Aug 242012
Murray Mine site

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!).

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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.

Be sure to comment on this post (below pictures).

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!!

Murray Mine East Coulee

The site of the Murray Mine surface plant.

East Coulee bridge

The East Coulee road/rail bridge.

Atlas Mine East Coulee

The Atlas Mine from the Murray Mine site.

Old mine rail

An old rail pokes out the hillside.

Murray Mine tipple location

The mine tipple was on the flats below.

East Coulee Atlas Mine

As we gain elevation we take a closer look at the Atlas Mine.

Red Deer River formations

Interesting formations. The whole Red Deer River Valley is an interesting formation.

East Coulee road/rail bridge

Going ever higher we have a good view of the bridge.

East Coulee Alberta

Notice the tramway tower on the left ridge just above the orange spot.

Old truck box

An old truck box on an access road.

Tramway Murray Mine

The tramway heading over the ridge to the next valley over, where it appears they dumped the waste material.

Murray Mine entrance

The mine entrance.

Remains Murray Mine

Looking from the mine entrance to one of the tram towers.

Tramway buckets

What appear to be tramway buckets, on a high slope.

Murray Mine site

You can both the old and new East Coulee bridges in back.

Canadian Sirocco company

Made in Canada by the Canadian Sirocco company Ltd., Windsor Ontario.

Entrance Murray Mine

The entrance to the Murray Mine, now closed up.

Murray Mine location

Looking back, you’d never know a mine was here.


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26 Comments on "Abandoned Murray Mine"

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[…] For more information on the nearby Murray Mine, click here. […]


Interesting… Was part of a conversation at church last night, an elderly member is the grand son of the mine founder! Sadly his father (mine owners son) was killed in a train accident nearby the mine and his grandfather disowned his siblings and his mom leaving them to live in poverty in nearby Drumheller

Last night was the first time I even heard about this mine, glad to have found your link, next time I’m out that way I must check this out, I live in Calgary not that far away…

Karen Murray
Karen Murray

The elderly man, the grandson of the mine founder may have some of the family history mixed up. The founder of the mine, his grandfather and my great grandfather died in 1930 and his son, this elderly man’s father was killed in 1934. The grandfather did not disown is daughter-in-law and her three children as he had been dead 5 years. His grandfathers wife of a second marriage died 3 years later in 1937 and all three are buried in the family plot in the Drumheller cemetery.

Lorraine Murray
Lorraine Murray

We seem to have different stories Karen Murray. I am the grand-daughter and great grand daughter of the owners of Murray Mine.

Lorraine Murray

Karen Murray
Karen Murray
Grenville was about 8 years old when his grandfather died.. Your father, raised in Drumheller and my father in East Coulee right beside the bridge across from the Murray mine were first cousins. Their grandfather John N, died in 1930 at age 78. My point is how can a dead man disown his daughter-in-law and grandchildren when his son died in 1934? I don’t have any stories just their history and what your father’s eldest sister has shared at our family reunions in East Coulee and over the years. The mine owner was my great grandfather, his youngest son Jim, my grandfather and my father John N (called Jack) gave a lot of information to Ernest Hlady who compiled “The Valley of the Dinosaurs It’s Families and Coal Mines.” Also the centennial book “Memories of Verdant Valley Cassell Hill Livingston Rainbow” Karen Murray
Lorraine Murray
Lorraine Murray

Karen Murray – please contact me on fb or email


Interesting site. I’ll have to bookmark this. My father’s family were coal miners from Newcastle, England who came to Canada at the turn of the last century in order to escape the nastiness of the mines. Their destination was the west coast, but they apparently ran out of money by the time they reached Drumheller, forcing them to stay in the Red Deer Valley for several years, working in the mines, in order to save up enough money to continue their westward journey. Eventually they found themselves in Nanaimo, B.C. working in the coal mines there – it’s all they knew how to do! We’ve recently purchased a rustic weekender at nearby Little Fish Lake, and will be spending quite a bit of time in the area over the next few years, so I am looking forward to exploring!

Hugh Peake
Hugh Peake

I have enjoyed your reports on the Red Deer River Valley. I was born while parents had the grocery store in Finnegan. I was 7 when we left Finnegan in 1945 and moved to Dorothy, where I lived until 1958. I worked in the Murray Mine from approx. Sept.1957 to January 1958.

Karen Murray
Karen Murray

With regards to the name “Murray Mine/Comet Mine” John Nichol Murray sold it to William McVeigh Oct 20 1928 who kept the name as “Murray Collieries.”
John N started this lease in 1916 on north side East Coulee but there was no production of coal until the branch railway spur was built.
All the coal leases north of the Red Deer River from the Willow Creek Valley to the east end of East Coulee village were owned originally by John Nichol Murray who sub-let or sold them to the next operator.
Our family said “Grandpa” had sold most of his coal leases by 1927 and 1928.
Chris, you and Connie have done a great job on this site. Thank you.

Vieslaw Szalanski
Vieslaw Szalanski

My family lived in East Coulee from 1951 to 1957. Dad spent some time working in the Murray before he switched to the CPR and worked on the line from East Coulee East (South?) to Brooks. I remember the tram bucket shuttling back and forth and the smoking, steaming waste pile which burned from spontaneous combustion. I was caught several times riding the box cars in the yard on the North side of the river (didn’t know there was one on the South side) so whenever the switcher crews saw me hanging around they’d drag me in the loco cab so they knew where I was. Many fond childhood memories although not an easy life for my folks.

Mike G and the Team
Mike G and the Team

Hi Chris and Connie! The Team and I try to go to the Atlas Coal Mine every year. A couple of times we have gone over to the south side of the old bridge, parked and then gone for a walk along the old road below the Murray mine to the base of the tramway. The last time we were there(maybe 2years ago) there was a bunch of odd rock piles along the old road as well as some random piles just off the road with old wood and steel pieces arranged in a sculpture-like way. Looked like maybe old pieces of iron fence or perhaps old iron headboards? Maybe another reader has seen this and can provide an explanation?

Vieslaw Szalanski
Vieslaw Szalanski
Just checked into this blog again. To much a "grey hair" to be really conversant with the technology but enjoy the commentary on a subject long in my past but still of interest. I was only a kid in the 50's when I lived there but I remember another mine called the Crown located up the side valley south of the Atlas. I seem to remember it being in operation in the years we lived there (1951-57) Also in the side coulee near out house on the north side opposite the train station was a red pile on mine waste from a mine that had been there earlier in the century. I recall reading or hearing somewhere (possible at the local museum in the old school) that there had been many mines on the north side of the river and the south side mines didn't start until the rail bridge… Read more »