’s mainline, noted with some anxiety just how close it came to the Pass.
        In September of 1892 Baker came to real power in Victoria when he was appointed to cabinet as Provincial Secretary and Minister of Mines. The next year was a busy year for he and his Associates. 2w On April 12th, 1893, Victoria passed the British Columbia Southern Railway Company Act which concentrated Baker’s syndicate’s wide-ranging land, resources and power generation grants. The Act dissolved the CN&KL, and extended the road’s completion dates: the eastern portion, from the Continental Divide to the mouth of the Elk, was to be finished by the last day of 1896; the central portion, from the Elk to Kootenay Lake, by the end of 1897; and the western section, from the Lake to the Coast, was to be in place by December 31st, 1898. In 1893, as well, the Syndicate absorbed some cash from Victoria-based investors, incorporated the British Columbia Coal, Petroleum and Mineral Company Limited (BCCP&M) on April 17th and had its Crow’s Nest Coal and Mineral Company deed its assets to the new entity.
        Because the Project was stirring some interest in the boardrooms and government circles “Down East,” on 2w April 11, 1894, the provincial government passed the British Columbia Southern Railway Company Act which consolidated the Syndicate’s previous railroad acts and extended the completion deadlines of the individual portions. On April 17th, 1896, as a deal looked to be in the offing, Victoria amended the B.C. Southern’s act to extend the date of completion for the eastern section to the end of 1898, the central to the end of ’99 and the western to December 31st, 1900.

        Back in 1882, supported by Canada’s Conservative government and dedicated to building the long postponed transcontinental railroad with which the Dominion had enticed B.C. into Confederation, the CPR was laying track west from Winnipeg just as fast as its new American construction manager, W.C. Van Horne, could bully his men into working. Ten years earlier, after a few years of investigation, San[d]ford Fleming, the Dominion’s chief civil engineer and head of the Government Railway Exploration Survey in charge of charting a rail route across Canada, had declared that the Crowsnest was the easiest pass yet found in the Rockies through which to lay a line of rail. However, west of the Pass, builders would face enormous topographical challenges which would negate any advantage gained in the gentle grades of the Crowsnest. As well, Canadians harboured a well-founded distrust of American intentions and were leery of building the nation’s primary east-west link within easy grasp of its burgeoning, bellicose neighbour. The best alternative, Fleming had opined, was the Yellow Head Pass near the headwaters of the Athabaska River, west of Fort Edmonton and much farther north. With the Yellow Head in his sights, Van Horne aimed his crews off across the Plains, but also sent out his own surveying parties under Major Albert Bowman Rogers to comb the cordillera for a better route. He approached his task from the west, crossing the Monashees via the Eagle Pass previously charted by Walter Moberly in 1866. On May 21, 1881, Rogers breached the pass which today bears his name, but it wasn’t until April of the next year that Rogers surveyors found the Kicking Horse Pass through the Rockies west of today’s Calgary. That May, Van Horne announced that the CPR would abandon the Yellow Head route in favour of Roger’s shorter alignment.
        Construction of its Mainline had nearly broken the CPR. Indeed, only a timely loan from the Baring Brothers bank in London enabled the Company to push its steel through the Monashees. Not too many months after the Honourable Donald Alexander Smith had bent the Line’s last spike at a quarter past nine in the morning of November 7th, 1885, the Railway realized that it had missed the lode of B.C.’s mineral wealth by several hundreds of miles. Along the Mainline was found scant mineral deposits, and though there were trees aplenty, there was little market for lumber at that time. With few farmers and ranchers yet on the Prairies creating a demand for goods and transport, the Company earned little revenue, and what it did earn it was forced to spend on improving the Mainline and developing infrastructure elsewhere. As the riches of the Kootenays began to be revealed, CP chewed its nails and watched anxiously as D.C. Corbin extended his Spokane Falls and Northern into the region from the Northern Pacific Railway’s mainline at Spokane, Washington, and Hill advanced his GN along the Boundary toward the sea.

