Located deep in a remote valley in southeastern British Columbia, Corbin is home to a few residents, some summer cabins and one giant coal mine – you can’t miss the latter. Very near the Alberta border, the town was once tied to that mine which has operated on and off for over a hundred years. Today, most if not all of its employees now travel in from other communities, but in the past this was a company town with its own railway, businesses, and a population of many hundreds.
This trip our goal was to uncover the location of the elusive Corbin cemetery. We took on a project for a client who has an ancestor believed buried there, which she wishes us to verify. Unfortunately, a sow and cub reported in the area plus a soon to arrive train cut our visit short (explained below).
While a few pictures of the cemetery can be found online, no where, at least based on my research, can the location be determined. We talked with people have reportedly visited the site, but none seemed to remember the details on how they got there. With that in mind, we had low expectations, hoping by luck we’d discover where it was at or that perhaps we’d bump into someone in town who knew. We walked up and down “Main Street”, actually the only street, to see who was at home who could help us, but had no luck. So we had some fun photographing the old cabins there (more on this later) and headed back to the main road.
Its there that we bumped into a helpful mine employee, who came by to warn us of a few things – she asked us to avoid the mine area (no brainer there), that earlier in the day there was a bear and cub in the area and that soon a train would arrived for loading which could cut us off from our car. And as it turned out she had a rough hunch where the cemetery was.
It was, according to this person, on mine property, in the field close to the train loading area and inside the loading loop, but she knew little of its status or accessibility beyond that. It was not along any current road, that she assured us, which is sort of what we assumed anyway. Otherwise if it was that easy to get to there would be more pictures if it.
So intro the field we went, mindful of that soon to arrive train and the bears. Normally neither would concern us much, however if the bear happened in the same area as us and if it was cut off by the train too, that would make things dicey. The way the tracks loop here and nearby hills means this would force anyone (us) or any animals (the bears) into the small chuck of land of which there was no real means of escape. Not good.
The trains by the way move while being loaded, but at basically a walking pace. When you consider that a train may be well over a hundred cars long, it can take hours for them to pass.
So knowing that we had less than an hour before the train could arrive (the mine employee was very helpful) we quickly checked the edges of the field inside the loop and the areas around the tracks hoping we’d find what we were looking for. But we didn’t and with perhaps little time to spare before the train cut off our avenue of exit, we abandoned this part of our adventure. We’ll return and have since contacted others who may be able to help is find this elusive quarry. If any readers know, we welcome your input too.
There is not much left of Corbin BC today, just one street with a few houses, cabins and trailers, most of which look to be occupied seasonally. All seem in good shape, save for a couple, and as I understand it one was once a “company house”, built for mine workers and their family. Very interesting and we have fun photographing them and what ever else captures our attention – old trucks, tractors, ancient biffies, beaver dams, old log buildings and locked up sheds, the latter no doubt with treasures inside.
Looming over the “town” is the mine. They have dug coal here, on and off, for the last century and slowing but surely over time, the miners have systematically bulldozed the mountain into submission. Known, not surprisingly, as Coal Mountain, it’s been excavated to such a degree that soon they may have to change the name to Coal Hill. Maybe later, Coal Canyon. I understand that it may soon reach the end of it’s useful life, but they’ve said that before, so who knows. The scar left behind will be something, and it reminds us of the nearby abandoned Tent Mountain mine we visited in the past.
The mine, originally an underground operation, opened in the first decade of the twentieth century. It operated into the mid 1930s when challenging financial conditions and labour unrest conspired to shut it down. For the next few decades it was worked intermittently by a number of companies, mostly on a modest scale. Later in the 1970s, and with lucrative contracts in hand, a new large scale mine was built, much larger than any of the previous incarnations and this is the operation we see today. The coal was always there, they just needed to mine it on a scale to make it economical.
A CPR branch line comes in from the north to serve the mine, the only customer on this line. The track ends at the mine – it passes by the loading area, turns west and loops back on itself in a broad arc. Essentially it’s a giant train turning loop. something called a balloon track, The train moves under the loading tipple (the load out) moving slowly as each car is filled and when done it’s turned around and near where it started, and pointed in the right direction to head out. This is a process that deepening on how many cars are to be filled, can take an hour or hours to complete. There is a small spur right next to the load out, where defective cars can be dropped.
We check out the load out from a public road and studying it one can get a good idea how it works. Coal comes in by long distance conveyor, gets heaped into temporary storage piles, which is then pushed into the load out machinery using larger caterpillar tractors. This way the train is filled without every stopping. The mine employee nicely asked us not shoot the load out when we are on mine property – recall the field and the likely cemetery location are on their land and they graciously allowed us access here. I did however shoot some coal dust whipped up from the mine near the load out, but you can’t see the any of the machinery.
The rail line we see today dates from the 1970s when the mine was reopened and was for the most part was built on the grade of the old railway which operated here until the 1930s. For a time the rail bed was also used as a road.
We vacated the area before the train arrived, but did see a high rail truck travelling the line, which I presume checks out the track ahead of the train, looking for possible problems. It’s not clear how many trains use the line, but in researching it, service seems spotty at times, dependant I guess on markets and such.
Near the road leading into the mine we see a phone both…a very lonely phone booth. Interesting since you don’t see these very often any more, and so catching this one in the remote wilds, comes as a bit of a surprise to us.
We’ll of course return to Corbin – it’s not terribly far from our Crowsnest Pass stomping grounds anyway – no doubt armed with information needed to find that mysterious cemetery.
It’s sometimes a challenge to define exactly what is a ghost town. For us, it’s a place that is a shadow of it’s former self – not necessarily abandoned, but with few residents. With that in mind, this makes Corbin the most easterly ghost town in all of BC.
Update: June 2013. We knew this wouldn’t take long and someone has come forward with the location of the cemetery (thank you John Kennear). As it turns out, the mine employee was pretty close in her guess and although at the time we didn’t know it, we were within sight of the location when we turned back.
Tent Mountain can been seen northwest of town and it’s home to an abandoned open pit coal mine, which we’ve been up (twice). To see one of those reports, click the link below…
Tent Mountain was torn a new one.
If you wish more information about this place, by all means contact us!
Date: June, 2013.
Location: Corbin, BC.