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West Canadian Collieries Mine

Crowsnest Pass - Bellevue, Near

Other Names:
Bellevue Mine (West Canadian Collieries)
Bellevue Mine Entrance
Bellevue Underground Mine
Mine #87 Entrance
Provincial Mine #87
West Canadian Collieries Mine Entrance

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The West Canadian Collieries Mine is an early twentieth-century industrial site situated on approximately six hectares of land in the community of Bellevue. Two large concrete entrance portals lead into the mine, which includes such features as rock tunnels, visible coal seams and raises, rail and timber roof supports, concrete arches, train rails, coal cars, and chutes.

Heritage Value
The heritage value of the West Canadian Collieries Mine lies in its association with the early history of mining in the Crowsnest Pass and its excellent representation of the industrial practices and technologies at one of Alberta's most significant underground mining operations.

The completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway's (CPR) transcontinental line in 1885 and the subsequent expansion of the railway network in present-day southern Alberta dramatically increased demand for a reliable supply of regional coal to fuel steam-powered locomotives. In 1898, the CPR built a branch line west from Lethbridge to the eastern portion of the Crowsnest Pass, a site richly endowed with steam-grade coal. West Canadian Collieries Limited of Lille, France established a mining operation along the new line in 1903. The opening of the colliery resulted in the founding of the ethnically-diverse mining settlement of Bellevue. Seven years after the mine's establishment, the people of Bellevue were devastated by one of the worst industrial accidents in provincial history. On December 9, 1910, a powerful explosion rocked the mine, crippling the ventilation system and precipitating the formation of the poisonous gases known as afterdamp. Thirty miners and one rescuer died. In spite of this and other tragedies, the West Canadian Collieries Mine continued to operate until the early 1960s. Between the mine's opening in 1903 and the closure of the operation in 1961, workers extracted roughly 13 million tonnes of coal from the site, virtually all of which was purchased by the CPR. Following the Second World War, railway companies began to shift from steam engines to diesel-powered trains; by the late 1950s, this transition was largely complete. In the wake of this change, the demand for coal dropped precipitously and the mine was forced to close.

The West Canadian Collieries Mine maintains many of the essential features of an underground mine of the period. Both of the mine entrances - the original 1903 portal and the 1929 portal - are still evident. In 1929, the entrances were embellished with concrete columns and crowning arches. The inside of the mine provides an excellent representation of the "room and pillar" system of mining, complete with visible coal seams, rail tracks, steel rail and wood timber roof supports, as well as pillar faces and chutes. Over the decades that it operated, the West Canadian Collieries Mine participated in many of the changes to "room and pillar" mining practices and technologies that occurred in the first half of the twentieth century. Early mining was conducted with pick axes, breast augers and powder. By the 1920s, air picks had been introduced to reduce the dangers of explosion, create a safer work environment and increase production. Between the 1940s and the closing of the mine in the early 1960s, mechanization became widespread to increase efficiency and compete with the emerging open pit and strip mines in the province. Many of these changes are reflected in the site features and artifacts present at the West Canadian Collieries Mine. The mine thus provides an excellent illustration of the evolution of underground mining practices between 1900 and the early 1960s.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Heritage Resource Management Branch (File: Des. 2181)


Character-Defining Elements
The character-defining elements of the West Canadian Collieries Mine are comprised of features that speak to the site's history as an underground coal mine, including:
- two entrance portals;
- remnants of stairs going up the hill;
- natural features, including the rock tunnel and visible coal seams;
- transportation elements, including the main haulage route and coal cars;
- mine supports and equipment, including compressed air piping, original wooden timbers, steel rail and wooden timber roof and wall supports with authentic notching, cap pieces and wedges, wooden lagging, sheet metal roofing with train rail supports, pillars, raises and crosscuts, wing boards, chutes, timber batteries, manway, concrete water drainage ditch, double chute, rock duster, portal concrete retaining wall, cardox tubes, rotary dump feed system for tipple, rock tunnel concrete arch that housed trap doors for ventilation, concrete water reservoir with shut-off valve, and Western Electric mine safety telephones;
- surface artifacts, including 100 horsepower ventilation fan and drill sharpener.


Location



Street Address:
Community: Crowsnest Pass - Bellevue, Near
Boundaries: Lot 14, Block 19, Descriptive Plan 1011620
Contributing Resources: Landscape(s) or Landscape Feature(s): 2
Structures: 5

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel
1011620
19
14


Latitude/Longitude:
Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
49.577187 -114.364983 Secondary Source NAD83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type

Recognition

Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 2011/03/01

Historical Information

Built: 1903 to 1903
Significant Date(s) 1903 to 1961
Theme(s) Developing Economies : Extraction and Production
Developing Economies : Technology and Engineering
Historic Function(s):
Current Function(s):
Architect:
Builder:
Context: The historical significance of the Bellevue Mine lies in its representation of underground mining activity in the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains in the early-mid 20th century, when coal production was Alberta's second largest industry, and when Alberta, for a time, led all other provinces in the production of coal. The site is also important in being, for a time, one of the most productive mines in the province, and the site of the second worst mining disaster in the province's history.

Long before the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885, it was evident to the Dominion government and railway officials alike that beds of coal would have to be developed in the west to maintain the CPR and its anticipated branches. Even before this, industrial interests in the State of Washington had begun to take an interest in the coal deposits in the western portion of the Crowsest Pass in order to fire their smelters in Trail and Nelson. Indeed, they even constructed a railway from the interior of BC to the Pass to exploit the coal deposits of the region. Wary of this, the CPR decided to complete a railway to the eastern portion of the pass from Lethbridge, which was completed in 1898. With this development, incentive was provided for large mining companies to begin extracting the coal, and, before long, hundreds of miners were brought in to work the mines. As a result, several mining towns emerged along the rail line. One of these was Bellevue at the base of Turtle Mountain, 5km southeast of the larger town of Blairmore. Bellevue was named in 1905 for the spectacular vista by the daughter of Jules Flutot, the Manager of the largest mine in the area, Western Canadian Collieries.

Western Canadian Collieries was a British owned business with headquarters in London. Its #1 mine in Bellevue (Alberta Mine #87) was opened in 1903 in LSD10 TP20 R3 W5. A few years later, a second mine was opened adjacent to it. Both mines used the same portal for the delivery of coal, and, by 1916, the production averaged 1,500 tons per day, which was the largest quantity in the Crowsnest Pass. Ninety percent of this was sold to the Canadian Pacific Railway. In all, the mine employed over 100 men, most living in company houses in Bellevue.

In December 1910, a major tragedy occurred when an explosion in the main shaft resulted in the death of 31 miners, most perishing from carbon monoxide and a lack of oxygen. As a result, legislation was passed calling for improved safety measures, including trained mine rescue teams. Production continued to grow, and, in 1929, a new portal was opened. Production decreased during the Great Depression, but, with the coming of World War II, the demand for coal was greater than ever, and, in 1941, the mine achieved its greatest output at 454,000 tons. Following the war, however, the CPR and other railways began to use diesel, which was made viable by the growth in oil extraction and refinement in Alberta. Production in all major mines proceeded to drop, and, in January 1961, the Bellevue Mine was closed.

Due to a lack of development in the area, the grounds around the original mine portal were left untouched for years, although the portal itself was closed to the public a safety measure. In recent years, however, the site was recognized for its historical significance, and, today, the Crowsnest Pass Ecotourism Trust facilitates tours of the tunnel, the only underground mine in Alberta to be set aside for historical tours.

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0791
Designation File: DES 0158 / DES 2181
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File:
Website Link: www.bellevueundergroundmine.org/
Data Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8
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