        It may have been Selwyn’s Geological Survey reports to the Ministry of the Interior that caught the attention of the federal cabinet at the beginning of the 1890s. The long-time Conservative Prime Minister of Canada, Sir John Alexander Macdonald, had assumed the duties of Minister of Railways and Canals on November 28th, 1889, and during the contest for the election of March 5th, 1891, he urged the CPR to build Colonel Baker’s line through the Crow’s Nest Pass and thereby save the Kootenays from American domination. Though two years earlier Baker had been unsuccessful in subscribing the help of the Company’s former president, George Stevens, Van Horne and his board of directors responded to Macdonald’s suasions with an offer to build the Crow’s Nest line if Ottawa would, writes J.A. Eagle in The Canadian Pacific Railway and the Development of Western Canada, 1896–1914, grant a $5,000 per mile construction subsidy, plus 20 year loan at 3% per annum of $20,000 per mile. The offer met with little enthusiasm from the newly re-elected and financially strapped government.
        The Conservatives had won the election of 1891, but four months later, on June 6th, Sir John died. The Tories crumbled, looking to four men for leadership in the next five years. None could fill Macdonald’s shoes. Chaos ruled policy, resolve vanished. Discouraged by the disarray in the Conservative’s ranks, Van Horne quietly switched the Company’s allegiance from its patrons of old and began the distasteful task of courting the rising Liberals of Wilfrid Laurier. For his part, Laurier could plainly see that J.J. Hill was positioning himself to rip into the wealth of southern B.C. and, though the Liberals were no friends of the Railway, he agreed that it was high time for a Canadian railroad to be driven into the Kootenays.
        CP was not the sole volunteer willing to build a line through the Crow’s Nest. In 1892 E.T. Galt received federal approval to extend the trackage of his Alberta Railway and Coal Company from its terminus in Lethbridge westward through the Pass and on to Hope. No subsidy was forthcoming, but the prospect of competition in the Pass unsettled CP. The Company had investigated the route in 1890, and to protect it, claims G.H. Buck in From Summit to Sea (Fifth House Limited, Calgary, 1997), the CPR took a 999-year lease on the Alberta Railway and Coal’s line between Lethbridge and the Mainline at Medicine Hat on November 27th, 1893.
        Nor was Galt CP’s only potential competitor. By 1895 William Fernie had begun divesting himself of his Syndicate holdings, eventually realizing around a half million dollars. Among the buyers of Fernie’s B.C. Coal, Petroleum and Mineral Company’s shares were two staunch Liberal supporters and owners of the influential Toronto Globe, federal senator George Albertus Cox and Robert Jaffray, who together acquired a quarter of the outfit’s stock. By 1896 they and their Eastern cohorts owned enough of the Syndicate that they began to lobby their representatives in Ottawa for a subsidy with which to build a line to the coal fields. Talk of a subsidy attracted their acquaintances, the railroad builders William Mackenzie and Donald Mann, to Cox and Jaffray’s cause, but some of the CPR’s dearest friends were woven securely into the politico-bureaucratic federal fabric. Their quiet advice likely made Laurier uncomfortable entrusting such an important project to hands inexperienced in large undertakings.
        In 1893, while negotiating the lease of the Galt road, Van Horne had begun seriously pressing his proposed Crow’s Nest route upon the government. D.C. Corbin was nearly to Nelson and the fabulous Silver King with his Nelson and Fort Sheppard Railway. J.J. Hill had completed his Great Northern on January 6th of that year and was now casting acquisitive eyes northward across the Boundary: Van Horne was anxious to run steel into the Kootenays before the best of the wealth drained away. But the CPR, its ledgers written mostly in red ink, needed financial help to build and the federal Conservative government, itself straightened, hesitated to further gift the Company which, in popular opinion, was already over burdened with public largesse. Despite his accountants’ misgivings, Van Horne authorized surveyors to stake of a preliminary right-of-way through the Crow’s Nest Pass and on as far as the new mining town of Rossland. On September 21st of 1895, reports J.D. McDonald in The Railways of Rossland, British Columbia (Rossland Historical Museum Assoc., 1991), CP declared the survey complete.
        By 1896 the economy had shaken off the effects of the twenty year long recession, and the memory of the NYSE Crash of 1893 was receding in the collective conscience. Promising wars were on the horizon. Spain and the United States were in disagreement over Cuba, the Boers were building towards a confrontation with the globe-girdling British, Japan was modernizing its armed forces to the displeasure of the Russians, and Europeans, with advances in medicine and technology making them all but invincible, were marching into the Dark Continent to the words of Hillaire Belloc’s ditty: “Whatever happens, we have got[,] The Maxim Gun, and they have not.” Vast amounts of coal and copper would needed, and if the CPR wanted to position itself to profit from the Kootenay’s wealth, it needed to lay a solid connection thither before Hill. With its Mainline established but prone to Nature’s interruptions, the Company began to agitate for help in building the long discussed southern alternative.
        On June 23rd, 1896, the political landscape in Ottawa changed when the Liberal Party took office for the first time in nearly twenty years. Organized, cohesive and blessed with a dynamic leader who envisioned the new Century as Canada’s for the taking, the Grits swept away the tattered remnants of Tory power. During the campaign both parties had come out in favour of aiding a competent company in building the Crow’s Nest line; now the West’s eyes focused on Laurier to see how he would effect his policy.
