Oct 012012
Coleman Collieries plant

The date is the early 1980s and the Coleman Collieries processing plant in the Crowsnest Pass is busy at work. Coal is being brought in from the nearby Tent Mountain mine – the last operating coal mine in the pass – and here it is cleaned, sorted, stored and loaded onto trains. At this time, most if not all the output of the operation was destined for the Japanese steel industry.

It will all end shortly though and not longer after the first picture was taken, the mine will close. For a while the plant will continue to operate, pulling from stockpiled coal, but soon too it will all go quiet.

Some thirty years later and not much has changed. The buildings still stand guard over the town of Coleman and are intact and compete; and the hills behind, while covered in vegetation, retain their profile. All the houses seen are still there.

The site of the plant, some of which is not seen here and is off cameras in these shots, is a designated national historic site. To some degree at least. The data found can be confusing and contradictory and in some reports the buildings seen, even in spite of their historical significance, may be demolished. If this happens, it will be a huge loss.

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One thing that I am unsure of, is the coal seen on the hills in the back being mined from a pit or is it the stockpile area? I initially thought the latter, but am unsure now, since only recently I discovered a underground mine operated at the base of those hills. This leads me to believe that some coal processed at the plant was pulled from here, those pits above or the underground mine below. Further research is needed, since I have been told that for the last years coal only came from Tent Mountain, which could contradict what we see. Ah, it’s fun to dig up the facts and I would appreciate to hear from anyone who knows for sure. Chime in!

Seen on the train is a trio of CP Rail SD40-2 units. CPR had a love affair with these engines and owned hundreds of them from the 1970s on. Some even work today, but never in this area, and their numbers are quickly thinning. Seen on nearly every train back then these were made by the General Motors Diesel Division plant (GMD or sometimes GMDD, later EMD) in London Ontario. This plant, the last locomotive factory of many in Canada, closed in 2012.

In past times Canadian Locomotive Company (CLC) engine ruled the roost here and they would be seen on nearly every train passing in the area. Retired en masse in the mid 1970s, they were replaced by the SD40-2s we just spoke of. Interestingly the plant here owned a small CLC centre cab, a model DT2, to switch the coal cars and it worked in this dirty environment until the plant closed. There used to be a small engine shed just off frame where it was stored. A smaller GE industrial engine still exists on the property too and has been here since the early 1950s, although I understand it was little used once the CLC locomotive arrived in the 1960s. It now sits outside and if you look at my other report (link below), you can see it.

Back to trains passing by – now every single freight in the area is hauled by groups of CPR GE AC4400 locomotives, unless there is a Union Pacific run though, in which case GMD/EMD SD70 models and their kin can be seen. Otherwise it’s an endless and boring stream of GEs.

To see more of the plant from a different visit, follow this link…
Coleman Collieries plant and mine.

To see Tent Mountain where at least some of the coal processed here came from, follow this link…
Tent Mountain was torn a new one.

To see some other coal related ruins in the area, follow this link…
Crowsnest River walk and Hillcrest-Mohawk Collieries plant

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

Date of adventure: September 2012.
Location: Crowsnest Pass Alberta.

Coleman coal plant

The Coleman Collieries plant in the 1980s.

Coleman Collieries plant

The same view from 2012.


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5 Comments on "Coleman coal plant then and now"

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Yannik Burnashev
Yannik Burnashev

You lined up that one well!


I worked at both the Vicary Creek underground and the Coleman cleaning plant in the mid 1970’s, first as a coal miner and then as an apprentice electrician. I also spent some time at Tent Mountain.
It’s been a while but I may be able to shed some light and answer a few questions.