The Coleman Collieries coal processing plant can’t be missed. Clearly seen from the highway, or from nearly anywhere within town, the massive blue complex looms over a forgotten and quiet section of Coleman. Long abandoned, it’s the last of it’s kind in the area and there are rumours it will be demolished (NO!!!).
With that last sobering statement in mind, we decide to pay the site a visit even though we are short on time (so much to see – so little time – we are going to return soon too and hopefully we won’t be too late). While exploring the area around the plant we discover there is an old underground mine just to the south of the buildings, which we were totally unaware of prior to this visit. I knew a mines had operated on this hillside but I assumed these were all early operations – this one is most definitely from a later date. Perhaps the last underground mine in the valley? In any case more research is needed since we don’t even know its name or any history.
Starting at the backside of the plant we circle around following the Crowsnest River. It’s known for its trout fishing and was flowing quite high at the time of our visit. It’s here, at a bridge that we see the mine entrance I mentioned earlier. Given the size of the portal and its substantial concrete construction it must have been a fairly large producer and was certainly conveniently located in relation to the processing plant. There were two entrances to the mine and it’s assumed one was for coal and the other a manway. I took a peek inside though a small opening but I am not sure what I was expecting to see outside of complete darkness. Surprise, it was completely dark!
Skirting around the east side of the complex, the whole time walking on coal slack (junk coal too small to be of use), we see that the gate to the plant is open. The site itself is off limits, but you do have public access to the others places I’ve described so far. Anyway, a person working inside said it was okay to step in the property and take a few quick pictures from near the gate. That’s much better than trying to shoot through the fence.
The plant itself is a huge jumble of buildings and conveyers and would be fascinating place to explore up close. Unfortunately it’s off limits and while there is talk of preserving it, there is also rumours it will be demolished. That last option would be sad, since it represents the only intact coal processing plant left in the valley. It’s an historical treasure, but likely a very costly one to save. I heard mention of asbestos for one being a possible deal breaker (meaning – expensive to remove).
Nearby there was a little locomotive and I quickly ran over to snap off a couple pictures of it. Built in 1942 by the General Electric company, serial number 15705 originally worked for the Tennessee Valley Authority Fontana Dam project. Changing hands at least once in the ensuing years, by the early 1950s it eventually found its way here where it was used to switch out loaded and empty coal cars.
Later into the 1960s-70s a couple larger former Canadian Pacific Railway CLC (Canadian Locomotive Company) DTC-2 centre cabs were added to the roster and at this point this GE was likely relegated to backup service. Of the CLC locomotives, one was kept for parts to keep the first going and both later left when the plant closed. The GE however was left behind and at some point in the last decade or so was pulled from the engine house that was its home for so many years. See the update below for more on the CLC engines.
Nearby are some old coke ovens and these date from an earlier time. They are in rough shape but are still recognizable. Further research on these is needed.
Into the 1970s and until its closing in the early 1980s, this plant processed coal from the nearby Tent Mountain Mine (and I assume that underground mine just to the south of the plant). The coal was shipped out by the CPR and was destined for the Japanese steel industry. The various buildings seen at the Coleman Collieries operation were used to clean and sort coal and then later load them into waiting rail cars.
There is a good view of Crowsnest Mountain from the plant. This is a popular scramble, but this early in the year it’s still covered with snow. This mountain really stands sort of sitting alone and separated from other peaks in the area.
I apologize for the high contrast in these pictures, the camera was on the wrong setting and I did not catch it until after. Ugh!!!
Update: January 2013. The last picture, compliments of and copyright Weston Langford, shows the Coleman Collieries rail car loadout in 1970. In it we can see coal hoppers being loaded with the plant’s Canadian Locomotive Company ex CPR model DTC-2 doing the work. The loadout is not seen in my photos and is behind the main blue buildings. Weston is a well know train enthusiast and his huge database of railway photos is a valuable resource. You can visit his site by clicking the link here…http://www.westonlangford.com/
Update: January 2014. The loadout, the blue building, was demolished in the summer of 2013. The other buildings still stand, but for how long? Some data was found on the underground mine, and if it’s right, it operated from 1903-1957. Coal processed at the plant not only came from it but also a surface operation not far away (late 40s/early 50s), plus the Tent Mountain Mine mentioned. It was also sourced from the Vicary and Racehorse Mines to the north, which until recently were unknown to us.
To see another view of the Coleman Collieries plant, follow this link…
Coleman Coal plant then and now.
To see the Tent Mountain mine where at least some of the coal processed here came from, click his link…
Tent Mountain was torn a new one.
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date: May 2012.
Location: Coleman Alberta in the Crowsnest Pass.