        Sentiments in B.C. ran against the CPR for its all-mighty attitude and its punishing freight rates, so the citizens of the province generally favoured the federal government itself building a railroad into the Kootenays. Despite this, allegedly at Van Horne’s behest, the conservative premier of the province, John H. Turner, and his Minister of Mines, Colonel James Baker, wired Laurier on August 20th imploring the new government to strike a deal with the CPR and save south-eastern B.C. from American domination. With this support in hand, Laurier and CP’s vice-president, Thomas Geo. Shaughnessy, got together for a tête-ô-tête a month later and agreed that they shared enough common ground to begin negotiations. Confidentially, through the offices of the Montréal stockbrokers, Hanson Brothers, Van Horne and a group of close associates began spending $100,000 to acquire the shares of the B.C. Southern for the CPR. Write the Grafs in their Reflections on the Kootenay: Wardner, B.C., 1897–1997, Colonel Baker, for cash and considerations, quietly surrendered his large block of stock.
        While Ottawa and CP were talking, W.C. Van Horne, Shaughnessy and the Band of Montreal’s Richard Bladworth Angus were reaching and understanding with the principals of B.C. Coal, Petroleum and Mineral. On January 14th of 1897 an agreement was announced concerning freight rates, prices and guaranteed tonnages.
        Writes Ramsay in 100 years of Coal Mining - The Elk River Valley, on the following May 22nd the B.C. Coal, Petroleum and Mineral Company held a meeting in Victoria at which it was revealed that Cox and Jaffray had accumulated one quarter of the two million dollars worth of shares in the company and that a new company, the Crow’s Nest Coal Company (CNP Coal), would be created to acquire the assets of BCCP&M for two-thirds of the new company’s $1.5 million initial capitalization. James Baker was elected president and William Fernie appointed on-site director. At the same meeting, it was resolved that another entity, the Kootenay Coal Company, would be organized with a Dominion charter to negotiate the final agreements with CP and the federal government for the development of the coal measures. Headquartered in Montréal, Kootenay Coal came into being on (?) October 20th, 1897, with Baker and Cox elected president and vice-president, respectively.
        States T.D. Regehr in The Canadian Northern Railway, in order to make government aid to CP palatable to the public, Laurier felt forced to extract concessions from the Company. The great chaffing point was Clause Twenty of the Agreement that Ottawa had signed with the CP Syndicate back in 1881. It stated that the Railway’s tariffs would remain protected from government regulation until such time as the Company was able to reliably return 10% per annum to the holders of its shares. With its strangle-hold on transport between East and West and the security of the Clause, the Company was deaf to protests as it plumbed the depths of its customers’ pockets for that last red cent of profit. However, though that happy day when the Company could cut the 10% cheques had not yet arrived, so anxious was CP to get a line built into the Kootenays that on February the 4th of 1897 Van Horne had offered to do it for a straight subsidy of $10,000 per mile, and agreed to discuss modification to Clause Twenty. According to J.A. Eagle in The Canadian Pacific Railway and the Development of Western Canada, 1896–1914, on June 3rd, the Company and the government reached an accord which would go on to receive royal assent on June 29th as 60-61 Victoria Chapter 5, “An Act to authorize a Subsidy for a Railway through the Crow’s Nest Pass.” This is the notorious Crowsnest Agreement which was to bedevil Western politics for nearly a century. It granted CP permission to acquire the B.C. Southern with its provincial subsidy of 20,000 acres of land per mile, and to operate it forever. As well, the Agreement bestowed a federal subsidy on the Line of $11,000 per mile to a maximum of nearly $3.7 million. Because of this maximum, only that portion of the Line between the Pass and Nelson would be built, which suited the CPR just fine: it had little desire to complete the B.C. Southern through to the Coast. However, the Line as far west as Kootenay Lake was to be completed before the end of 1898; Nelson was to be reached within two years after. Further, the Company was to keep only six square miles of coal lands in the Pass. For its contribution, the federal government was to get two blocks of coal lands of 50,000 and 10,000 acres, authorization to allow other railroad companies to use the Line and its branches, CP’s guarantee that it would never raise the freight rates on flour, wheat, farm goods and agricultural implements and supplies to and from the Prairies, and the right to approve rates on the Company’s entire B.C. network south of the Mainline. The draft of the contract to build the B.C. Southern received governmental approval on July 27th of 1897 and the Agreement was signed on October 6th.
        Concurrent with its negotiations with the government, the CPR was still talking with the Syndicate, and on July 30th what is called the “tripartite agreement” among CP, Kootenay Coal and the B.C. Southern Railway Company was reached. For the B.C. Southern and its charter, CP paid Kootenay Coal $85,000 cash and promised, states Ramsay in 100 years of Coal Mining - The Elk River Valley, to transfer 170,000 acres of coal lands and some 400,000 acres of timber lands in the Elk and Michel valleys to the coal company upon completion of the Line. As per the Crow’s Nest Agreement, it was understood that CP would keep only 3,840 acres of coal lands in the Pass and agree not to mine them within ten years of the date of the land transfer. Further, CP undertook to build the Line immediately, and all spurs and marshalling facilities necessary for coal mining. As well, it agreed to limit the freight rates that it would charge the Coal Company for shipments on the B.C. Southern. Kootenay Coal, in exchange for the B.C. Southern and a promise to sell to CP’s customers all the coal and coke they wanted at a reasonable rate, obtained not only clear title to an estimated one billion tons of excellent, easily-accessible bituminous and anthracite coals, but a ten year moratorium on competition from within the Elk and Michel valleys. Should Kootenay Coal renege on its promise, either the government or CP was free to mine.
        So everybody came out ahead: CP got into the Kootenays, the Crow’s Nest Pass Coal Company got access to market, Ottawa won stable freight rates for its constituents and Victoria looked forward to the development of its richest region.

