The coal mining town of Anthracite, which began mining operations in 1890, became a victim to the flood waters of the Cascade River and ceased operations in 1901. Many of the displaced miners relocated to staff the nearby and newly developing Bankhead mining operation. The Canadian Anthracite Coal Company opened a new coal seam on the lower slopes of east Mount Rundle, and west of Canmore, which will become the company town called Georgetown. There is more than one way to get to the ghost town remnants of Georgetown. The most popular route is from the trailhead at the Canmore Nordic Ski Centre. Another option is hiking from Canmore along the Bow River and above the TransAlta – Rundle Hydro Plant.
I choose to hike the lower route along the Bow River. It will make the hike longer but I will avoid the confusing maze of trails at the world-class Canmore Nordic Ski Centre. I park in the Mineside Trailhead parking lot on the Rundle side of the Bow River and hike the riverside trail west in a brisk, cold breeze to the Hydro Plant. I decide to hike around the hydro station to the old, iron, Engine Bridge, built in the 1890’s as a link in Canadian Pacific Railway’s trans-continental rail line. Today it serves as a pedestrian bridge across the Bow River as part of Canmore‘s extensive and outstanding walking trail system.
Back at the Hydro Plant, the climb up the stairs rapidly solves the chill from the westerly breeze along the Bow River. The short steep ascent leads to bluffs above the river and spectacular views over Canmore and the Bow Valley to the mountains on the far side.
This area contains a labyrinth of trails. The westerly route above the bluffs veers into forest and will arrive at Junction 41 where one of several trail options is clearly marked as the route to Georgetown.
The trail is easy hiking. The entire trip will be about 11.2 KM (7 miles) with one-way gross elevation of about 152 m (500 ft). Net elevation is near zero. A second junction is again clearly marked and the trail begins a gentle downward slope. It is less a trail than a very, very, very, fine road.
Alongside the road to Georgetown there are crystalline patches of ice on the shallow water of a nearly dry creek bed.
The road turns black from more-than-century-old coal and confirms Georgetown is not far away. The tree-bordered trail opens into a clearing which was once the site of the small, coal-mining town of Georgetown, established in 1912. The population peaked at around 200 people but Georgetown boasted a row of compact one or two bedroom homes, a bunk house for single men, a combination school and community centre and a well-stocked company store with a post office. The road arrives at a signed clearing with interpretive signs.
The path swings left and briefly climbs a hill to a flat spot with coal chute trails venturing right, left and straight ahead. There are scattered remnants of debris. I hike to the right and loop back and up to join the black chute trail at the top of a large coal slag heap where two, sealed mine shafts are plugged with lumber debris.
As I work my way down the steep side of the old coal heap, there are the remains of old, wooden coal chutes, and bits of cable and metal debris. On a flat plateau at the bottom of the coal pile, I find piles of rotting lumber, rusty crushed fuel cans, an old winding drum and moss-covered foundations identifiable only by their flat surface and the rusted mounting bolts protruding through the moss. What little remains is largely reclaimed.
Back at the bottom of the hill I search around in the underbrush and find collapsed foundations at the edge of another road which was likely used to transport coal.
These old ruins are near the initial ascent to the Georgetown mining chutes, slag heaps and coal mining shafts. As I descend to the clearing where the residential buildings once stood, there is a beautiful view of the mountains on the far side of the Bow River, under interesting cloud formations.
Using the clearing as a hub, I perform a spoke search in several directions, back and forth, but find very little more than patches of coal and metal debris. I hoped to find a foundation or two, or the town dump, but I find nothing of consequence this day. The only treasure I come away with is a photo of Mount Rundle rising above the old mine site.
I offtrail through what appears to be a man-made channel, possibly an old rail line bordered by forest. Two young deer are feeding in the woods but I continue walking and pass by them within 10 feet (3 m). They watch me with their big, saucer eyes but exhibit no fear, just curiosity. It is a nice moment. The channel disintegrates into deadfall and I return to the road to hike back to Canmore the same way I came.
In 1914, at the beginning of the 1st World War, company funds and coal markets dwindled, resulting in the Georgetown Mine shutting down within 3 years of inception. A few of the original miner’s cabins were relocated to Canmore by sliding them over the ice of the Bow River. Some of the homes still stand in Canmore today. Miners moved to Canmore or to mining operations in the Drumheller area.
On the return hike there are wonderful views over the Bow Valley Corridor to familiar sun drenched mountains on the other side.
As I return to Canmore, autumn colours are accentuated by seeding shrubbery. The return hike to Georgetown is a very good experience. It is easy to lose the route so attention to trail signs is very important and a bit of advance research will be helpful.