Coal Mining’s Boom and Bust
100 mines operated in the Lethbridge area from 1874 to 1965. Over 3,200 kilometers of tunnels were dug and millions of tons of coal were removed.
By the early twentieth century, the mines employed hundreds of workers and produced about 300 tonnes of coal each day. The need for workers was great and men from around the world were hired to meet the need. In 1918, the North American Collieries Mine at Coalhurst had the following nationalities listed for its work force (number of workers in parentheses): Canadian (66), English (54), Scots (23), Irish (3), Hindu (1), other British possessions (2), Welsh (2), French (5), American (8), Russian (6), Austrian (170), German (17), Swedish (3) and Italian (29).
Several communities were formed by these coal workers coming to the area. Lethbridge started in the river valley as Coalbanks. Galt No. 3, started in 1890, became the Village of Stafford. No. 6 mine, started in 1909, developed into Hardieville (named for W. D. L. Hardie). Both of these last communities were later annexed by the City of Lethbridge.
After the First World War, the coal industry around Lethbridge gradually declined due to the development of oil and natural gas. The last mine in Lethbridge, Galt No. 8, closed in 1957. The local industry ceased when the Shaughnessy mine closed in 1965.
The early mines were drift mines in the river valley, with the mine tunnels dug straight into the coulees. In 1888, to achieve greater output and better ventilation, the first shaft mine was dug. A vertical shaft was dug down from the prairie level to the coal seam and then horizontal mine tunnels were mined out.
Mining contributed significantly to the economic development and the growth of railroads and irrigation in southern Alberta. The mines also influenced immigration, bringing many families to the area. Coal mining was laborious and dangerous. Without the dedication and bravery of the miners and their families, Lethbridge would not have become the community it is today.
You can learn more about coal mining in southern Alberta at the Galt Museum & Archives.