        Long before any documents were drawn up and signed, CP had crews at work. By November of 1897, with the British Columbia Southern and the North Western Coal & Navigation charters safely in its pocket, the Company’s board of directors was pleased to be informed that the survey of the Line’s right-of-way had been completed and the tote road built. On January 1st of 1898 CP leased the B.C. Southern in perpetuity, and by mid-June the grading was finished. Using—or, as inquiries later determined; abusing—White labour only, the Company laid rails down the valley of the Elk in the spring of 1898 and the Line’s last spike was driven at dusk near Kootenay Landing on October 6th. Called variously the Crow’s Nest (Pass) Branch, Line, Route or Railway, the Line’s trackage from Fort Macleod to Kootenay Lake was turned over to the CPR’s Operations department on November 14th and was declared officially open on December 7th. Adolf Hungry Wolf, in his /u>Rails in the Canadian Rockies, mentions that the 3.75 million acres granted to the B.C. Southern eventually yielded the Company $1.8 million cash, including 40¢ per acre for the 2.5 million acres surrendered to the province in the year that CP’s properties lost their tax exempted status, 1912. The money from the land sales, coupled with the $3.4 million cash subsidy that the Company received from the Dominion as per the Crow’s Nest Agreement, did not equal half of the $9.9 million that the Hosmer Heritage Restoration Project reports that CP spent in completing the Line. However, that the Railway or its proxies still operate on the entire CNL a full century later is ample testimony to its utility.
The Crows Nest Southern Railway        

