In the Crowsnest Pass, a string of small towns, created by the coal mining industry in the early 1900’s, stretches west through the mountain pass at the southeast corner of Alberta and into British Columbia, Canada.
What is now called the Crowsnest Pass was still part of the Northwest Territories until the Province of Alberta was established in 1905. The Bellevue Mine, in the shadow of infamous Turtle Mountain, began production in December, 1903, when West Canadian Collieries purchased a large tract of land in this coal-rich area. Over the next 58 years more than 13 million tons of coal were extracted from the Bellevue Mine with the majority of the output allocated to the Canadian Pacific Railway’s steam-powered locomotives. On December 9, 1910, 31 of 42 men lost their lives in a methane gas explosion triggered by sparks from falling rock. If this tragedy had occurred only a few hours earlier, the loss of life could have been greater than the infamous explosion of the Hillcrest Mine on the other side of Crowsnest Pass. Rescue efforts of heroic proportion prevented the entire shift from losing their lives. Repairs and labour strife kept the mine closed until 1912.
Due to insufficient demand, this huge coal mining operation closed in January of 1961, after a long history of mine explosions and labour interruptions. Most of the tunnel complex is flooded with water. Millions of tons of coal remain buried deep underground. Towards the end of major mining activity in Crowsnest Pass, the Bellevue tipple continued processing coal from strip mining on Grassy Mountain until it was dismantled in 1962.
In 1991, the Bellevue Underground Mine Tour was established, with artifacts displayed inside and outside the mine entrance, preserving decades of mining history. Experienced and knowledgeable interpreters provide fascinating oratory on the tour into the first 400 metres (437 yards) of the mine that was 240 KM (150 miles) of complex, tiered tunnel at maximum development. Guests, outfitted with miners’ helmets and genuine battery operated mining lamps, are taken into the cool temperatures of the mine to receive graphic description of how the angular coal seams were mined. Dave and I leave with a whole new respect for the miners who worked within the perpetual threat of methane and coal dust explosions, roof collapses, shifting rock (bumps), coal bursts and asphyxiation from oxygen depletion or carbon monoxide. It was very risky business and between 1903 and 1961 the Bellevue Mine claimed the lives of 67 men.