The Coalmine Road

Between the years 1907 and 1965, there were 58 registered and numbered coal mines located in the Champion Coal Fields, an area which included the banks of Wolf Coulee (near Carmangay). Twenty-four of those mines were located along what is now known as the Coalmine Road (Township Road 160).

The Carlson family in 1910, along the trail that is know the Coalmine Road.

The coal from these mines supplied the families in the area, and was also sold to people from Barons, Vulcan, High River, Blackie, Nanton, and surrounding areas. In his book “Champion’s Black Gold,” Sev Pasolli describes how the coal was mined in the McGaw Mine, located along the Coalmine Road:

“Every coal miner had his own numbered tags to identify what cars he sent to the tipple. They were placed on a hook on the bottom of the coal car. The miner would then load the car, and when it reached the tipple, the tipple man would dump the car, pick up the tag to identify the miner, and place it on a hook so at the end of the day, each miner’s production was recorded and they were paid accordingly.

“At the McGaw mine the miners were paid $1.50 for three cars of coal. The three cars would hold at least one ton of lump coal at $3.00 a ton…”

Ellis Mine

Each coal mining room was from 20-25 feet wide, and each day the miner usually dug out half the width of the room to a depth of about 3 feet. When the room was cleaned, the minder drilled holes into the coal seam, and pushed blasting powder into the drilled hold using a tamping bar. Once the holes were loaded with powder, squibs were inserted and lit, and the miner had about a minute to clear out.

Bert McGaw

Champion Chronicle, 1914. The "trail" referred to at the bottom of the ad is the Coalmine Road.

Sev continues:

“If the two “booms” were heard all was well. If they didn’t ignite, they waited a few minutes, then went in to check. They would insert the needle into the hole again in hopes of clearing the hole, which was probably plugged, then light another squib. After the blasting the miner would go into the smoke filled room to see how things went, checking the timbers to be sure they weren’t knocked down by the blast. If there were they had to be replaced.”

The coal would be ready to load out the next morning. A good day’s work could produce 4-5 tons of coal.

Some of the bigger mines located along the Coalmine Road included the Ellis Mines, the McGaw Mine, and the Fontana Mine. The last of these mines in operation, the Fontana Mine, shut down in 1967.

McGaw Mine Tipple, 1937

Fontana Tipple

To learn more about Champion’s coalmining history, check out Sev’s book.

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