In 1911, when entrepreneurs G. N. Coyle and Jesse Gouge opened the first commercial mine in Newcastle, it marked the beginning of the industry that would dominate the Drumheller Valley for more than half a century. Prior to Newcastle Mine, most Valley residents were ranchers living in isolated communities. With one solid investment, much was changed.
On an earlier business trip to the Valley, Gouge had chanced upon a man carrying coal from the Newcastle banks. Knowing quality coal when he saw it, Gouge hurried to the land office in Calgary to lease the Newcastle Land.
Unfortunately, Gouge did not have enough capital to venture alone. He enlisted Coyle and together they sold their previous interests, borrowed an additional $10,000 from Coyle’s mother and formed the Newcastle Coal Company Limited. From this small operation, the Drumheller Valley became one of the most important coal fields in Alberta. The Newcastle Mine itself was a great success, by 1922, the authorized capital of the mine was $250,000 and it was producing at a capacity of 255,000 tonnes of coal per year.
Miners were a large reason for the success, their jobs were difficult, dangerous, and often stressful. Outside of the mines, conditions could be even worse. The unofficial nickname of Newcastle was the Western Front, a reference to the more undesirable elements in town. Thieves were rampant in the area, and often struck their victims walking home at night, their cheques just cashed.
If a thief did not access it, the money still often never made it home. Newcastle had a reputation for bootlegging, illegal gambling, and prostitution. Many miners, it seemed, could not resist the temptations.
Today, despite its notorious past, Newcastle has quieted.
Since the closure of the mines in the 1950s, many residents have
moved on. There is a small population that still lives in the
area, those who are older reminding younger generations of the
coal mining history.