Exploring a Historic Coal Mine

In the fall of 2012, the exhibit “Uncovering Secrets: Archaeology in Southern Alberta” highlighted 15 sites and features telling human stories found under the soils and across the landscape of the area, including the town of Lille in the Crowsnest Pass.

Archaeological sites in Alberta, known and not yet discovered, are protected by law. When land is to be disturbed by any type of development, an archaeology company must do a review of the area first. When Shell Canada Ltd. planned a natural gas pipeline through the Crowsnest Pass, archaeologist Brian (Barney) Reeves was hired to review three potential routes for historical remains. He found one route would severely impact the ghost town of Lille, so an alternative route was chosen.

In 1901, a town called French Camp was established for employees who worked the nearby coal mines. Renamed Lille, the town existed until 1912. The thriving town housed about 400 people in various types of housing and included a hotel, school, doctor’s office, 15-bed hospital, liquor store, general store, butcher shop, bakery, post office, and NWMP barracks. The layout of the company built town placed the manager’s family home in a prominent position. Nearby were the homes for middle managers and miners with families. These were distinct from the bachelor’s quarters on the outskirts of town. The mine operation itself involved three mines, a tipple, coke ovens and a railway line connecting to the Crowsnest Pass mainline.

Lille had been excavated by several archeology teams in the 1970s and 80s. Interestingly, a lot of the digging was focused on the outdoor privies located near the houses and businesses, as well as the garbage dump, as archaeologists have found that what humans discard tells a great deal about their lives.

Artifact remnants included liniment bottles, a work boot, tin water bottle, and family items such as silk stockings, mother-of-pearl buttons, and a child’s soother and tea set. Many products were of Italian origin. Leisure activities such as hockey and music were confirmed by the discovery of harmonica parts and a skate blade.

Speaking of skates, the exhibit “Artistry and Precision” in the main level hallway at the Galt Museum looks back at the 1990 figure skating event in the city. It closes May 10. For details on this and the archaeology, visit www.galtmuseum.com.