Starting near the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre, this bike trip takes us through a maze of roads. paths and ATV trails to the ghost town of Lille Alberta. Along the way, we pass by the remains of a coal mine, mine #1 of the West Canadian Collieries Ltd. Lille operation.
Initially it appears there is not much to see along this route, but if you look hard one can spot old foundations, cellars, parts of the rail line and others bit and pieces from this short lived operation.
The town of Lille was born of one reason; coal. And to service the mines a railway was needed. The result was the the Frank and Grassy Mountain Railway, a line that snaked its way up the valley, crossing and recrossing Gold Creek numerous times. It must have been built at great expense. Like the railway line crossing the creek, our trail crossed and recrossed the former rail line many times. And the creek too, and all water crossings were bridged.
Included in the extensive mine holdings was a company town, the railway and three or four mine sites (depending on what report you consult). Mine #1 is situated south of town, mines #2 and #3 are situated on the hillside east above town, and mine #4 is mentioned as being a bit north of town. I can not confirm if this last one was an operating mine, or was perhaps only planned. We’ll only explore Lille Mine #1 on this trip.
The town dates from the period of 1903 (or so) to about 1913 and at it’s peak had some four hundred souls. It was laid out in an orderly fashion and included a grand hotel. The rail line dates from the same era and was kept busy transporting the coal and coke out, and supplies and materials in. There is no mention if passenger service was offered by the railway, however this author has seen a picture of a passenger car on the line. A overall Lille town shot from 1907 shows said car near parked on a siding near the hotel.
There is a lot to report on, so for this trip we’ll concentrate on the trail to town, Mine #1 and a little bit of Lille the town itself.
This adventure was started just past the switchback on the way to the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre, near the cattle guard on the gravel side road. Connie was not feeling well so I choose to bike this trail alone.
There are written trail reports describing the way, however the countless ATV trails in the area make orderly navigation near impossible. In the end I simply headed north following the most likely looking path. This worked well and I had no difficulty in reaching my destination. As long as you are paralleling the creek valley or the power lines you should do okay. All side trails seem to meet up further on anyway.
These trails are used by ATVs and in some places are awfully messed up. On my trip I did not encounter any quads, but I bet on a summer weekend it’s a busy, noisy place.
The drop down to Gold Creek was the only major hill on the route. It’s steep and loose so take care. And at this spot, or actually not terribly far away, is the Lille #1 Mine site. Sitting along the creek is the remains of the powerhouse, with its substantial stone walls. Made from river stones (coal companies being frugal often used materials at hand) the foundation is slowly being undercut by the stream.
Just north of this was the location of the tipple where rail cars were loaded but nothing remains of this building. On the hillside above the plant is the collapsed mine entrance, with a sulphur springs flowing from it, and of course the coal dump. Comprised of barren rock and unmarketable coal slack, the dump extend along the hillside for a few hundred metres. About midway, an old mine car can be found. ATVs have been chewing up the loose slack, even in spite of the fact this is a clearly marked historical site.
At this spot we find what must be the most mangled old car we’ve ever seen (an old Plymouth – we found one nameplate). We often find old cars in the woods but never one this chewed up and flattened. Maybe with some Bondo and duct tape…never mind.
Back on the trail, we cross the creek on a bridge and head up under the powerlines. As was the case with the hill down, the hill up is a bit loose in places.
Topping out, it’s back down to the creek again (another bridge). Along here we pass the step falls on Gold Creek and shortly after come to the Lille town site itself, situated in a large meadow. Look close or you’ll miss it. It’s hard to believe anything existed here but some cellars and scattered building materials hint that this was once a vibrant town.
On the west side of the meadow is the foundation of the hotel and just below that, the coal processing area with its coke ovens.
Looming north over the town is Grassy Mountain with its obvious mine scars. That pit mine dates from the 1940s and 1950s and was operated by the same company (West Canadian Collieries Ltd.) that once owned the Lille operation. West Canadian (sometimes called Western Canadian) also had a mine at Bellevue and another at Blairmore. They were once a big player in the area.
I searched for the Lille cemetery but was unable to find it. We will return and try for it then.
This is part one of the report, and the second will focus on the town itself, the coke ovens and an interesting rail car I found on the railway roadbed just south of town. We plan to visit the other mines from this operation in the future and these will result in further reports. They might take some time however.
To read the second part of this report, follow this link…
A little more Lille and a flat car.
To see some other coal mines we’ve visited in the Crowsnest Pass, follow these links…
Crowsnest River walk and Hillcrest-Mohawk Collieries plant.
One Mine Ridge.
If you wish more information on this trail, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: September 2012.
Location: Crowsnest Pass Alberta
Distance: 12km return.
Height gain from start: 150m.
Height gain cumulative: 320m (some ups and downs).
Technical bits: None.
Notes: Numerous side trails make navigation difficult.
Reference: Hiking the Historic Crowsnest Pass, by Jane Ross and William Tracy.