When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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Crowsnest
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Post office, Crowsnest Pass, Alberta. [ca. 1910-1913]Straddling the border between Alberta and British Columbia (B.C.) rests the small mountain village of Crowsnest. As Crowsnest has little history connecting the area with coal mining, its development parallels the expansion of the railway into the Pass.

Established in 1898, when the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) completed a route through the Alberta/B.C. border, the settlement became a divisional point for the new line. For much of its history, the Crowsnest Pass consisted of only six houses—three on either side of the track. The main buildings consisted of a CPR station, a boarding house, a hotel, and a church that doubled as the local school on weekdays. It took almost a quarter century before additional company houses appeared in the area.

Unlike other settlements in the area, the coal industry did not materialize until late in the town’s history. In 1922, the Alberta Coal and Coke Company began construction of a spur line in the area, but with economic prices at a downturn, production halted, and eventually the company abandoned their plans.

Coal miners lined up in the Crowsnest Pass area, Alberta. [ca. 1915]During the 1930s, transients migrated through the town, causing undue problems at the provincial border. The coal mining industry was not immune to the Depression, and many able-bodied men rode the rails in search of work. Crowsnest became a gathering place for unemployed miners who made stopovers before catching the next train east.

The winter months were particularly troublesome for the town, when cold forced many workers to huddle around the boiler rooms of town shops. If a light of a nearby house shone, many saw an opportunity to beg for a sandwich. To feed one hungry miner was to invite others from the shops. The problem became so intolerable that a relief camp, housing a few hundred men, was finally constructed west of the town.

During 1936 and 1937, the British Columbia provincial police intervened. In constructing a little shack west of town, the police attempted to screen those moving west to settle. Unless an individual had sufficient funds or a guaranteed job, the officers turned people back.

Crowsnest is a community that many miss on travels through the Alberta/British Columbia border. Today, the village is no longer apparent, and only a few remnants have survived, a testament to what once was.
 

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