PIONEER TALES OF THE CHRISTIE COAL MINE

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

The Christie Coal Mine was one of the success stories of coal extraction in the larger Pincher Creek area. Established in 1883, it had a lengthy history of coal mining and sales to a variety of local points. Its location, now known as Christie Mine Ridge, was located in Sections 9 and 10 Township 5 Range 1 West of the 5th, nearly a dozen miles southwest of Pincher Creek.

MINE OFFICIALS AND EQUIPMENT REFLECTED THE PIONEER TIMES

The mine was associated with several pioneers over the course of its history. Andrew Christie (1839-1933) established the mine in 1883 after ranch-hand William Ducharme told him of sighting coal deposits on a rocky ridge accessible only by horse from the fledgling settlement of Pincher Creek. This entrepreneurial settler quickly organized the capital (which may have included some of his own dollars), equipment and manpower to launch the mine. The mine’s founder operated the business for close to a decade when it was sold. Subsequent locally based managers included in succession John Good (1852-1935) and his son-in-law J. H. (Bert) Owen (1886-1945) who oversaw the operation for fifteen years in the 1930s and 1940s. A longtime miner was Charlie Mitchell (1899-1934) whose Christie Coal Mine career started in 1915. In the pre-First World War era which was noted for its boosterism and economic expansion, the American railway firm the Great Northern invested heavily in the mine and acquired its ownership. Up to two-hundred thousand dollars was spent purchasing this mine as well as a couple of smaller nearby coal mines.

Christie Coal was known for its quality, particularly its steam coal with was very popular with customers. Most non-residential users found the coal to be of high quality and burned hot which kept their businesses and agencies warm. Pioneers likewise enjoyed the coal’s warmth and abundant supply but often found it a little bit on the dirty side. The cleanup of pioneer stoves was notorious and not a favourite job of any settler. What seemed to be guaranteed quantities steamed from the local volume of coal and the miners’ ability to access it.

The latest in mining equipment was installed, particularly as technology improved in the First World War era. Bunkers which had large capacities close to one hundred tons were installed in the autumn of 1913 which virtually guaranteed continuous supply. A new loading chute was designed to load a customer’s wagon in under five minutes. Mine promotions noted that this meant “no more standing around and no more shoveling in the snow.”

While coal extraction at the Christie Mine was productive, the operation did run into hitches. Two temporary closures took place in March and April of 1923 and 1924. Bert Owens explained that due to the spring water run offs, the mine’s eight hundred foot shaft was overwhelmed with three feet of dirty water. Primitive pumping equipment was inadequate to keep up with the rising volume and the mine was forced to shut down until the draining took place naturally. The previous January and February, Owens made public appeals for those customers in need of coal to make their purchases before the closures took place.

COAL PRICES AND LOCAL PATRONAGE

Effective late 1912, prices for Christie Mine coal sold for three dollars per ton if picked up at the mine. The purchase price doubled to six dollars per ton if the coal was delivered to town. More than a generation later, during the first full year of the Second World War, the coal pricing scheme read as follows. Lump coal, which was the most expensive, retailed at $3.50 per ton at the mine and five dollars when delivered to town. A ton of stove coal, which measured in quantities of up to four inches, sold at $3.25 at the mine; town deliveries cost $4.75. The same quantity of mine run coal cost three dollars at the mine or four dollars delivered. Stoker coal, in quantities of a ton and sizes of up to an inch and a quarter, cost customers $2.50 on site or four dollars in town. A ton of slack coal, known for its lower quality, cost a dollar and a half at the mine or could be delivered for twice the price in Pincher Creek.

Patronage of the Christie Coal Mine was widespread and included several customers in the rural districts in and around Beauvais Lake as well as in the larger settlement of Pincher Creek. Folklore indicates that early ranchers in the Beauvais Lake, Crook, Cyr and Gladstone Valley School Districts patronized the mine on a regular basis. Likewise, Pincher Creek residents such as the Bossenberrys and Haltons at the west end of town, the Crook, Hoare and Tucker families north of the creek, and Dr. Leland Walkey on the south side were Christie Mine customers. Commercial outlets and local agencies which purchased Christie coal in great quantities included the T. Lebel and Company, the Pincher Creek Public School, the Memorial Hospital, and the Town of Pincher Creek. Much of the Christie Coal Mine’s shop at home marketing philosophy was reciprocal: in an attempt to solicit local patronage, company officials also put in efforts to do their own purchases within the community.

