Photographer's Note

Near the abandoned Nr. 8 Coal Mine on the West Side of Lethbridge, a small shale operation is being worked right next to Bridge Drive, which used to be the old highway. Seams of red shale alternate with seams of coal.

Picture taken while the operators were on a lunch break.
Color/contrast adjustments, cropped and downsized.


Coal Mining in Lethbridge
Nicholas Sheran opened the first commercial coal mine in the Lethbridge region in October 1874 and supplied coal to the North-West Mounted Police during their first winter in Fort Macleod. By November 1875, coal from Sheran's mine was sold as far away as Fort Benton, Montana. The Benton Record stated: "... the coal recently imported from British America by T.C. Power and Bros makes excellent fuel and even at the price of twenty-five dollars per ton is more economical than dry cottonwood at eight dollars a cord".

Nicholas Sheran's mine was a small and often dangerous one-man operation. By 1881, he quarried 15 to 20 feet into the valley wall with no timber supports to protect him. Coal was quarried by pick and shovel and hauled out in wood crates on skids.

The North-Western Coal and Navigation Company Limited started commercial drift mining on October 13, 1882. The Company's mines were more sophisticated, employing skilled miners, mostly from Nova Scotia, and using the most up-to-date machinery and techniques. Miners were equipped with protective hats and identification tags. Although basic techniques were used, mechanized drilling equipment helped to improve efficiency. Coal was hauled from the mine in ore cars drawn by mules or horses. The seam was quarried as far as 1,000 feet into the valley wall, the maximum distance possible with early ventilation techniques.

The first miners lived in the valley near the mine entrances. Eventually, this settlement became known as Coalbanks. The North Western Coal and Navigation Company quickly established all of the facilities needed for the mining operation. By the end of 1883, four drift mines had been opened and a dock had been built into the Oldman River for barges to ship coal to the CPR mainline. Other company facilities included an office, store and sawmill.

The Company also built homes for the miners and their families. A large home, called Coaldale, was built for Elliot Galt, the General Manager. A slightly smaller home was built for William Stafford; Stafford's wife and their nine children were among the first families to settle at Coalbanks. For the miners without families, the Company built boarding houses, bunk houses and shacks. By 1884, the population of Coalbanks peaked at about 250 and included a saloon and hop brewery, a post office and a slaughterhouse. The company town of Coalbanks flourished and faded in three short years, from October 1882 to October 1885.

In 1885, the Manitoba Free Press visited Coalbanks and reported:
" At present, the miners are at work as far in as 900 feet. Along this leading drift, there is a tramway laid, on which the loaded trucks are drawn out to the entrance by horses. Each horse generally draws five trucks at a load, that being five tons.

Two miners work together and ... average five and six tons of coal a day. They are paid $1.00 a ton for the mining of the coal and the filling of the trucks ... The output of the mine at present is about 300 tons a day, and the coal must be giving the public satisfaction as the coal company at present are not able to supply the demand ... The company at the present time have nearly 300 men employed ... most ... are from Nova Scotia, men who have been brought up to mining all their lives."

In 1885, the North Western Coal and Navigation Company constructed a 109 mile long narrow gauge railroad to transport coal from Coalbanks to the CPR mainline at Dunmore, near Medicine Hat. With the completion of the new line, the Company had achieved a reliable means of transportation to ship its coal to many new customers throughout western Canada and the United States. A second narrow gauge line was built from Lethbridge to the United States border to ship coal to the smelters of western Montana. Ten years later, the Company built a narrow gauge track from Stirling to Cardston to serve the Mormon settlers.

In May 1885, a modern townsite was laid out on the prairie. The town was initially named Coalbanks, as an expansion of the river valley community. However, its citizens preferred the name Lethbridge, after William Lethbridge, first president of the North Western Coal and Navigation Company. The Post Office in Ottawa approved the name change to Lethbridge on 15 October 1885.

The town quickly grew, and by the end of 1885, it had a population of over 1,000 people. At this time, the town boasted over 60 buildings, including six stores, five hotels, 19 saloons, four billiard rooms, two barber shops and a livery stable. Lethbridge was the first industrial town in western Canada. Like Coalbanks, it was initially a company town, owned lock, stock and barrel by the Galt companies. Coalbanks soon became known as "The Bottoms" and attracted a number of houses of ill repute to service the single miners.

The Galt Company abandoned their river bottom drift mines in 1893, which implied a new interest of the Galt companies towards large-scale exploration of the coal resources at Lethbridge. Drift mines gave way to shaft mines as Galt Mine No. 3 began production in 1892. Large investments in new machinery for No. 3 in 1897 and 1908 allowed the mine to reach its peak production of 1,634 metric tonnes of coal a day. Galt Mine No. 6, opened at Hardieville in November 1908, was also equipped with the latest machinery. Coal production in No. 6 quickly reached 1,634 metric tonnes per 8-hour shift.

The last coal mine at Lethbridge was Galt Mine No. 8, opened by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1936 to replace Galt Mine No. 6. As with Galt Mines Nos. 3 and 6, there was ongoing investment in new equipment to make the mine as profitable as possible. World War II made new machinery and parts hard to get, and the technical problems were compounded by a shortage of miners. The result was that only about 1,100 metric tonnes of coal per day were produced. It was not until 1948, three years after World War II, that production rose again. Despite the continual purchase of new machinery, Galt Mine No. 8 was always hampered by unstable geology and flooding from the Oldman River. No. 8 required more timbering than any other coal mine in Alberta, and was notorious among miners as a 'wet' mine.

The Lethbridge coal field also supported other large-scale mines throughout the region: Royal View (1904-1922), Commerce (1910-1924), Shaughnessy (1927-1965), the Diamond Mine (1905-1929) and Coalhurst (1908-1935) are just a few of those that fuelled southern Alberta's economy for almost 100 years. In all, 196 coal mines were registered with the provincial Mines Branch over the years in the Lethbridge coal field, and countless more 'pot-hole' operations were carried on without official approval or notice.

When the Standard Mine at Shaughnessy was declared abandoned on 4 February 1965, one of the most important and complex chapters in the history of Lethbridge and southern Alberta came to a close.

For additional info: Coalminer Mining History

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