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When Coal Was King
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Elk Valley

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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 community remains.

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 Crowsnest Coalfields.

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.

Sparwood Tourism Information Centre display of mining equipment, Elk Valley, British Columbia.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.

Sparwood Tourism Information Centre display of mining equipment, Elk Valley, British Columbia.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 Partnership.

Elk Valley Coal Website

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
 

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