Once again I line up the shot pretty good but mess up on some angles a wee bit. However, it’s pretty close and given the conditions at the time of my photograph it was amazing I could get it at all. Let me elaborate – try to shoot one handed, while holding a tablet in the other hand that shows the “then” picture that is your reference, on a slippery road with passing cars, with gusty winds throwing you off balance, all while squinting into the bright sun. So we’ll forgive the minor mistakes.
Shown in this report is the Coleman High School, located in its namesake town, right downtown in fact. I have no idea the date of the “then” picture, but given that the structure looks new it must have been taken near the time it was constructed in the 1930s. Now housing The Crowsnest Museum, the building is home to displays and artifacts highlighting the vibrant history of the Crowsnest Pass. I love this part of the world, like that’s not already obvious to those who read this blog.
Opened to classes in 1936 or 1937 (depending on which source), prior to this date students were taught in nearby Blairmore or classes were held in a rented space in town. Neither of these were suitable long term arrangements and so money was set aside so that Coleman could have a high school of its own. A report I have seen claims it cost $30,000 to build.
Serving the community well, over the years the school also welcomed junior high and even elementary students before finally closing in 1980 (Note: there appears to be some contradictory data of how the school was used in its later years – a report I have seen mentioned it closed in 1963, however this could have been when it changed from a high school to the aforementioned junior high or elementary, and not when it closed for good – more research is needed and input from visitors to this blog is welcomed). The closing of the school was roughly concurrent with the death of the coal industry in the pass. The last mine here, the Tent Mountain Mine, shut down in the early 1980s.
When it closed the Coleman High School was acquired the local historical society with the intention of turning it into a museum – what we see today. It took many years of work before the building was ready for the public and there was presumably lots of repairs to be done and displays to be constructed, all handled by volunteers and financed thorough generous donations. Finally the Crowsnest Museum opened to the public in 1985 (some sources say 1983, the museum itself says the former).
We’ve visited the museum a couple times and it’s a great place to get in touch with the history of “The Pass”. There are many exhibits inside and even more to be seen in the grounds that surround it. There is nice green space set aside for picnics too.
After visiting here be sure to take a walking tour of downtown Coleman. There are many historic buildings to see, many empty, but all in reasonable shape. Located off the highway, it’s a quiet almost somber place where one can easily imagine they have stepped back in time. It seems forgotten and lonely, yet you know at one time it was a vibrant boom town.
There is a second school in Coleman, the Cameron School which sits empty, located west of downtown. It’s looking a bit rough but on our last visit some pallets of new bricks were seen around the structure, likely meaning that someone is planning to stabilize it.
While I refer to Coleman as its own town, it’s actually now a section of a much larger town, the municipality of Crowsnest Pass. This is an amalgamation of all the little towns scattered up and down the valley. Each was a municipality owing its existence to a specific coal mine company, however with the death of mining in the region, it was easier to run them together under one large governing body. This makes it a very looong town, which includes the communities of (from east to west), Bellevue, Hillcrest, Frank, Blairmore and Coleman. Even as one larger community each section retains its own unique identity.
To visit the museum’s website click here.
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date: December 2012
Location: Coleman, AB.