This particular then and now series was a complete accident. The first image shows machinery at the Greenhill Coal Mine in Blairmore Alberta, in the Crowsnest Pass, in 1924. The second, taken in 2012, almost duplicates the first. What’s really interesting is that is the later was taken without the knowledge that the former existed – and it was all found completely by mistake.
While searching the web for coal mine related articles the original image popped up. It instantly caught my attention since I knew I had seen a picture like it before (wow, my memory is not totally shot!). Yes, I had taken one like it just this year and a after a quick scan through the photo archives it turns up. It ended up being a reverse then and now, or a now and then I guess. How lucky!
The machinery seen here are air compressors, not for ventilation – this is done by large fans, but rather to operate air tools and equipment inside the mine. The device in the middle is a large motor that drives the two compressors, one on each side. From this building high pressure air lines would run into the mine, and at various places there would be connections which to connect tools or equipment too.
There would be drills to power, water pumps and other bit or machinery that would be fed from this line. And while I have not completely confirmed it, the mine may have been using compressed air locomotives too – a common in from of transport inside coal mines – and these would require a large volume of compressed air to operate. Running on air, they were incredibly safe, producing no flames or sparks that could set off an explosion. As a side note, some mines still used horses to pull mine cars as late as the 1940s.
What’s remarkable is how little differs between the two pictures. Sure, some parts of the machinery are missing or vandalized, and the one wall has collapsed, but otherwise they look very similar. This machinery was obviously used without change or modification from the time of the picture until the mine closed. By the time it shut, this place must have been an operating museum.
The Greenhill Mine operated for close to fifty years (1913-1957). In that time a literal mountain of coal was extracted from a huge network of tunnels and workings.
The mine itself comprised many levels (as mines often do) and in addition to an adit just behind where I took the photograph, there are additional entrances further up the ridge. It was always more efficient to exploit several seams at once and it was not unusual for there to be many seams, parallel to each other, above and below others being worked on. In the Crowsnest Pass most worked seams were in the four to eight metre range, although in areas of extreme folding, this could make the seams many times thicker. This author has seen folded seams at the nearby Tent Mountain Mine, an open pit operation, that must have been twenty or thirty metres thick. Wow! Anyway, I am getting off track (as I often do)
These are Sullivan Compressors and that company still exists today. Now they are known as Sullair. I have seen similar looking compressors at other mines I’ve visited, so they must have been well regarded.
The Greenhill Mine complex is an amazing place and in addition to this building there are numerous others to explore – a wash house (now housing core samples), a lamp house, various out buildings, boilers, and a closed mine entrance with a Quonset type building leading from it, which was to keep out the weather. Plus there is a tipple, which is fenced in and looks to be close to collapsing in places.
There are signs at the site proclaiming it’s a protected historic site and hopefully that deters vandalism. However since the area (exempt for the tipple) is wide open and accessible to anyone, there has been some destruction of property. Notably some small out buildings have been burnt down. Sad. Hopefully there are plans to stabilize the place, although I have not confirmed if that will truly happen. Fingers crossed it does!
To see more of the buildings here at the Greenhill Mine complex, follow this link…
Greenhill Mine, an incomplete tour.
If you liked this post, check out this Crowsnest Pass related coal themed then and now…
Coleman coal plant then and now.
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date: May 2012.
Location: Blairmore Alberta.