By Steven Brown
Coal was essential to the development of the Crowsnest Pass. Between 1900 and the 1960s, there were, amazingly, 16 coal mines between the BC border and Burmis, along what is now the Crowsnest Highway. After the Canadian Pacific Railway line was completed through the Pass in 1898, coal mines and their accompanying towns began to quickly develop. Towns and hamlets such as Frank, Lille, Bellevue, Hillcrest, Coleman, Passburg, Beaver Mines, Lundbreck, Burmis and Blairmore all had their origins in the early twentieth century. Despite their frenzied early development, some of these towns did not survive to see the beginning of the First World War. Lille is the most famous of these now-derelict ghost towns. The Lille mine was opened in 1901 by West Canadian Collieries, and the only remains are the foundations of the local hotel, skeletons of the mines once massive coke ovens and a lone fire hydrant marking a former street corner. Lille was well known for coking coal; a process that involves cooking all the impurities out of the coal in massive kilns, and leaves behind almost pure carbon. These kilns were specially shipped from Belgium to be assembled in Lille. Due to declining coke markets in 1912, the Lille mine was forced to shut down with a loss of around $40,000, and their equipment was moved to other mines in the area.
The town of Lille is just one of many stories in the complex history of the Crowsnest Pass. As the coal market declined in the 1950s, all the other mines in the Crowsnest Pass eventually shut down, the last one by 1983. Come to the Galt Museum & Archives on SEP 20 from 1–2 pm and join Steven Brown as he briefly examines the history of coal mining in the Crowsnest Pass between 1900 and 1960.