Natal is one of three communities that once lined the Michel
Creek in British Columbia. First established in 1907, the
settlement was known as "Newtown" or "New Michel." The Crow’s
Nest Pass Coal Company (CNP Coal) had procured the area for its
workers to build their own homes, allowing miners the option to
move from company housing in nearby Michel, a few kilometres to
the east. When CNP Coal laid out a town site and
New Michel became a popular destination. Independent businesses
followed the shift in residency, making the settlement the
commercial hub of the area. The town was later named Natal as a
tribute to the British conquest of the Boers in South Africa.
Natal's history is intertwined with Michel and Middletown,
its neighbouring communities. The three towns were located so
closely that a mere kilometre separated each from the other. As
a result, an occurrence in one of the towns was surely felt in
all three. One example of this phenomenon was the rise of a
communist sentiment in the area. Extreme challenges marked the
Depression; the coal mining industry was no exception. Early in
the 1930s, Natal miners lacked union representation and the
imbalance of power enabled mining companies to make unreasonable
demands on labourers with little or no repercussions.
By 1934, the Michel Creek miners made a significant change to
balance the power structure in the area. In joining the
communist-led Mine Workers Union of Canada, the labourers
procured their first union representation in nine years, marking
a shift in the area's industry. The union represented miner
solidarity and set about organizing better conditions for
labourers. The first union event was a May Day celebration
marked with rousing speeches and promises for a better future.
Miners from across the Elk Valley travelled from one mining
community to the next, gathering support for the event along the
way. In its first few years, May Day was an unprecedented
With the onset of the Cold War, the attractiveness of
communism began to waver. Most miners separated themselves from
communist ideals in favour of the newly resurrected United Mine
Workers of America. Although there was still support for May Day
celebrations, general interest diminished over the years.
For years, the coal mining industry sustained itself through
almost constant upheaval. By the late 1950s, the industry faced
its biggest challenges and by the late 1950s, the industry faced
its biggest challenge as oil and gas assumed the place of coal
as the fuel of choice. In the midst of a rapidly dwindling
industry, the B.C. government reviewed all mining communities.
Natal, Middletown, and Michel, were dirty and rundown, covered
in soot from the coke ovens. In comparison, Sparwood—just a few
kilometres upwind—was a much cleaner and attractive place to
live. Upon their review, the government resolved to close
Michel-Natal and move the residents to Sparwood. Although many
from Natal were ready to leave, there were a few families who
were adamant about staying. Regardless, all residents eventually
moved on, leaving behind what was once their home.
Today there is little that remains of Natal. By the end of
the 1970s, the settlement had been demolished, allowing nature
to take over once again.