LUNDBRECK’S COAL MINING HERITAGE
by Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society
Lundbreck’s economic fortunes flowed and ebbed with the ups and downs of the local coal mining industry. Conditions appeared optimistic in August 1905 which was only seven years after the completion of the CPR’s Crowsnest Line provided a marketing link for Lundbreck coal. A coal shaft in the settlement had been dug to the depth of two-hundred feet. Mine officials were very pleased with the work’s progress which averaged twenty-five feet per week. Close to seventy-five miners were employed in this operation and company cottages were being built in Lundbreck to house them. So optimistic was company management that the Blairmore Times reported that “Lundbreck is destined to play a no inconsiderable part in the near future in the production of coal in this district.”
Lundbreck’s 1906 population was pegged at two-hundred persons, many of whom were connected with the coal mining industry.
The 1907 calendar year continued to provide optimism for Lundbreck’s coal mining industry. There were three local coal mining companies, the Breckenridge and Lund, the Galbraith, and a third unnamed corporation. The first two appear to have been in operation that year but the third was closed due to the miners’ strike. An estimate of three hundred miners planned to work at the three mines. The Northwest Mounted Police reported that Lundbreck promised to be a significant mining centre.
Yet a mining downturn took place in early 1908. The company which leased the Breckenridge and Lund Mine decided that the mine was not paying and exercised an option to give one month’s notice. Although the owners were interested in eventually keeping the mine going, little enthusiasm was given it in the short term. By August of that year, the mine still was not open but a handful of men were employed there repairing the site. In March 1909, the situation still had not improved and its staff of six had been reduced to two.
The second mine company, Galbraith, was in a more positive situation in January 1908. The corporation had discovered further coal deposits on the south side of Lundbreck and was anxious to develop these. Rumours circulated that a third mine would soon open provided that investors could be found. Eight months later, however, those plans were put temporarily on hold. Only a few men worked there too. Over the course of the winter, up to two and a half dozen men worked at the mine but this was cut short the following March when the operation closed due to a shortness of coal orders.
The 1908 annual report for the N.W.M.P. noted that although Lundbreck was the first of the coal mining settlements as one traveled west on the C.P.R. line, often its mines were closed. Lundbreck’s population varied with the amount of mine production and during the summer months was nearly deserted. The Galbraith Mine had fifty miners working with shipments heading down to Spokane. The larger Breckenridge and Lund Coal Mine only saw a limited production and few cars were shipped during the year.
A coal strike throughout the Crowsnest Pass started April 1st, 1909 and there had been hopes that a conciliation board would end the dispute. The unions not being firmly entrenched at Lundbreck resulted in some behind the scenes work at the smaller of the two mines here. As of May, the mine had received large coal orders from Lethbridge, more than seventy-five miles to the east. Coal shipments were made via the Crowsnest branch of the C.P.R. Northwest Mounted Police reports indicate that 1909 was only partially a good coal mining year in Lundbreck. Just fifteen Lundbreck miners were employed in contrast to forty the year before.
The Mounties’ 1910 report for southern Alberta painted a bleak picture of Lundbreck’s coal mining industry claiming it had “a very precarious existence”. The settlement’s two mines closed down on a regular basis with their miners moving elsewhere to seek work. This gave Lundbreck a nearly deserted look. The Force estimated that fifteen miners worked in Lundbreck that year with production measuring thirty tons.
Two large ledgers for the most successful mining operation that of Breckenridge and Lund, indicate that for the 1906 – 1911 time period the company sold coal to many Lundbreck and area customers as well as to some clients further afield. Local purchasers included several corporate accounts. One was Rogers Brothers, operators of the Lundbreck Trading Company, who regularly purchased Breckenridge and Lund coal for their store. Their account up to April 1906 came to over two-hundred and fifty dollars. In nearby Pincher Creek, the Rocky Mountain Echo as it was known up to that year bought ten dollars worth of coal to heat its press building on the north side of Main Street. Individual customers purchased company coal to heat their homes. The ranching Clarkson family purchased product worth eight dollars and fifty cents while Dr. A. C. Johnston, who was a loyal and regular customer, had an account totaling $576.26. Rancher A. C. Kemmis had bought $423.69 worth of coal over the years. An early documented account was with A. U. Mouat who made a purchase of just over ten dollars.
A few of the Company’s non-local customers included Lethbridge Iron Works and the Calgary operation of the Hudson’s Bay Company. As of April 1906, the former had purchased $61.79 of Breckenridge and Lund coal while the latter’s purchases came to $293.78. To the west, the Cranbrook Herald purchased coal valued at nine dollars and the Blairmore Times five dollars. Even the Macleod Electric, Light and Power Company many miles to the east purchased nearly sixty-five dollars of coal. The appeal of Lundbreck coal had even reached the big cities and smaller settlements many miles away. This in part was an indication of Breckenridge’s and Lund’s pre-World War One success.