THE LIFE AND TIMES OF COAL MINER ANDREW CHRISTIE
by Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society
One of the most fascinating frontiersmen of southwestern Alberta was that of Andrew Christie whose contributions were in terms of coal mining, trading furs and recording weather conditions. He was a long time resident of the Beauvais Lake and Pincher Creek Districts.
CHRISTIE FAMILY HERITAGE
Andrew Christie lived a long and productive life. He was born on July 6th, 1839 in the Eastern Townships of Quebec into a family of Scottish ancestry. Young Andrew spent his early years there with his parents but later the Christie family moved to Ottawa, then known as Bytown. During the 1840s and 1850s this was a thriving lumber town. However, as an adult Andrew Christie was active in the fur trade, and travelled far and wide through eastern Ontario and parts of Quebec. He was well respected by all who dealt with him. This pioneer also was very adept in using firearms. In the ever-popular turkey shoots of that era Christie rarely missed a shot from 300 yards.
Although Christie made a solid living in the Bytown area, he quickly found that the area filled up quickly with new settlers. This was particularly true after Confederation in 1867, when this growing city became the nation’s capital. Our pioneer preferred a rural setting, and the lure of the Canadian west also had much appeal. Andrew Christie headed out to British Columbia in 1882 as a member of a party of twelve that travelled through the backcountry on horseback. They were led by the Reverend John Turner, who fancied himself as a bit of an explorer. Christie then chose to settle in Pincher Creek, a decision he made on the recommendation of his brother James. His sibling had settled in this Northwest Mounted Police and ranching settlement some two years earlier, and worked in conjunction with James Stewart and John Herron in the operation of the famed Stewart Ranch, located just east of the settlement. This was the original NWMP Horse Ranch established back in 1878.
THE CHRISTIE COAL MINE
Andrew Christie quickly made his biggest claim to fame in the Pincher Creek area – that of being the settlement’s first coal miner. Within a year he had established the Christie Coal Mine, located upstream of the settlement of Pincher Creek and east of the right bank of the Creek itself. Situated on Sections 9 and 10, T5, R1, West of the Fifth Meridian, this was immediately southeast of Beauvais Lake, the locale of a thriving French-Canadian and Metis settlement that also dated back to the 1880s.
A couple of important factors contributed to the long term success of this unique coal mine. One was the quality of the coal itself, an important ingredient that caught the early attention of our entrepreneurial pioneer. According to local historian Marie Rose Smith, a prominent member of that Beauvais Lake community, a coal seam in the area was first discovered by ranch hand William Ducharme, who had been gathering up strays during one of the early roundups. Stopping to have his lunch one noon hour, he quickly noticed the seam running along the hillside. Curious, he went to investigate, grabbed a piece and later took it into town where he showed it to the fellows conducting their usual visiting at the store run by Timothee Lebel. The story goes that the coal caught the interest of Andrew Christie who also haunted this favourite gathering place. He quickly recognized the coal’s high grade and convinced Ducharme to take him out there the following day. So impressed was Christie with the area’s resource potential that he quickly purchased the property and started mining.
A second contribution was the hard work of Andrew Christie himself. He owned the mine for the initial ten years of its operation, and diligently mined the much sought after resource from the depths of what has become known as Christie Mine Ridge. A large crew of area pioneers sought work in this mine over the years. An extensive network of horse-drawn wagons and sleighs, later supplemented by motor-powered trucks, brought the mine’s coal to local markets, as it never had a rail connection. The mine, however, did catch the attention of the American railway giant, the Great Northern, which eventually bought out the operation and at one time had hopes of building that much talked about rail connection there. The Christie Coal Mine finally closed down in 1943, a full sixty successful years after its inauguration and a decade following the death of its founder.
TRADER OF FURS AND RECORDER OF WEATHER CONDITIONS
Christie had retired from coal mining by the mid-1890s, but the reasons for leaving the thriving business he had established have never been fully understood. He may have found the physical work too arduous by then. Although he was only in his mid-forties during the last decade of the 1800s, coal mining during that era was a demanding and dangerous line of work to follow. After a decade in the industry, he may have found that he had made his fortune and could pursue other options. After, all Christie Mine had become one of the most successful coal operations of the area.
