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Boom & Bust: Ghost Towns of the Elk Valley

Monday • October 31, 2016

The early coal mining communities in the Elk Valley were boom towns which rose almost overnight.

Built within a short distance of new mines, these communities promised a better life for thousands of immigrants that came to the region. The communities of Coal Creek and Michel-Natal—where the coal seams were lucrative—survived for over 50 years. Others popped up and then disappeared just as quickly when the mines were not as profitable as owners had hoped.

COAL CREEK

The Crow’s Nest Pass Coal Company brought in 20 miners from Cape Breton to work its first mine at Coal Creek, which was established in 1897. By 1905, the townsite became home to 1,000 residents.

On May 22, 1902, an explosion in a mine left 128 dead in one of Canada’s the worst mining disasters. The mine was closed in 1958 and the townsite was dismantled. During those 60 years, the Coal Creek mine produced 20 million short tons of coal. By contrast, today’s open pit mines produce 25 million metric tons per year.

Remnants of the ruined townsite can be visited at the end of the Coal Heritage Trail, an interpretive route traversing the Coal Creek Valley with interpretive panels and artifacts to discover along the way. 

MICHEL-MIDDLETOWN-NATAL

Michel was founded in 1897 and named after Chief Michel of the Ktunaxa Nation. By 1907, the settlement had spread up the valley and the village of Natal (known initially as New Michel) was established. Over time, Michel and Natal were joined by other neighbourhood communities: Middletown, Little Chicago, “Up the Valley” (the Elk Valley) and later, Sparwood.

In the end, it was the provincial government’s desire to beautify the southeastern entrance to British Columbia that doomed Michel and Natal. An urban renewal project for that purpose began in the late 1960s, moving most residents to Sparwood while the old communities were bulldozed and burned. Nothing remains of the former townsite.

CORBIN

Corbin was founded in 1908 by Daniel Chase Corbin, president of Nelson and Fort Sheppard Railway. The Corbin operations included one of the earliest open pit mines in the area. Corbin once boasted a population of 600. The town had its own railway, company store, and a hotel called the Flathead. The Corbin Collieries closed down their operation in 1935 and the town was abandoned. Remnants of the coke ovens remain.

The Corbin Collieries closed down their operation in 1935 and the town was abandoned. Remnants of the coke ovens remain.

MORRISSEY

The Morrissey Mine opened in 1901. Thirteen kilometres south-west of Fernie, the remote location of the Morrissey Mine resulted in the establishment of four communities: Morrissey, Morrissey Mines, Carbonado, and Swinton; quickly growing to a total peak population of over 1,500 by 1903.

The Mine company, deterred by several mine accidents and the unsuitability of the coal for coking purposes, closed the Morrissey Mine in 1910 and abandoned the town. The townsite was reused briefly during World War I as an internment camp for ‘enemy aliens’ from 1915 to 1918. Today, only the coke ovens remain to be explored.

HOSMER

Unlike surrounding coal mines, the Hosmer Mine was a subsidiary of the Canadian Pacific Railway and Hosmer began as a C.P.R. company town.

Coal production started in 1908 and by 1910 over 1,200 people lived in what seemed to be a community with a bright future. In June 1914, the C.P.R. unexpectedly announced that the Hosmer Mine would cease production immediately.

Technically, Hosmer is not a ghost town; a population of over 100 and several businesses and community organizations still call the hamlet home. The Hosmer power house, coke ovens, and other ruins can be explored, as can the Hosmer cemetery.

- Rebecca Hall

 

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