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discovery of coal in the Elk Valley can be dated as far back
as 1845 to one Father Pierre-Jean DeSmet, a Belgian Jesuit
missionary who worked with the Kootenay and Flathead Indians (Ktunaxa). DeSmet wrote to his
bishop in New York that he
had found a large piece of coal along a river he called Riviere
des Chute (Elk River) and stated further that: "I am convinced that this fossil could be
Phillips, discoverer of the Crowsnest Pass, worked his way up
the Elk River in 1873 and also made note of the coal exposures. Later in 1886,
renowned Geological Survey of Canada geologist Dr. George M.
Dawson, mapped the formations encompassing most geological ages
in parts of southeastern British Columbia (BC) and southwestern
Alberta and published his
after that a syndicate was formed with William Fernie and
Colonel James Baker, who took note of Dawson’s report, set in
motion a series of manipulations that ultimately led to the
formation of the Crows Nest Pass Coal Company (CNP Coal).
syndicate recognized the significance of the coal resource and
helped bring about the construction of the badly needed rail
link through the Crowsnest Pass area from Lethbridge to Kootenay
Landing by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). Development in
the ElkValley area progressed rapidly
during this period.
Fernie and 20 imported Cape Breton coal miners started the
area’s first mine up Coal Creek east of the present town of
Fernie in 1897 in preparation for the arrival of the railroad.
Coal Creek eventually bloomed into a small town with all the
necessary mining structures.
The Crows Nest Pass Coal Company grew rapidly
and eventually started new mines at Michel/Natal near Sparwood
in 1901 and at Morrissey about 11 kilometres south of Fernie in
1902. They capitalized on the coke market developing in the
Pacific Northwest states and at Trail, BC by building no less
than 1188 coke ovens by 1904.
In 1906, the CPR, who had been kept from
mining coal in the Elk Valley for ten years because of the
Tripartite Agreement, began construction of its Hosmer Mine nine
kilometres north of Fernie. By 1908 entries had been driven, a
massive tipple and boiler house/power house complex were
operational, and 240 more coke ovens were added to the valley’s
total. CPR’s Hosmer Mine was to be the sister mine to Bankhead;
their other operation started up around the same time in Banff
National Park by their subsidiary the Pacific Coal Company.
By 1908, there were four active mining areas
in operation in the Elk Valley: Coal Creek, Morrissey, Hosmer,
and Michel/Natal. All were underground and produced domestic and
industrial steam coals and coke for the growing smelting
In 1908 Spokane Railroad entrepreneur Daniel
Corbin formed the Corbin Coal and Coke Company and established a
secluded mining camp in the Flathead Valley. Old timers and
early explorers of the Flathead area referred to the coal
deposits in that mountain as "The Big Show". The bulk of
Corbin’s production was shipped to the United States via the
Eastern British Columbia Railway, built as an extension of
Corbin’s Spokane International line.
By the start of First World War, there were
two casualties to the industry in the Elk Valley. In 1909
Morrissey Mines was permanently shut down because of the
difficult geology and gas outbursts. Following that in 1914 the
Hosmer Mine suffered the same fate. Poor production, difficult
mining conditions and revenues not meeting expenditures led to
its closure by June of that year.
Elk Valley Coal
This article was submitted by John
Kinnear. The Heritage Community Foundation and the Year of the
Coal Miner Consortium would like to thank John Kinnear for
permission to reprint this material