        Even though it was an “all Canadian” venture and vigorously waved the Union Jack of patriotism when it felt that Canadians were forgetting that it was the only thing that materially tied the nation together from coast to coast and prevented the Dominion’s wholesale dismemberment by American commerce, the CPR never enjoyed unreserved popularity, especially in the West. Westerners were acutely aware that the Company had been well gifted with cash incentives, land grants and tax exemptions to undertake its grand venture. Embittering many a landowner was the Railway’s predisposition to the highhanded expropriation of property through which it felt it needed passage. Batteries of lawyers it kept for just such occasions. Once in operation, it quite unapologetically favoured Eastern interests with rates on West bound freight considerably lower than those applied to East bound, and, because it enjoyed a virtual monopoly in much the greater portion of its territory, it set what ever price it wanted on its services; if you wanted to ride, you paid the price, and a pretty one at that.
        So, occasionally, Western governments felt disposed to chastise the CPR, to challenge its domination over Canadian transportation. One method that they employed was to issue a railroad charter to a Company competitor, and no more relentless competitor did the CPR have than J.J. Hill.
        For three years beginning in November of 1898, CP and the Great Northern observed a truce which saw a modicum of co-operation between the two and a hiatus in the latter’s invasion of Canada. However, in 1901, with the rush for the wealth of the Boundary District, it was back to business as usual.
        The Crow’s Nest Pass Coal Company had started mining at Coal Creek near present-day Fernie even before the rails of the B.C. Southern arrived in the Elk’s valley in July of 1898. With the railroad complete, the company honoured its commitment to the “tripartite agreement” by selling most of its output to CP’s customers at a fair price. But in 1900 a recession in the West Kootenay metals industry left CNP Coal with no market for much of the 622 tons per day that it was mining by that February. With its stockpiles growing, the company sought markets south of the Boundary, primarily in Montana where smelters at Butte Great Falls were in constant need of coal and coke.
        J.J. Hill was in a position to help CNP Coal. Not only did his locomotives require mountains of coal every day, but his various rail lines served the smelter towns of Northport and Everett, Washington, and Great Falls and Butte, Montana. By only two routes, however, could Pass coal reach the Great Northern: eastward on the Crow’s Nest Line to Lethbridge where it had to be off-loaded into the small gondolas of the narrow-gauged Alberta Railway and Coal Company and its American sister line, the Great Falls and Canada, for the trip southward to Hill’s mainline at Great Falls; westward on the Crow Line to its interchange at Wynndel near Creston with the Bedlington and Nelson Railway which Hill was then in the process of building northward from his mainline at Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Both routes relied on the CPR, and the Company was not eager to create profit for its rival. Seeking independence from the Company’s self-interest, CNP Coal announced on March 1st of 1901 that it would apply to the Dominion government for a charter for what the Hosmer Heritage Restoration Project identifies as the Kootenay Lake Railway. It would run from the mines down the Elk and Kootenay Rivers to cross the Boundary and tie into the GN mainline at Jennings.
        By the end of 1900 CNP Coal was headquartered in Toronto and was firmly in the control of the powerful federal senator Geo. A. Cox and his associates. Cox was now the company’s president, as he was of the wealthy Canada Life Assurance Company. Robert Jaffray was the vice-president, the same position he held with the Imperial Bank. Involved as well were H.M. Pellatt as second vice-president, Elias Rogers, J.W. Flavelle, E.R. Wood, and A.E. Ames. A Canadian himself, J.J. Hill knew many of these men and was familiar with their coal business.
        Hill had a nose for profit and, smelling money, he involved himself in CNP Coal’s affairs. According to M.A. Kennedy in her 1979 master’s thesis submitted to the Department of Archæology at the University of Calgary, Coke Ovens of the Crowsnest Pass, Hill bought 10,000 shares of the outfit on January 3, 1901. When it applied for a federal railway charter, CNP Coal disclosed that it had been recapitalized on February 19th, 1901, to $3.5 million and that Hill owned 30% of it. This involvement sent the alarm bells ringing at CP and the Company ensured that its supporters made themselves heard when Parliament debated the issue of the charter on March 11th of 1901. Should the Kootenay Lake Railway be built, ran their argument, CNP Coal would export all its output and starve the CP’s coal customers, one of which was the Company’s smelter at Trail. Doubting that the issue would be resolved in its favour, CNP Coal turned instead to Victoria for an unsubsidized provincial charter for what it called the Crows Nest Southern Railway Company (CNS). This was duly granted on April 24th, 1901, and the following May 21st, CNP Coal withdrew its federal application.
        Under the charter of the Montana and Great Northern, the 800-man-strong work force of A. Guthrie and Company soon had the 51 miles of rails between Jennings and the Boundary laid. How, exactly, Hill was able to ignore the federal requirement for permission to connect the M&GN to the CNS remains an issue befogged, but the Liberal insiders Cox and Jaffray doubtless had a hand in the arrangement. In violation of the Law or not, by September of 1902 Guthrie’s crews had pushed the CNS 42 miles from the Boundary to Swinton, a switch-point just north of the present Morrissey Park on the Crowsnest Highway. From Swinton the CNS carried on to Fernie, leaving what it called its Morrissey Creek Branch to bridge the River and the CPR tracks in a wide “U” near CP’s old Morrissey switch-point and tie into the spur that CNP Coal had in 1901 laid to the mines in the Morrissey from a switch in the CPR’s BC Southern. Obligingly, the CPR had moved its “Morrissey” station a mile south down the B.C.S. Because its charter had been gifted with absolutely no subsidies, writes David Davies in “The Crows Nest Southern Railway” (The Forgotten Side of the Border, op. cit.), the CNS cost the Great Northern an average of $97,200 for each one of the 74.2 Canadian miles that it would eventually build.

