Jan 292015
Coal mine Donalda AB

The coal mines we’ll be exploring here, found near Donalda Alberta, date from the first half of the twentieth century and were two of hundreds of such operations that once existed in the province. Smaller mines in particular, as these are, could be found all over, supplying their local markets, mostly domestic users. Back in the old days, especially so in rural regions, coal was used for heating and cooking simply because gas and/or electricity was just not available.

Most of these small scale mines were worked seasonally. They might be one person operation or at most a few men would be employed. Output over the life of a small mine might be in the thousands of tons, a tiny amount when compared to the bigger mines in the province back then which might produce that much coal in under a week, in perhaps as little a day or in the case of huge modern strip mine now, that volume in hours.

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When the subject of coal mining in Alberta comes up, regions like of the Crowsnest Pass, perhaps the Red Deer River valley area near Drumheller, or maybe the Coal Branch southeast of Jasper come to mind (along with many others). Indeed, these areas had some of the biggest and highest concentrations of coal mines anywhere. It’s interesting to know, many, many other areas of the province also were worked. Coal is underfoot most places here, some of it deep and some close to the surface.

Many of the large mines catered to industrial users, factories, steel mills, power plants, railways and in many cases domestic users as well, but for the smaller ones typically the output was exclusively for household use.

Most big mines were located along railway lines and as such shipped their production far and wide. Smaller operators were served exclusively by truck (or horse and wagon) and their market might have been the nearest couple towns and surrounding area only.

There are two mines here are located almost next to each other. One is known as the Black Eagle which was in operation for 1919-1940 and the other, Meeting Creek, which was in production from 1940-1953. The same person owned both. Output was under twenty thousand tons of coal extracted for each. Small time stuff. The wholesale change over to gas or electricity, in the 1950s in rural regions, killed most of these small mines, and this one was likely no exception.

In addition to these two, several other mines, all tiny in scale too, once existed in the area. Small mines almost exclusively were underground operations located in valleys like this or in gullies, draws or other low lying regions where the coal beds would be exposed naturally.

The seams here were about a metre and half in height which with current standards would be not even worth looking at. Mines today are on such a huge scale that they need material several times that thickness to be economical.

As mentioned coal usage was seasonal with the lightest demand being in summer. What a dirty, smelly fuel, but it was needed since there was nothing else.

The site today shows scant evidence there was ever anything here. There are a few overgrown coal slack pikes (coal slack – fines and junk material), bits of wood here and here, some random remains of what appears to be old equipment and that’s about it. Pretty much nothing. We found old car remains nearby but they’re likely not related to the mine, plus a rusted out bucket halfway up a tree that’s grown through it. Odd.

No entries could be found, not even a sign of them, but that’s not surprising since coal mines were always closed up when done – they are just too dangerous – and later the slumping embankments would erase any signs left. The ground here is clay heavy and swallows up nearly everything over time.

The Meeting Creek Valley is comprised of badlands and reminds one of the similar looking but much more well known formations in the Drumheller region to the south.

This trip we were accompanied by our friend Tim Swaren, who’s lived in the area most of his life. A past family member once worked at the mine and he mentions that at one time there was a house or two close by that the workers lived in.

While what we’ve talked about in this report might seem tiny and insignificant, these mines were in fact an a big part of the local history. They served a very important need, and without the fuel dug here people could not have lived in the area. Plain and simple.

We love mining history and to see some reports on that subject, go here…
Greenhill Mine Ridge.
Mining under Moyie Falls.
Tent Mountain was torn a new one.

If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!

Date: July, 2014.
Location: Near Donalda, AB.
Permission should be requested prior to visiting the places we’ve shown here.

Meeting Creek valley

The coal mines we’ll explore operated in this shallow valley near Donada Alberta.

Coal slack

A small coal slack pile, Black Eagle Mine.

Badlands Donalda AB

It’s believed one of the entries was located about here.

Coal mine Donalda AB

More slack. Meeting Creek Mine.

Building remains

Some wood remains.

Mine wheel

A curious wheel of some sort.

Overgrown slack pile

What little evidence there is of the mines is overgrown.

Old car remains

Old car remains we stumbled across.

Bucket in a tree

The tree grows through a bucket.


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6 Comments on "Small scale coal mines"

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M Williams
M Williams

I remember looking at an old railroad map. i was shocked how many mines there were just north of Lethbridge.

Tim Swaren
Tim Swaren

Great pics Chris! It was a fun day!


There was a coal mine not far from my grandparents place near Big Valley back in the 1940s, I recall.