Summer 2009 may be your last chance to witness the centrepiece of the Coleman National Historic Site —the huge coal crushing plant and rail car loading terminal in Crowsnest Pass, Alberta. The big green structures with their interconnecting conveyor tubes have been standing unused but in excellent external condition since underground mining ceased here in 1980.
Although this was established as a National Historic Site only a few years ago by Parks Canada and the federal government, these historic buildings are slated for demolition in 2009 to make way for a condominium development.
In July 2009, the Heritage Canada Foundation included the site among the 10 most endanged in the country, citing "neglect, vandalism and development pressures."
The Coleman National Historic Site encompasses much of the old town of Coleman. In addition to the huge surface mine plant, the site includes the old downtown, and some of the older residential neighborhoods, preserving the atmosphere of a western Canadian mining town between 1905 and 1950. But no prettied-up town is this. It's the real thing, where one can sense the rough edges and hard times experienced by coal miners of a bygone era.
In addition to the buildings' historic value, they are home to a large flock of native swallows who thrive on the insects emerging from the adjacent Crowsnest River.
Historical Time Period:
Twentieth Century Coal Mining
The Coleman National Historic Site is Canada’s only intact coal mining community, comprising a ghostly main street, rows of miners’ cottages, and towering plant buildings which are scheduled to be demolished this year to make way for a housing project.
Many local residents say they are dismayed at the prospect for losing the signature man-made feature of Crowsnest Pass. “I will be emotionally devastated if they tear down the mine buildings,” says master woodworker Gary Carpenter whose shop and home are the mine’s closest neighbours.
Crowsnest Pass town council opened the way for demolition by re-zoning the mine property from industrial to residential use. Stories signaling the imminent threat to the privately owned historic site appeared in July 2009 in the national newspaper The Globe and Mail and the regional Lethbridge Herald.
During the death watch of the Coleman National Historic Site, historians and filmmakers are racing to document the technological and human history of the monumental structures. Laurel Halladay, doctor of history, is seeking first-hand accounts from anyone who worked for International Coal and Coke or Coleman Colliers. Any one with information is invited to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Meanwhile, local cineaste Dan Stoddart is filming the site.
The doomed mine buildings are easily visible from Alberta Highway 3. The best opportunity to photograph the full panorama of the Coleman National Historic Site is in the light of the setting sun from a highway-side promontory, GPS coordinates N49.38.04.6, W126.96.36.199. Park with caution off the highway shoulder and walk to the site.
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