Mining in the Morrissey

        East from the Highway at tiny Morrissey Provincial Park, meagre Morrissey Road crosses the Elk River on a narrow Bailey bridge poinging in the sun and trips over CP’s BC Southern rails hugging the River’s left bank. Beyond, a four-way intersection sends a thinly gravelled forest road some fifteen kilometres northward through woods populated by tough Herefords and thickets of thimbleberry and blueberry bushes, past pocket farms and ranchettes to enter Fernie as Cokato Road.2 South, to the right, Domin Road follows the tracks a few hundred metres down to the CPR’s Morrissey siding. East from the Intersection and dressed in crushed gravel, dusty little Morrissey Road makes frequent use of the grade of the old CPR-CNS Morrissey Creek branch as it jolts itself eight kilometres up past a scant scattering of inhabited houses which mark the sites of Morrissey Mines and Morrissey Cottages. Visitors will know that they have reached “the Mines” when a ghostly row of silent beehive coke ovens appear out of the bush, paralleling the Road on the right. A further 1.8 kilometres up the valley lies Carbonado, as Morrissey Cottages was also known.

        For the Crow’s Nest Pass Coal Company and its workers, the Morrissey Creek valley was a vale of disappointment.
        CNP Coal had had an interest in this area since its predecessor, the Crow’s Nest Coal and Mineral Company, had purchased 960 acres at the Morrissey’s mouth on December 18th, 1889. Ten years later, with its mines in the Coal Creek valley near Fernie in operation and one in the lower Michel valley in development, CNP Coal began to examine the measures in the Morrissey’s valley. The coal looked excellent. With close to 79% of its weight in fixed carbon, 13.5% in volatiles and almost ash-free, it was right on the frontier between bituminous and anthracite. Encouraged by the findings and the demand for fuel from the Great Northern’s clients south of the Boundary, the company began developing a couple of mines. In 1901, as J.J. Hill was laying track from his Great Northern mainline northward into the Pass, CNP Coal, by dint of the Agreements of 1897, finally prevailed upon the CPR to run a spur of its B.C. Southern up Morrissey Creek a few hundred metres past the developing mines.
        CP’s Morrissey Creek spur diverged from the BC Southern near a site which the CPR had named “Morrissey” for James Morrissey, a local pioneer. When CNP Coal began developing the nearby mines a little mining camp began to grow at Morrissey. Unfortunately, it was pretty much where the Crows Nest Southern needed to cross the Elk in a sweeping “U”-shaped curve which would lift it above the River and the BC Southern and position it to connect with the Morrissey Creek spur. Morrissey needed to be moved. Thomas Crahan, formerly of the Wardner Townsite Company, was hired to lay out a townsite on the northern bank of Morrissey Creek about a miles south down the BC Southern from what soon became “old Morrissey.” Under Crahan’s direction two streets and five avenues named “Morrissey Townsite” were surveyed and a water system dug in. Some 25 company cottages were raised, supplied with electricity from the company’s generator and occupied by the end of September, 1902. CP built a little station. On the following May 1st building lots went on sale to the general public. Attracted by the construction of a four-room school, a company store, a couple of hotels, a sawmill, a newspaper—the Morrissey Miner, several service businesses and Albert Mutz’s little brewery, most of the residents of the two dozen or so houses that had sprung up at “old Morrissey” moved onto the new site. Not everyone, though. At the mine site about a kilometre up the Creek, a few individuals built shacks so as to be close to their place of work. This became “Morrissey Mines,” and it was here that CNP Coal built their coke ovens.
        Coke is made by heating coal in huge ovens to expel the volatiles—methane, hydrogen, tar and ammonia. What is left is the fixed carbon, any ash that was present in the coal originally, sulphur and phosphorus. Per potential calorie of heat, coke is up to 75% lighter than coal, making it less expensive to transport and easier to handle. It is the fuel of choice for smelting metallic ores. The less ash present in coke, the better it is in the smelting process where it is mixed with the ore in a heap and fired. Coke with more than about 15% of its weight in ash is unattractive to smelters, for it compromises the ability of a lump of coke to hold its shape and bear weight in the heap. Should the heap collapse, the process is smothered. When CNP Coal had found Morrissey coal to be nearly ash-free, it was greatly encouraged. Even when samples, due to the coal’s high percentage of fixed carbon, proved extremely difficult to coke in the company’s beehive ovens up the BC Southern 12 miles at Fernie, the company ignored the reservations of its cokers and contracted Harry Oldland of Pennsylvania to build two batteries of beehives totalling of 240 ovens. A tract of level land near Morrissey Mines was cleared, and on foundations prepared by Foss and McDonald, Oldland’s crews began the construction in 1903. They had finished 148 by November of that year, with the rest scheduled for 1904. There were rumours of 500 more ovens to come.
        By that September of 1903, too, Hill had his Crows Nest Southern connected to the Morrissey Creek branch and, his truce with CP having been well and truly broken, doubtless had to pay exorbitantly to get his trains up to the Mines and the ovens. It was worth Hill’s time to haggle with the CPR, however, for in 1902, the first full year of Morrissey’s production, CP had hauled more than 50,000 tons of coal down to the Elk and dumped it on the ground at the CNS’s railhead where it had to be laboriously reloaded for shipment mostly to the Boston and Montana Company smelter in Great Falls, Montana.
        To streamline its operations, on May 11th, 1903, CNP Coal incorporated the Morrissey, Fernie and Michel Railway Company (MF&M) to operate rail lines into the coal pits of the Elk’s valley and run a line of rail from Michel down through Fernie and Morrissey to the Boundary near the Great Northern’s mainline. According to R.G. Burrows in his essential Railway Mileposts: British Columbia, Volume II: ... the MF&M never laid a rail of its own. It was a holding company, buying or leasing existing trackage upon which to run its trains. One of its first acquisitions was the Morrissey spur, bought from GN’s Crows Nest Southern in 1904 and extended a couple of miles further on up Morrissey Creek to the new mines at Carbonado. Having in 1903 already leased CP’s Coal Creek spur from Fernie, the MF&M bought some gondolas and coaches, a 2-8-0 Baldwin locomotive from Great Northern,3 and began shuttling its 215 workers between their residences and the mines, and bringing 81,500 tons of coal and 4600 tons of coke down to the CNS that year of 1904.

