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Coalhurst Imperial Mine

Our Treasured Heritage-
A History of Coalhurst and District
Pages 136 - 138

Just after the turn of the century, August 15, 1910 to be exact, a mine shaft was started in Coalhurst. It was complete and started producing in 1911. Until this time, all the mines were built in the river banks and close to the City of Lethbridge.

The Imperial Mine at Coalhurst was sunk in 1910, and became a major producer, shipping a large tonnage yearly until it was closed late in 1935, after having become a unit of Lethbridge Collieries that spring. Men at present in the industry in this district, who served many years with Imperial, are Jim McInnis, who worked on the sinking of the shaft, and Joe Cash, who came in 1913. Mr. J. M. Davidson, who had been employed with companies associated with Imperial Mine for nine years, came to Coalhurst in 1933 as manager.

This item appeared in the Lethbridge Daily Herald of March 28, 1911. It went on to say:

"We broke ground for the first time on the fifteenth of August last (1910)," said Charles Fergie, general manager of the Lethbridge Collieries, situated about two miles east of Kipp, "and we confidentially expect that we will be in running order and lifting coal by the first day of August this year (19 II). "

This item appeared in the Lethbridge Daily Herald of March 28, 1911. It went on to say:" Everything so far has gone without a hitch, which is unusual in mine development," said Mr. Fergie. "No incidents have occurred to date, and from now on I don't look for any. The work will proceed at a more rapid rate in future, as our spur track will be completed and in operation this week. Then we will commence the work of installing the large machinery. In this equipment our mine will be very complete, and will compare favorably with any in the country. We are putting in the latest kinds of electric appliances throughout, both for lighting and hoisting. Our air-compressing plant is the very latest pattern and every facility for rapid and economic operation that can be thought of will be installed."

"When in working order and running to our full capacity we will employ from 800 to 1000 men and lift from 1500 to 2000 tons per day. I am particularly proud of our watering system out there. We get the water through an up-to-date waterworks plant, over three miles in length. The water comes from above Lethbridge and is not contaminated by the city's sewage. I had a drink of water out there today, and it was clear and pure, better than the city supply. "

The mine began producing coal in the fall of 1911, although there was no mention of it in the Lethbridge Daily Herald. A brief item in August 1912 indicated that the Lethbridge Collieries mine was producing 1200 tons of coal per day. From 100 to 200 miners were employed.

The Coalhurst mine was opened in 1911 by the North American Collieries. Later, it was operated by Coal Producers, Ltd., who in April 1934 entered into a merger with the Galt and Cadillac Coal Companies. Dan Quigley was mine manager at Coalhurst for upwards of 15 years. The mine was electrified on top but was operated by compressed air underground.

The shaft was 580 feet deep and the workings were comparatively level. The seam was roughly 41/2 feet in thickness. When the Coalhurst mine was operating at its maximum 400 or more men were on the pay roll. It had a history curiously free from accidents and the 1935 explosion occurred in what was the last year of operation of the colliery.

The mine had its own electric supply, generated in its own power house, slack coal fed ovens or boilers. Most of the work was done by Japanese employees. The village was supplied by electricity at a very nominal rate.

The water was pumped by the company from a water pump house southwest of Coalhurst, at the riverbottom.

Approximately one hundred company houses were supplied water from taps located in the back lanes. There were two per block. The taps were built in a box about five feet by six feet and four feet high. They were filled with manure and straw to keep the pipes from freezing. The company also had a contrac for water hauling held by several different people to deliver water by the tank load to fill underground barrels to those who were not near the taps. The same contractor also delivered the coal to the residents and businesses in the village. Farmers from near and far hauled their own coal which was weighed and paid for at the mine office.

A few years before the mine closed a large new coal shute was built on the north end of the mine. Here you could get lump, Nutcoal, egg coal or slack from different entrances to the shute. They also sold what was called bone coal.

The top of this shute could be changed to load the box cars on the tracks underneath it. Another shute close by was used for all the waste coal, rock and slack that was hauled up over a trestle to the large dump. Here it was dumped over the edge and many town people and farmers picked their own coal from the dump.

Mr. Robert Adams had a contract on the dump for a few years. He hired people to pick the good coal and resold it to farmers and townspeople.

The coal company had a large wash house for the miners where they changed and put on their pit clothes and washed up after their shift finished. Saturday night the Coalhurst youths also used this facility, it sure beat the old round tub.

Beside this, and a most modern power house, there was also a fully modern blacksmith shop, locomotive shop, time-keeper's office, air shaft, large warehouses, a hoisting house to pull cars up the dump, a large water tank and a large barn.

The company also had a hospital built and employed well known Doctors, such as: Dr. Rose, Dr. Inkrote and Dr. Murray. Dr. Woodcock performed all the tonsil operations, and Dr. Allan looked after teeth one day a week. The mine doctors would generally pull teeth themselves.

North of the power house the company stored a very large supply of slabs which were used to board up the doors on the box cars while getting filled with coal.

The mine also had its own fire equipment which was used around the mine and the village. There were two wheeled carts with hoses and reel. When the alarm was sounded, three sharp blasts on the mine whistle, which would be repeated, any volunteer would rush to the mine and with two men on a cart proceeded to the fire and hook up to the nearest hydrant. This was not very fast but in those days was quite efficient.

The Coalhurst mine had approximately seven miles of railway track servicing the mine yards to the C.P.R. main line. They, like other mines had their own locomotive.

It is said the mine extended under ground for an average of one mile each way. Down below were the stables for the horses which only saw day light in the summer months when the mine was slack. The number of horses kept below when the mine was working steady would average out to twenty or thirty. Bill Forbes said the mine had purchased their own stallion for breeding and raising their own horses. Bill figured they had as many as forty or fifty horses at one time. Some of the horses raised did not pan out for mine work and many farmers bought them for five dollars each.

While working three shifts the mine had around six hundred men working, producing over 2000 tons per day. As stated earlier the mine had a history curiously free from accidents, this is not quite so.

George McLeod was killed in the mine as was John Metcalfe, Martin Harper, Constyn Patrick and Charles (Botcho) White. Some of these mentioned died as a result of their injuries. Several others were injured badly.

Coalhurst mine had the best quality of coal there was. The mine closed after the explosion, but it was doomed to close in 1936 anyway.

At one time there was talk that a new shaft would be dug, southwest of the present location, instead it was decided to open a mine where No. 8 was located.

In the early years the company played a large part in running the village. They owned and sold all the utilities and the mine manager was Reeve for many years.

The Coalhurst Shaftdiggers Hat

by Oliver Watmough

Near 1919, while I was visiting Mr. and Mrs. Morley in Wigan, east of Coalhurst, Mr. Morley showed me his helmet that he wore while digging the Coalhurst mine shaft.

The crown of the hat was constructed in a dome shape. It was made out of real stiff leather. The crown had a rim about three inches also of stiff leather that went part way around to where it met up with a back protector. This protector was fastened to the back of the dome. This shield hung down the back to the level of the shoulder blades, about ten inches. This was to protect the back and shoulders during a rock fall.

The leather between the crown and the back protector was flexible leather. If I remember correctly there was a metal fixture on the front of the helmet to carry a lamp. This whole apparatus was quite heavy.

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Copyright 2000
Mary Tollestrup