When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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John Marshall Davidson

R. Donald Livingstone and John Marshall Davidson.John Marshall Davidson was born in New Battle, Scotland, on 10 September 2020 and went to work in the coal pits at age 14. He enlisted in the Royal Engineers at age 17 and soon found himself commissioned as a lieutenant with a tunnelling company. Upon discharge in 1918, the 20-year old officer attended Edinburgh University where, in 1922, he graduated as a mining engineer.

His first job was to survey and help to open mines on the island of Spitzbergen—mines, ironically, that were blown up by Canadian troops when the island was occupied by Germans in the Second World War.

Davidson returned to the collieries at Arniston, where he had started his mining career, but this time as a section overman. He worked on the evening shift, teaching mining to second-year university students during the day. In July 1924 he decided to leave Scotland and to seek employment in Canadian metal mines.

He travelled directly to Edmonton but his plans to work in a metal mine did not materialize. Instead, he was forced by economic necessity to dig coal at the face for the Black Diamond Coal Company of Edmonton.

His qualifications—a university degree and a first class mine manager's certificate from Great Britain—did not go unnoticed. In May he was made mine manager. Two years later he was transferred to the Jasper Coal Company mine at Drinnan, also as mine manager. In 1933, R. G. Drinnan, consulting engineer for North American Collieries, which operated the mine at Coalhurst, induced Davidson to come to Coalhurst as mine manager there. He remained in charge after the Coalhurst property was taken over by Lethbridge Collieries Ltd. in 1935. He was made mine manager at Galt Mine No. 8 when it was brought into production in spring 1936. He became general manager of Lethbridge Collieries Ltd. on 31 March 1946, upon the retirement of Chris S. Donaldson.

Davidson had impressive credentials. He had a B.Sc. in mining engineering from Heriot-Watt College of Edinburgh University, a British first class mine manager's certificate, and a first class mine manager's certificate from the Province of Alberta. He was a member of the Mining Engineers of Great Britain, the Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, the Engineering Institute of Canada, and the Professional Engineers of Alberta.

Lethbridge Its Coal IndustryThis article is extracted from Alex Johnston, Keith G. Gladwyn and L. Gregory Ellis. Lethbridge: Its Coal Industry (Lethbridge, Lethbridge: City of Lethbridge, 1989), Occasional Paper No. 20, The Lethbridge Historical Society. The Heritage Community Foundation and the Year of the Coal Miner Consortium (of which the City of Lethbridge is the lead partner) would like to thank the authors for permission to reprint this material.

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