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Coalhurst, Alberta History

Our Treasured Heritage
A History of Coalhurst and District
Pages 37-38

Alberta has many communites that at one time were of considerable importance but which now are just names beside the highways.

They are seldom visited by the traveller to whom they may was well just be over a hill and out of sight, yet they have interesting stories to tell.

And one of them is Coalhurst, once a mining community of 1,200 residents that today lives with its memories but still looks to the future because in these expanding times it is becoming something of a suburb of Lethbridge and, anyway, it has that great pile of cinders.

Mr. McDermott became hardware merchant at Coalhurst when the town was in the exciting throes of being built. He still calls it home because he has one of those fine old residences and, anyway, he dislikes the bustle of cities.

What with the big pile of cinders and the fact there is an interes in Coalhurst as a quiet place to live because it is but seven miles from Lethbridge, Mr. McDermott feels the pendulum may be swinging the other way, however slowly.

Mr. McDermott was manager of Molson's Bank at Diamond City which was another thriving coal mining community about 11 miles north of Lethbridge.

The Indians always said the mines at Diamond City would not continue to operate. Actually mining at Diamond City suffered when the seam ran out. But the Indians club to their belief the mining would not be successful because it was on the site of an old Indian burial ground.

Diamond City in those days was in a peculiar position. Lethbridge was within distance of the eye, but the coal was moved out to and suplies brought in from Granum, 30 miles to the west. There was no way of getting across the big coulee to Lethbridge.

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After being at other western points with the bank, Mr. McDermott returned to Coalhurst to open a hardware business on strength of opening the mine.

The mine shaft had just been completed and everybody was waiting for the town to be opened. As Mr. McDermott said, "the land was subdivided as far as you could see." Optimism was unbounded.

A hotel was built about three-quarters of a mile from the town proper and it was actually in business for three years before it was moved into town.

From its eight stores and hotel, Coalhurst - a name derived from the mine product coupled with an early settler named Hurst - today has but one store in operation. A reminder of yesteryear is a brick building vacant, on which is crest of the Standard Bank of Canada.

An irrigation canal runs through Coalhurst but does it no good because the town is on fringe of the irrigated area. The town is centre of a school district and most of the activity seems to centre around the big school.

With gas and power, the place has much to offer. It also has a water line, a community enterprise. Two of the tanks of the water system once served as vats in a brewery.

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Foundations are all that remain of the mine . . . apart from the great pile of cinders, now covered with weeds and such a size it looks like a big hill.

The hill was purchased a while back by Calgary interests with the intention of using the waste material to make cinder blocks. The figure of $20,000 has been mentioned as having been involved in the deal for the cinders, and Coalhurst residents are looking forward to seeing a factory on the site.

Then there was the fight over a getting a railway station. That battle went on for nearly a quarter of century after the big trestle was built over the valley at Lethbridge and a direct line built to Fort Macleod. Previously the CPR made a big loop to the south.

In those days, it seems, the railways preferred to build stations at spots where it could develop a townsite. The next station west of Coalhurst is Kipp, which is bigger today than it has ever been, having about three homes. The railway built a station at Kipp but another company had the land for development.

When Coalhurst asked for a station, the railway replied it had a station at Kipp and it had no intention of having stations every two miles.

So when the people of Coalhurst wanted to catch a train they either drove or walked over to Kipp which was just about two miles distant.

The argument was before federal boards and the railway stuck to its guns for years before it finally built a station.

Odd part of the railway's attitude, however, was that in some of those years it was moving 1,600 tons of coal per day from the Coalhurst mine and as a railway car in those days handled only 50 tons or so, it was quite some movement.

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Coalhurst got its station in 1930, or five years before the mining folded. By this time the mine was operated by Lethbridge Colleries, a subsidiary of the CPR.

The operation ended as the result of a tragic explosion - 16 lives were lost - and a dispute which then followed with a union.

The dispute reached the point where the miners refused to go underground and before they could give their decision second thought they had no mine to go to. The company closed the operation.

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Copyright 2000
Mary Tollestrup