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Coal Creek, Michel/Natal and Corbin Mines
managed to carry on through the First World War and the Great
Depression, but by 1935 the Corbin Mines was in the midst of a
crippling strike. In May of that year the company stunned
everyone with the announcement of that mine’s closure. The rail
line to the mine was ripped up and sold in 1938. In 1943, Corbin
was re-opened by Consolidated Mining and Smelting with small
amounts of coal being trucked to the McGillvary Loop where it
was reloaded and railed to the smelters at Trail and Kimberley.
In 1948 this still remote mine was again shut down.
Coal Creek continued working on through the
Second World War and well into the 1950’s until the emergence of
oil as a more effective fuel led to its closure late in 1958. As
with other coal mining towns that had closed, Coal Creek’s
infrastructure and houses were systematically dismantled and
shipped elsewhere. Little evidence of this once thriving
The Michel/Natal mines managed to keep
working on through the fifties and into the 1960’s when the
Crows Nest Coal Company were successful in developing a coking
coal market with Japan.
In 1968 J. Edgar Kaiser came to town and
negotiated a deal to take over a large portion of the Crows Nest
Pass Coal Company property and mines and develop a massive strip
mine up on Harmer Ridge above Michel/Natal known as Balmer.
Kaiser Resources Ltd. was the first to scale up in a big way
open pit strip mining in the Elk Valley. A huge new preparation
plant and large-scale equipment, including a massive dragline,
marked the beginning of a new era in coal mining in the
The next big player to enter this new era
was Fording Coal Ltd., a joint partnership of Canadian Pacific
Investments and Cominco, who by 1972 had finished construction
of its expansive Fording River operation and also began shipping
coal to Japan. The coking coal markets were strong back then and
Western Canadian interests began to make further plans to expand
this into this opportunity.
In 1974 the Corbin show was once again
re-opened under the name Byron Creek Collieries and began
shipping thermal coal to Ontario Hydro. Esso Resources took over
the operation in 1981 and Fording Coal Ltd. assumed control in
1994 renaming it Fording Coal Mountain.
In 1978 Shell Canada took over the
remaining holdings of Crowsnest Industries (formerly the Crows
Nest Pass Coal Co.) and made plans to develop its Line Creek
property 16 km. north of Sparwood. In 1981 Line Creek Mine was
opened and became the next player in the coking coal game.
Two years later Westar Mining (formerly
Kaiser Resources) opened their Greenhills Mine operation north
of Line Creek at a scale similar to Line Creek.
After the infamous Westar bankruptcy of
1991 Teck Cominco acquired and restarted the Westar Balmer Mine
at Sparwood renaming it Elkview Coal Corp. and in 1992 Fording
Coal Ltd. bought and re-opened the Westar Greenhills Mine.
Through the following years leading up to
the present day all five mines have continued to produce a never
ending stream of metallurgical and thermal coals for national
and international markets. They have endured market
fluctuations, bankruptcy’s and in some cases several changes in
ownership. In 2004, in one final solidifying step, the 5 Elk
Valley mines consolidated themselves into one powerful and
efficiency-driven entity known as the Elk Valley Coal
Elk Valley Coal
This article was submitted by John
Kinnear. The Heritage Community Foundation and the Year of the
Coal Miner Consortium would like to thank John Kinnear for
permission to reprint this material