        The fire which destroyed Mutz’s brewery on July 23, 1904, was a portent of troubles in store for the Morrissey valley.
        Since early days in the vale, the local rock structure had been recognized as dangerously unstable, and the mines in it were difficult to work with seam pinch-outs, gas pockets and other surprises. On August 6th of 1903 the No.1 mine had blown out its working face and filled the tunnel with 1500 tons of loose coal. No one had been killed, but two months later, on October 14th, a jet of methane gas, an “outburst,” suffocated four miners. Around that time the company concluded that the Mine’s output was hardly worth the effort. The coal was of inconsistent quality and too fine for locomotive use and was consistently proving to be extremely difficult to coke in the beehives. The end came just before noon on Friday, the 18th of November, 1904, when another outburst of methane gas blew out some 3,500 tons of coal on top of the miners. Fourteen died, some crushed outright, the rest suffocated by the dust and the millions of cubic feet of released gas.
        CNP Coal promptly shut No.1 down and concentrated its efforts on a group of new mines that it was developing at Carbonado, about a mile further up the valley, whence it had had the Crows Nest Southern extend the MF&M’s rails. There it was building a big tipple to load rail cars, connected to the mines by a mile-long tramway. A townsite was laid out upon which 25 duplexes and ten cottages were soon sitting with a branch of the Trite-Woods store, a log-built Roman Catholic church and a hotel. Carbonado’s coal, however, proved not much better than that of the old pits—difficult to ignite and therefore unpopular with the GN’s locomotive firemen who had to use much of it, as well with the oven workers who were expected to make coke out of it. Though the company’s 220 local workers output 97,000 tons of coal and manufactured 8,000 tons of coke in 1905, these difficulties, and the fact that Carbonado’s gaseous coal beds lay at a 70 degree angle, forced CNP Coal to suspend mining on April 1st, 1906.
        In May of 1907 the Carbonado colliery again began operations with 43 men working in two mines. By 1908 250 tons per day were flowing into the tipple as work to further develop the mine continued. The danger underground was, however, great. On January 27th, 1909 an outburst chased everyone from the mine. On the 5th of May another outburst killed two and on May 19th yet another outburst occurred. Seeing no relief from its problem, in August of 1909 CNP Coal ceased working at Carbonado; the towns in the Morrissey valley drained of people and began to fall apart.

Concentrating “Enemy Aliens”

        Morrissey’s flight to oblivion was arrested by the dissention and suspicion which tore CNP Coal’s work force apart.
        In their “Communities Divided: The Internment Camps of World War One” (The Forgotten Side of the Border, op. cit.), Wayne Norton and Ella Verkerk write that on the afternoon of Tuesday, June 8th, 1915, the brotherly solidarity of the United Mine Workers shattered. Since the beginning of hostilities in Europe, tensions between ethnic groups in the Crowsnest region whose kin were warring against each other in Europe finally snapped. Demanding that German and Austrian workers be excluded from the mines for fear that they would sabotage the works, miners affiliated with the Allied fighting forces downed tools at CNP Coal to emphasise their anxieties. The production of coal and coke being vital to the war effort, the miners’ action had an immediate effect and the very next day William Bowser, B.C.’s Attorney General and acting Premier, ordered that all single men of German and Austrian extraction or sympathy be interned in the abandoned Morrissey towns where they could be guarded and perhaps put to work in the Carbonado or in public service.4 Not only was this ruling condemned by Ottawa as a violation of human rights, but CNP Coal, too, resisted the measure because the company needed all the skilled workers it could keep. It did no good, Bowser was adamant and by June 19th one hundred and ninety-six young men gathered from as far away as Cranbrook had been concentrated in the skating rink at Fernie. Fearing riots and work-stoppages, the Federal government accepted the situation, stripped the detainees of their rights to habeas corpus on June 26 and undertook responsibility for them on July 1st. Though the officer in charge, Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph MacKay, found grounds to release many detainees, the government counted 153 Austrians—who were actually mostly Poles, Croats, Czechs, Slovaks, Ukrainians and Slovenians—and eight Germans in its care when it began transferring the prisoners to Morrissey on September 28th. There the prisoners were housed in the three-storey hotel while the guards bunked into several of the old miners’ cottages. The Trites-Wood Company store served as the canteen.
        The suspension of their rights did not, of course, sit well with the prisoners. Their only crime was that they were single, of military age and had family ties to regions of Europe that Canada considered enemy territory. Decrying the injustice of their imprisonment, several banded together towards the end of 1915 and hired Fernie lawyer A. Macneil to gain their release in exchange for their swearing oaths of loyalty. In this matter they were supported by CNP Coal which was desperate for competent labour.
        Ethnic tensions eased as the War stagnated in the trenches of the Western Front and stalled in the East, and many internment camps in B.C. closed. Detainees deemed worthy of continued segregation were shipped to Morrissey along with prisoners-of-war. There they soon split into two rival groups revolving around the Ukrainians on one side and cored on the other by the Germans who were designated First Class prisoners and, at least until the United States entered the War on April 6th, 1917, each received $75 per month from the German Benevolent Society of San Francisco. As the end of the War drew into sight Ottawa decided to concentrate its detainees and prisoners at Kapuscasing in northern Ontario, and on October 15 of 1918 the last of Morrissey’s inmates entrained for the East.
        The loss of the income generated by 400 inmates and guards and their families pulled the rug out from beneath Morrissey Mines yet again. The new elementary school, opened by Ruth Cooper in January for the guards’ children but soon patronized by all families in the Morrissey Creek’s valley, closed, leaving the area with no school at all. In 1920, in the free-falling economy that was the legacy of the War, CNP Coal officially abandoned the vale of Morrissey Creek. Remaining workers were transferred to other company operations, and most of the Morrisseys’ buildings were either cut up and moved to Fernie or left to disintegrate along with the coking ovens.

