HISTORICAL TRAGEDIES OF THE BEAVER MINES COAL INDUSTRY

Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society

Historical developments associated with the Beaver Mines coal industry, particularly of how it thrived immediately up to and during the First World War, are fondly recalled by the community. Although the resource extraction brought economic good times to this settlement nestled in the foothills to the west, local coal mining was not without its tragedies and loss of life. These tragedies too need to be recorded.

TWO MINING FATALITIES IN APRIL 1913
One of the first serious accidents at the Beaver Mines resulting in a loss of life took place at two o’clock the afternoon of Saturday, 19th April 1913. Two men, Patrick Ryan and Allan McDonald, were working underground in one of the mineshafts when there was an unexpected fall of rock, which pinned and crushed them to the ground. Reports also indicated that the coal dust, stirred up due to the accident, smothered the pair almost instantaneously. Their employer, the Western Coal & Coke Company, was very concerned about the deaths. Unconfirmed reports indicated that the Company assisted with the funerals and burials of the two men. One, Patrick Ryan, had his funeral at St. Anthony’s Mission at Beaver Mines and was interred within the Roman Catholic cemetery Tuesday, 22nd April 1913. At the request of the family, Alan McDonald’s body was shipped to his hometown of Glace Bay, Nova Scotia for burial. Many a coal miner from down east had found work in the coal operations at Beaver Mines.

COAL MINING PROSPERTY
Coal extraction at Beaver Mines was booming during the 1913 Season. It was said that employment prospects in the local mines “was never more favorable than at present.” The Number One Mine, which had been closed during the previous year and a half, was about to re-open as soon as a sufficient number of miners could be employed there. Mine Number Two, also owned by the Western Coal and Coke Company, was in full mining operation that year. Company officials were pleased with the production rate and miners were happy with the wages provided which were equal to those found in other mining operations in southwestern Alberta.

DEATH OF CHARLES BURNS AT CHUTE NUMBER NINE
Yet safety continued to be a concern. Another fatal mining accident took place on Friday, 08th August 1913 when a miner by the name of Charles Burns lost his life in one of the mines. Burns’ workstation was at Chute Number Nine and his job was to ensure that the coal be kept slowly going down this steep, almost vertical chute that presumably emptied into a set of coal cars, which in turn would head towards the mine entrance. It was a small chute measuring just three feet wide, and a foot and a half wide yet it traveled a distance of nearly two hundred feet. Reports indicate that Charles Burns was working alone at the time and may have lost his balance in what would now be considered to be dangerous working conditions. He fell down the chute head first.

Coroner Dr. Connor held an inquest the day after Burns lost his life, and ruled his death a work place accident.

Burns too was originally from Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia and had come west to seek work in the local coal mines. His wife and five children had remained back home. However, a large locally attended funeral for Charles Burns was held at St. Michael’s Church in Pincher Creek and he was laid to rest in the local cemetery.

Although coal mining was a vital industry in the Beaver Mines area, it nevertheless was a cause for concern in terms of safety issues.

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