When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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Banff and Canmore

Canmore, Alberta. 1886 When George Mercer Dawson first reported on the rich Cascade Coal Basin, prospectors and entrepreneurs clamored to the Bow Valley. Success was first proclaimed by William McCardell and Frank McCabe, who had discovered a coal seam in 1885. Their discovery led to the No. 1 mine opening at Canmore two years later.

Anthracite opened its mine in an area once located near present-day Banff. The small operation was initially profitable and expanded to employ 200 workers by 1887. However, it wasn’t long before the English-owned Canadian Anthracite Coal Company ran into unexpected financing problems. Difficulties began as miners dug deeper into the vein and quickly discovered the seams were too steep and narrow. In addition, the coal market was experiencing a downturn and production levels needed to be dropped. With losses mounting the mine shut down by 1904.

Street in Bankhead, Alberta. [ca. 1890s]While operations closed in Anthracite, the Canadian the Pacific Railway (CPR) was just beginning its operation at Bankhead. Initial reaction to Bankhead coal was positive considering it made good locomotive steam and briquetting coal. However like Anthracite, the Bankhead mine failed. On June 15, 1922, the mine closed, forcing its residents to find new homes and jobs. The postwar depression, combined with a strike and political pressure to stop industry in the national park, forced the CPR to close the town.

Georgetown mine was also another failure. Soon after the Georgetown operation opened in 1913, difficulties surfaced for the English Investing Company that owned the mine. The problem was that mine produced bituminous coal, which was not being bought by the CPR along the main route. The lack of market, along with a flood and rising production costs, forced the mine to sell to Canmore Mines Ltd. in 1916, which closed the mine and abandoned the village. Most of the 200 residents then moved to Canmore.

Buildings at Anthracite, Alberta. [ca. 1886-1894]Canmore could have easily become a ghost town as well. Initially, the town sold almost all of its coal to the Canadian Pacific Railway. The market proved unstable and the mines endured a harsh boom and bust cycle. By the end of the 1930s, Canmore had experienced the demise of nearby mines, the increased demand brought on by the First World War, and the Depression. However, by the 1960s, Canmore faced its biggest threat when diesel replaced coal as the main fuel for trains. Enduring for several more years, Canmore Mines closed on 13 July 1979.

Saving Canmore from ruin was a new economy powered by tourism and land development. The 1988 Calgary Olympics proved to be the biggest boon for the town, as various alpine events drew crowds to the area. As a result, the community experienced explosive growth and change in the 1990s.

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