Towards Fernie

        During the building season of 1904, from the switch called Swinton now buried beneath the pavement of the Crowsnest Highway a few metres south of the Morrissey Road turn-off, J.J. Hill’s contractors, Foley, Welch and Larson, extended the CNS nine miles up the Elk to the community of Fernie where a battery of 424 CNP Coal coking kilns sat smoking at the mouth of Coal Creek. For some twenty years GN locomotives rumbled their trains of gondolas back and forth along the Crows Nest Southern trackage, hauling coal and coke to furnaces in the American “Northwest.” Following the First World War, however, two trends conspired to undermine the worth of coal. Peace destroyed the market for metals and therefore the price of the coke used to smelt ores, and Western society became addicted to Petroleum: easier to handle and cheaper to extract, cleaner burning and lending itself to so many applications, particularly the internal combustion engine and the manufacture of a totally new class of substances; plastics. Re-assessing their company’s position in B.C., the GN executives decided that the costs of maintaining the Crows Nest Southern would likely outstrip its future worth, and in 1926, having obtained running rights over the CPR trackage from Elko to Fernie, abandoned that portion of their line north of Elko. The grade lay abandoned until 1958 when it was appropriated by the B.C. Department of Public Works and widened to accommodate two narrow lanes of highway to replace the old Black Route which had till that time jounced along the left bank of the Elk, sometimes on parts of the CPR’s old tote road. Hurt by the Depression, in 1936 GN withdrew its “Galloping Goose”5 service from Fernie and a year later removed the CNS/Montana and Great Northern rails between Elko and Rexford, Montana—through which the GN mainline had been re-routed in 1904.

        In the narrow confines of the Elk’s valley north from the “Weather Tunnel” the air rapidly cools once the sun has dropped below the comb of the Lizards to the west. Built upon the CNS’s gentle, level grade, the Crowsnest Highway drives through cuts in shale-layered smoke-grey limestone, past the access road to the Rocky Mountain Quartzite Mine, past the Snow Valley Ski area and the shower-free 38-sited Mount Fernie Provincial Park.


  1. The Leasts of the southern Rocky Mountains are actually marooned on a biotic island on the frontier of their range which keeps pretty much to the boreal forest across Canada, with only this outpost, and one on the Cypress Hills on the Saskatchewan/Alberta border. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  2. Cokato, a wide spot in the road about five kilometers downstream from Fernie where Chas. Duncan McNab built and briefly operated a small sawmill back around the opening of the Twentieth Century. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  3. MF&M quickly acquired motive power. It leased and later purchased three Baldwin 2-8-0 locomotives, adding two more by 1913. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  4. Wrote mining historian John Kinnear to the author in an email dated 2005/09/26, “In fact Norton[’]s book talks about the fact that the only out-of-camp work they did on a road cut resulted in escapes and given the proximity to the border plus the fact there wasn[’]t really any work for them plus the fact that locals objected to “alien labour” being used led Otter to recommend they be kept in the compound.” !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

  5. Perhaps every self-propelled passenger rail car in North America was called a “Galloping Goose.” If traffic warranted, his Great Northern unit sometimes hauled a freight car or two with it up to Fernie. !NB: To return to this end-note’s origin in the main text, left-click your browser’s “Back” arrow

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