Between the 1880s and the early 1950s, "coal was king" and its mining determined the well being of communities—not just those associated with mine sites but also rail and industrial centres. The mining of coal was a part of a national agenda that involved the encouragement of immigration, the building of railways and industrialization of Western Canada. The finding of coal, its extraction, processing and adaptation for various industrial uses were part of an intricate process that involved government, management, workers and the entire community. Not just mine sites and camps but entire communities were dependent on the mine. Company towns ranged from shacks under the shadow of tipples to model communities with opera houses, libraries and other amenities.
Today these early industrial sites are in decline and, in
many locations, have even disappeared. For example, the
Government of British Columbia to encourage tourism based on
pristine mountain scenery erased the coalmining towns of
and Michel. In the
Crowsnest Pass, there are a number of
designated historic sites but these are decaying. The
challenge of preserving and interpreting the industrial heritage
is enormous but, if we neglect it, we lose that sense of
struggle and overcoming of odds that is a part of our history.
The fact that industries cease to be important for economic and
technological reasons does not diminish their importance to
community story and the evolution of technology. As well,
the mines were important in the struggle for workers rights and
miners in Western Canada were among the most militant.