The Murray Coal mine was located in the Red Deer River valley near Drumheller Alberta, on the opposite of the river from the small town of East Coulee. Its origins go back almost a hundred years now, but the operation explored in this report spans the period of 1936-1959 (earlier, the mine was across the valley).
In production for some 20 plus years means it was a large mine and the ending date means it was one of the last operating in the valley. Most of the others closed by the mid fifties, with only the Atlas and a few other hangers-on lasting into the 1960s or later (the Atlas Mine, now a museum, was the very last).
The Murray Mine was serviced by the railway which used the interesting East Coulee road/rail bridge to gain access from the branch line across the river. This bridge was used by trains and cars, both sharing the same deck (but not at the same time!).
The mine area, initially at least, does not appear appear to have much in the way of anything to see, but upon closer examination there are numerous things to explore. There are tramway towers, a collapsed mine entrance, old foundations and roads, and other odds and ends. The tramway is particularly interesting, and it appears this operation used them to access a side valley where they dumped the waste materials from the mine. Amazingly a roller on one tower spins as though it was new (see video further below).
The mine entrance was closed, which is good since coal mines are dangerous and in this valley especially so. The area is prone to heavy slumping and of course there are the deadly gases. Still sitting at the entrance where it was left so long is a drag chain conveyor. Instead of a belt to carry the coal, this method uses a set of paddles to push it along (out to the entrance in this case).
Of the hundreds of mines that existed in the valley there are extremely few remains to be found today. The Murray is one of the few that I’ve found so far which has remnants that hint at a past. Most other former mine sites in the valley are just points on a map, with very little or nothing to remind one what was going on before. Of course, if you could see inside the ground though, there would be a Swiss cheese maze of tunnels and workings. I find it odd that today there is almost zero evidence of a industry that once dominated the economy in the area.
We hiked beyond the mine to the plains above and this gave us a good overall view of how the site could have been laid out. We also had a great view of the historic Atlas Mine next door. The Red Deer River Valley is interesting in that it falls away abruptly from the surrounding land and if you step back a short distance, it’s hard to know that there is even a valley here. The views to the horizon gives the illusion of an unbroken prairie where the valley actually is. A neat effect. Up high we found a couple tramway buckets (I assume), one with a builder’s plate that reads “Made in Canada by the Canadian Sirocco company Ltd., Windsor Ontario”.
If you go to the Glenbow Archives photo site there are a few old time images of the Murray Mine from the 1930s-1950s that are very interesting. In one picture I could make out the tram towers and East Coulee across the river, but little else was recognizable. In others, taken around 1940, they show the aftermath of a large explosion and fire that rocked the mine. The conveyer down to the tipple was burnt to the ground. BTW, the Glenbow refers to the operation as both the Murray Mine and Murray Collieries Mine. I am not sure which, if either, was official.
From the mid 1910s to the early 1940s, the Murray Mine or the Comet as it was sometimes known as, operated across the river on the town side. In anticipation of that earlier mine closing the owners acquired the property seen here.
As mentioned, across the river is the town of East Coulee, an interesting place to visit in itself. It’s home to a number of old company houses and a forlorn hotel that still caters to visitors. I can just imagine how busy the inn must have been in the old days, but now it’s a bit more quiet. In fact, I think it’s the only business left in town.
Update November 2012: Somewhat of a mystery has cropped up – I have just found out there was one additional mine that was formerly unknown to me, that operated nearby. According to the Glenbow Archives, the Western Monarch Mine operated into the 1960s. I have seen pictures that confirm this, judging by the rail cars and autos that are seen. This third mine is very close to and just east of the Atlas. Interestingly too, in that same picture a grain elevator is seen on this side (the south “mine” side) of the river further adding to what is a mystery to me. I knew nothing of either prior to seeing this image. Regardless of this mines position, that now makes East Coulee a three mine town.
Update: May 2013. The elevator mentioned was built in 1937 for the Alberta Pacific Grain Company and was closed in the late 1970s.
To see some mine remains we found in the small town of Nacmine, nearby, follow this link…
Stirling Mine – Commander Mine – Nacmine Alberta.
To see some grain elevators in the area, go here…
Prairie Sentinels – Kirkpatrick Alberta.
Dorothy Alberta, the little grain elevator in the valley.
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: July 2012.
Location: East Coulee, AB
Warning: Mines areas are dangerous!!