Logistically, transporting Christie Mine coal to its customers was a bit of a challenge but the way the Company handled the issue was a positive public relations venture which actually built up customer loyalty. The Mine’s foothills location was geographically isolated. Although the Great Northern had optimistic pre-World War One plans on accessing the Mine with a railroad, this never materialized. Unlike its sister mines at Lundbreck and for a short period at Beaver Mines which did have rail connections, the Christie Coal Mine was destined to be serviced by teams of horses pulling wagons in summer and sleighs in winter. These dray service connections had two benefits. Firstly, it meant that the coal was delivered directly to the customer’s property instead of the nearest rail depot. Pioneers appreciated the resource being dropped down the coal chute and into the coal bin in their dugouts or being shoveled into coal storage sheds behind their businesses. Secondly, the dray service meant that local contractors were hired (Bill Crook was one such example) to transport the coal between the mine and its customers. These deliveries put hard cash into the hands of pioneers at a time when money was scarce.

The Christie Coal Mine was finally closed in December 1943, ending a sixty year history of coal extraction and of serving the greater Pincher Creek area. Bishop Wilson, who leased the mine from the Great Northern, announced via the Pincher Creek Echo’s front page that coal seams were not as accessible or productive as they had been in the past, and the costs associated with further resource extraction were deemed to be too expensive. Both the Company and the local public keenly lamented this decision as the mine had significantly contributed to the economic well-being of the area. A unique chapter in local coal mining history had come to an end.

Photo Captions:
01): Charlie Mitchell on horseback in front the tipple at the Christie Coal Mine. Mitchell collection
02): A team hauling coal to Pincher Creek from the Christie Mine. A few of the mine buildings can be seen in the background nestled in the watershed at the foot of the hill. Mitchell collection
03): Office and tipple at the Christie Coal Mine. Mitchell collection
04): Christie Coal Mine southwest of Pincher Creek and its new tipple, circa 1930. Mitchell collection
05): Tipple at the Christie Coal Mine. Mitchell collection
06): Weigh Scale at the Christie Coal Mine. Mitchell collection
07): Main entrance to the Christie Coal Mine. Note the railway tracks and log abutments. Mitchell collection

Sources: Adapted from Smith, Marie Rose, “Eighty Years On The Plains”, Canadian Cattlemen, Calgary: November 1949, Vol. 12, No. 04, pp. 18-19; [Christie Coal Mine Advertizement], The Pincher Creek Echo, Vol. XIII, No. 17, Friday, 13th December 1912, p. [1]; “Great Northern Heading For Coal Mine South Of Pincher Creek”, The Pincher Creek Echo, Vol. XIV, No. 14, Friday, 14th November 1913, p. [1]; [Christie Coal Company Advertizement re Drop in Coal Prices], The Pincher Creek Echo, Vol. XIX, No. 16, Friday, 29th November 1918; [Christie Coal Mine], The Pincher Creek Echo, Vol. XXIV, No. 30, Friday, 28th February 1924, p. [4]; [Christie Coal Mine Advertizement re Importance of Keeping Men Working In This District], The Pincher Creek Echo, Vol. XXXII, No. 16, Friday, 20th November 1931, p. [8]; [Christie Coal Mine Advertizement], The Pincher Creek Echo, Vol. XXXI, No. 16, Thursday, 07th November 1940, p. [1]; “Christie Mine Now Closed For Good”, The Pincher Creek Echo, Vol. XLIV, No. 22, Thursday, 16th December 1943, p. [1]; and “Death of J. H. Owen”, The Pincher Creek Echo, Vol. XLVI, No. 06, Thursday, 30th August 1945, p. [1].

PIONEER TALES OF THE CHRISTIE COAL MINE