When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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Drumheller Valley
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1936, some Murray mine employees. L/R: George Kastwitz (a timber man), Jim Cotterill (fire-boss), Bob Stevens (fire-boss), Frank Kwasny (a timber man), Alf James (fire-boss), Dave Bailey (barn boss) and Dick Bradshaw (fire-boss).A long-time producer of domestic coal, the Drumheller Valley was once a significant destination for entrepreneurial spirits, especially those involved in mining. Like so many other communities in Alberta and British Columbia, the expansion of Drumheller was directly related to the development of the coal industry. Settlers, who were first drawn to the area by the pursuit of ranching the vast and rich land, were quick to capitalize on the discovery of coal deposits. By 1912, mining operations were beginning to emerge courtesy of area businessmen.

Upon his arrival in the Drumheller region, entrepreneur Samuel
Drumheller
was interested primarily in ranching. Always a businessman, Mr. Drumheller's focus was immediately changed when he entered the home of a stranger and saw coal sitting on their stove. In the instant that Mr. Drumheller recognized the everyday need for coal, his fortune was forever changed, culminating in the creation of Drumheller’s mine in 1912.

Other businessmen who were instrumental in developing the area were Garnet Coyle and Jesse Gouge, who worked together to create the first commercial mine in the Drumheller Valley. Gouge had learned of the whereabouts of a sizeable coalfield from a chance meeting with a local resident. So impressed with the discovery, Gouge sold his store, and went into partnership with Coyle, opening the Newcastle Mine in 1912. The success of this mine led to additional ventures, and Coyle in particular, showed his financial savvy by doubling and tripling his investments in the Valley.

The Midland Mine operation was born out of a partnership between Seneca McMullen and Coyle. The duo had the sense and ability to successfully market their product throughout Canada. When Coyle sold his shares, McMullen became the sole owner, his intense approach ensuring that Midland was one of the largest coal producers in the area.

Frank Moodie was another personality to have a profound effect on the development of the Drumheller Valley. When other mines in the valley shut down due to labour strikes, his remained working. When the men at his camp were suffering at the height of the flu epidemic, he took on the role of doctor and ultimately saved lives.

Regardless of their specific roles, each of the men and women profiled in this section developed and profited from the early 20th century mining industry in Alberta, their ingenuity contributing to the success of coal production in the Drumheller Valley.


Victor Avramenko and Eric Houghton talk about life underground, including learning the sounds of danger versus the sounds of comfort, and the challenges miners faced, in this video produced by CFCN Television.
 

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