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Early Coalhurst History

Our Treasured Heritage
A History of Coalhurst and District - Pages 4 - 5
From Historical Society of Alberta
by Alex Johnston, May 31, 1982

The first Lethbridge Post Office was opened I October, 1885. Although reference to changing the name from Coalhurst to Lethbridge is found in John D. Higinbotham's When The West Was Young, after a most extensive search, no proof has yet come to light that the post office was ever called anything other than Lethbridge from the day it opened. In August 1910, a shaft was sunk about six miles west of Lethbridge. The resulting coal mine, called the Imperial Mine, began producing coal in August, 1911. A post office was opened there on I September, 1912, with J. J. Beaton as postmaster, and was named Coalhurst by the Board of Trade. The name was chosen, according to the 1926 recollections of J. I. McDermott, because of the coal mine around which the town was built. The 'hurst' was added to 'Coal' simply to round out the name and was not made part of the name in commemoration of any thing, act, or person. The community was originally named 'Bridgend' according to Mr. McDermott, because it was not far from the west end of the relatively new C.P. Rail High Level Bridge. This name the Postal Service refused to authorize, hence Coalhurst was chosen. In about 1911, the CPR built a railway spur to the Imperial Mine and called it 'The Colliery Spur'. This was shortened to 'Colliery' and this name appeared on the early maps. In those days, the nearest railway station was at Kipp and for years the people of Coalhurst walked the two miles to Kipp to catch the train. In 1925-26, the Turin Subdivision Spur was moved from Kipp to a point farther east (to Coalhurst) and the junction was briefly called 'Partridge'. In October 1927, the name Partridge disappeared and Coalhurst took its place on CPR timetables. The reason was that the Station from Kipp was moved to Coalhurst between October, 1927 and May, 1928. At that time, Kipp lost all its rail facilities including a passing siding, a telephone and telegraph office, and the station. The station had to be turned around as it was on the south side of the track at Kipp but was to be placed on the north side of the track at Coalhurst. A temporary spur was built at Kipp and a flatcar backed under the 'acked-up station. Then it was taken to the junction to the mine, turned around, then unloaded at Coalhurst. It is said that Mrs. Hoven, the Stationmaster's wife, sick in bed at the time, simply stayed where she was and had the dubious honour of being a passenger in a CPR Station from Kipp to Coalhurst.

The late Chris Gibson was for many years active in the Red Cross and was an officer in the organization at the time of the Coalhurst disaster. He was deeply involved in relief operations when the local Red Cross attempted to do whatever was necessary to help the families of the dead and injured. Many years ago we spoke with Mr. Gibson about his memories of the Coalhurst mine explosion and regret now that we didn't make notes of the conversation.

Recently we were told that Gerald L. Berry, author of the book, "Whoop-up Trail: Early Days in Alberta-Montana, " taught school in Coalhurst prior to the book's publication in 1953. Apparently he worked on the manuscript while in Coalhurst and there is a story that, during an accidental flooding of the basement in Berry's residence, part of the manuscript was destroyed and had to be redone.

By November, 1914, Coalhurst was described as follows: "Coalhurst is a thriving little village of 1200 inhabitants situated on the Canadian Pacific Railway. It is two miles east of Kipp Station. The business portion of the village is represented by a fine, large 32-room hotel; three general stores; two grocery stores; one hardware store, one livery, one blacksmith shop; one meat market, one billiard hall; one moving picture theatre and dance hall, with a seating capacity of 200; one laundry; one barber shop; and two restaurants. It also has a fine $14,000 four roomed school and two churches . . . The societies are represented by the Board of Trade, Oddfellows, and Miner's Union . . . The Canada Coal & Coke Company has the largest mine located here, with a capacity of 2,000 tons per day. The water facilities are good and the village is lighted by electricity furnished by the Company at nominal rates."

George Watson, well-known Lethbridge oldtimer, was principal of that Coalhurst School from 1919-1925. He told us that, during this period, the Standard Bank of Canada was represented in the village; L. G. Thomas was the manager. Also, there was a drugstore, owned and operated by A. E Cumming. A group of mine officials and others formed the habit, during these years, of meeting in the drugstore in the evening for a game of "500", a popular card game of that period. The group included Dr. Inkrote (who had a contract to look after the health of miners at Coalhurst, Carmangay, Commerce, and Diamond City), George Mellor, Jack Thornhill, Wilfred Bainbridge, Joe Cash, and, of course, George Watson. The representative of the Alberta Provincial Police at the time was a man named McWilliams who had a dog-handler under him named Shovelton. The mayor of Coalhurst during the period was J. I. McDermott, still a well-known name in the Coalhurst region, and the mine manager was Dan Quigley.

The Coalhurst School burned down in February 1920 and, until a new school was built, classes were badly disrupted. Two rooms of classes were moved to the Presbyterian Church and another to the Miner's Library, then located in a part of Coalhurst called Wiggins. Incidentally, the miner's union at the time arranged for a check-off, the money to be spent on special projects involving students. One such project had as it objective the testing of the eyes of the children and obtaining of glasses where necessary. Dr. Woodcock, who later settled in the Turin district, performed the testing and issued prescriptions.

There was another fire in 1923 when McDonald's Grocery and Dry Goods store burned to the ground. Volunteers carried out many of the goods and piled them in the street. Unfortunately, some looting took place and a fair quantity of the saved material was lost in this way.

About 1927-28, the C.P.R. station was moved from Kipp to Coalhurst. Up to that time, it had been necessary for passengers from Coalhurst to make the two-mile walk from the village to Kipp in order to catch the train. And disembarking Coalhurst passengers either had to arrange to be met or they, too, had to make the long walk home.

The mid-1930's was a time of disaster for Coalhurst, as it was in different ways for many prairie communities.

There was a bad fire in the business district on December 19, 1934. According to a news report, ". . . a considerable portion of the business district was destroyed in a devastating fire during a cold winter night. That evening a large shipment of Christmas mail had arrived from Europe and many families went without Yuletide gifts and greetings . . . The post office, pool hall, and confectionery were destroyed."

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Mary Tollestrup