Jan 252013
 
Coleman Alberta union hall

In this then and now series we look at the Coleman Miner’s Hospital, later the United Mine Workers of America local 2633. Looking much as it did when the first image was taken, the building is now being converted into a seniors centre and this author is pleased to hear that it will find a new use. Many historic buildings in Coleman sit empty or underused but at least this one will see activity return.

The structure dates from 1906 and was built using funds provided by the miner’s union and the land was donated by the International Coal and Coke Company, a major employer in the area. There were seventeen beds on the lower floor along with a common room. Living accommodations for the attendant nurses were upstairs.

At the start the hospital was for the use of miners and their families only but later it was opened to the general public. In 1949 a new large and modern hospital was built in the nearby town of Blairmore and this one was closed. The next tenant moved in a few years later and in the interim the building may have sat empty.

In the early 1950s it was converted to the local union hall by the United Mine Workers of America. This organization represented coal miners throughout the US and I guess into Canada too. I wonder why our country didn’t have its own union?

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I’ve been told (by actual coal miners) that that UMWA was often corrupt, and while happy to collect dues in Canada, they cared little about that was going on up north and rarely if ever provided support. They were a US organization after all and therefore concentrated their efforts in the larger coal mining regions there. I have nothing again unions but when people in the industry, many people, who used to belong to the union tell me they were sh*t, one must be suspicious of the organizations intentions back then.

By the time the UMWA moved into this building coal mining was on a decline in The Pass (everywhere actually) and throughout the 1950s mine after mine closed. By the 1970s there was only one left in the area and not long after that, none. A sign on the building states that it remained a union hall until recently. Maybe it was still owned by them but for the last few decades there was no coal mining in the Crowsnest Pass and hence no one to represent I guess – there was and is mining taking place west of here in the Sparwood and Elk Valley regions of BC however. Did it sit empty or was it was a satellite office for this who worked at the BC mines (40-75km away) but commuted in from The Pass? Who knows?

I have not found any concrete data where the union hall was prior to moving here.

Currently the building is being made into a senior’s drop in centre. They are raising money and this is certainly a good cause. Perhaps some of the seniors were miners themselves who belonged to the union? Interesting to see if there will be a connection.

A look at the structure shows it to be in good condition visually and it seems pretty solid overall. The building was designated a national historic site in the mid 1980s and it sits right next door to the Coleman Museum (formerly the Coleman High School). It’s a fairly plain building but even so it has its own charm. I really love the the upper floor details around the window. According to data I have found, the inside remains much as built with original floors and woodwork and such.

There is recant talk of coal mining retuning to The Pass. There are proven reserves waiting to be exploited and one company has taken interest in an old pit mine north of Blairmore and it’s known as the Grassy Mountain Coal Project. I wonder if the UMWA will be involved?

Sharp viewers will note that the picture I used for the then image is the same as shown on the donation sign out front. I was unable to find a date for it, but one could assume the 1920s-1940s. In my picture the angles were off a bit – the wind was howling, I was slipping on the ice and I was dodging traffic and this was about the best I could do. :>

To see an then and now series showing the Coleman High School (right next door to the Miner’s Hospital), follow this link…
Coleman then and now.

To see another then and now series done in Coleman showing the Polish Hall, follow this link…
Coleman then and now (2).

To see an abandoned coal plant nearby, follow this link…
Coleman Collieries plant then and now.

If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!

Date: December 2012.
Location: Coleman, AB.

Coleman AB miners hospital

From 1906-1949 it was the miner’s hospital.

Coleman Alberta union hall

Later, in the 1950s it became a union hall but is now being converted to a seniors centre.

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6 Comments on "Coleman then and now"

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Coal Man
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Coal Man

To say the UMWoA was/is corrupt is a huge massive gross understatement. Myself and my “brothers” as they called us feed the union’s coffers for years and not once did they stand up to our employers when there was an issue. Not once. It filled us with the warm and fuzzies knowing our hard earned cash was being used to support the US operation, those self serving *******!. Rarely did upper management show up in our little backwater, but when they did they openly admitted they could care less about the Canadian chapters. The said we were gravy, pure profit, plain and simple. Good riddance to them!

I was a member of the Sparwood branch.

Gerry Kay
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Gerry Kay
I am from West Virginia. In other words the holy land of coal mining and coal mining unions. In the early 70s I used to work in middle management at the United Mine Workers and I can confirm they treated their Canadian locals as unwanted step-children. They milked those chapters good, but as it’s been said, they did nothing in return. I always fumed when I saw the big wigs who would occasionally and reluctantly visit the Canadian locals. They would be driving new Cadillacs, all nice and shiny, while the members were nursing old rusty junkers and eating bologna sandwiches. Upper management would rub it in their faces good. I was glad to get out of that organization. It was like being on the Sapranos. Dirty deals, open corruption, extortion, heavy-handedness, violence and perhaps even murder. The word “useless” defined in the dictionary: use·less [yoos-lis] adjective 1. of no… Read more »
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