Andrew Christie moved back permanently into Pincher Creek, but did not retire from active life. Indeed, he reverted back to one of his earlier careers, that of trading furs. The Pincher Creek area was not as lucrative as Ottawa had been some twenty or thirty years earlier, but the business here did keep Christie busy. According to display advertisements placed in The Pincher Creek Echo during 1918 and 1919, this entrepreneur asked people to bring in their raw furs to him, whereby he could command top dollars for the hides. Claiming to avoid such expenses as large advertizing bills and expenses for travelling sales people, Christie promised to pass on the savings to trappers wishing to sell him furs. Prices offered for coyote skins ranged from twelve to twenty dollars. Local folklore indicates that he did a steady business over several years.
Another of Christie’s post-coal mining pursuits was that of keeping for the Dominion Government the meteorological records for Pincher Creek. This he did for nearly a full generation, commencing in May 1914 on the eve of the First World War, and from which he officially retired on his 93rd birthday in July 1932. He had taken this work over from businessmen G. W. Gill and W. A. Fraser, and was succeeded by Mrs. M. Lindsay. Weather details in terms of high and low temperatures as well as rain and snow accumulations were meticulously recorded by Christie in bound, legal size ledgers. These important documents, now a part of the esteemed archival collections of the Pincher Creek and District Historical Society, chronicle much of the weather history of the Pincher Creek area during an era of much change in our precipitation history. He also contributed weekly the weather reports to the Pincher Creek Echo.
ACTIVE IN COMMUNITY ENDEAVOURS
This ever-resourceful pioneer also was active in the community, particularly that of the Masonic Lodge. While still residing in Bytown in October 1861, he had joined the Doric Lodge Number 58 of the A. F. and A. M. and the Grand Register of Canada. Nearly thirty years later, when residing in the Pincher Creek area, Andrew Christie became a charter member of Spitzie Lodge Number Six. The local chapter dated back to May 1st, 1890, and Christie rarely missed a meeting. The Lodge was housed in a large two-story structure on the north side of town, at the corner of the former Bridge Avenue and Frederick Street. This landmark, just up the street from the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village, stood for many decades to come. In April 1913 the former coal miner was awarded a life membership in the Masonic Lodge, and at the time of his passing some twenty years later he was the most senior member, in terms of year in the Lodge, in all of Canada.
Although more a spiritual person rather than an active church attendee, Christie nevertheless was a member of the local Presbyterian Church.
Andrew Christie’s place of residence in Pincher Creek was the old Arlington Hotel, that stately brick hotel located on the north side of Main Street just east of the Lebel Store where he had made the coal-mining contact with Ducharme. Originally under the proprietorship of E. J. Mitchell and Charles Geddes, this fine place dated back to circa 1890. Shortly thereafter, William Dobbie bought out Geddes’ portion of the partnership, and in 1904 a large brick addition was made to the hotel. Several early pioneers, usually those who did not have close families in the area, resided there for many years. Christie enjoyed this arrangement as it allowed him the chance to visit with friends and community members while accessing meals at the hotel. The location was within easy walking distance of Main Street businesses. His bearded appearance, topped with a tweed hookdown cap, was a regular feature here for more than two decades. In later years he had been a boarder, first at the Pennington residence and subsequently at Mrs. M. Lindsay’s place. Christie continued to enjoy his surroundings. Even on his 90th birthday in July, 1929 he and his friend G. W. Buchanan ventured down to Waterton Lakes for the day, where they partook of the fantastic mountain scenery.
Andrew Christie passed away in Pincher Creek’s St. Vincent’s Hospital, the old Lebel Mansion, the evening of Wednesday, May 31st, 1933. A solemn funeral was organized by his Masonic Lodge friends the following Friday afternoon. Christie’s death came just six weeks short of his 94th birthday, and it is believed that he was the oldest surviving local citizen at the time. He had spent a full half-century in the Pincher Creek area. Andrew Christie is one of those many pioneer figures who left a rich historical legacy and deserves to be remembered.
Source: Researched and written by Farley Wuth, Pincher Creek, Alberta, March 2009; based upon the following sources: “Andrew Christie”, Prairie Grass To Mountain Pass, Pincher Creek: Pincher Creek and District Historical Society, Published 1974, Third Printing 1981, p. 220; Smith, Marie Rose, [Historical Information on Andrew Christie and the Christie Coal Mine], “Eighty Years on the Plains”, The Canadian Cattlemen, 1948 – 1949; “Ninety-Second Birthday[:] Andrew Christie” (P), The Pincher Creek Echo, Vol. XXXI, No. 48, Friday, 03rd July 1931, p. ; “Obituary”, The Pincher Creek Echo, June 1933; and Pincher Creek and District Historical Society, Cataloguing Database re Andrew Christie.