From Rum Runners to Shoot-outs, exploring the cultural heritage of the Crowsnest Pass in Southern Alberta…Part 1 of 5…

Approaching the Crowsnest Pass in southern Alberta...

Approaching the Crowsnest Pass in southern Alberta via Highway 22

Okay, I’m guilty…aside from being awed at the spectacle of Frank Slide that envelopes both sides of Highway 3 in Crowsnest Pass, I must admit that I had never stopped in any of the towns that incorporate the Pass; well until today.

Entering the Crowsnest Pass via Highway 3

Entering the Crowsnest Pass via Highway 3

Today would be my history lesson on the “The Pass”.  Today, I would drive through each of the five mining towns that once served as an economic stronghold in southern Alberta. Today, “The Pass” would become my virtual textbook, one that I would view from start to finish.  Throughout the Pass, visitors can pick up a free “Crowsnest Pass Heritage Driving Route” map that outlines all the historic buildings throughout the area.  The map not only provides a detailed route, but it also provides a detail description of numerous buildings and their historic significance within each community.

My historical pursuit started in the small community of Coleman.  It all dates back to 1903 when the International Coal and Coke Company acquired 5,300 acres of land; word spread quickly and only one year later approximately 500 residents would start calling Coleman home. With such a boom, two hotels, a bakery, in addition to a barber shop soon made their presence on the dirt lined streets.  Like many coal mining communities, Coleman was not immune to the booms and busts that plague the industry.  Only fifteen years later, the first bust would close all 216 coke ovens; eventually, half would re-open in 1932. As Coleman rode the financial roller-coaster, the community remained steadfast and continued to grow as the melting pot of the Crowsnest Pass with numerous ethnicities moving into the area.  Unfortunately, for many hard workers, the Coleman Collieries would finally close their doors in 1983, after so many years in operation.

The small town streets of Coleman...

The small town streets of Coleman…

The Roxy was built after a fire destroyed the original Palace Theatre in 1948...

The Roxy was built after a fire destroyed the original Palace Theatre in 1948…

Driving down the streets...

Driving down the streets…

Pat Burns Meat Market, later converted to Zak's Meat and Groceries...

Pat Burns Meat Market, later converted to Zak’s Meat and Groceries…

The town of Coleman was designated a National Historic Site in 2002 for its significant contribution to the coal mining era of southern Alberta.  “Coleman is one of the few Canadian sites where substantial physical evidence exists of the surface plants and the town, where mine management and militant unions vied for control.” Discover Crowsnest Heritage

Coleman, Alberta

The Grand Theatre, the first in the area was later converted into a Texaco Motordrome...

The Grand Theatre, the first in the area was later converted into a Texaco Motordrome…

International Coal & Coke Office, built in 1904. Followed by the Coleman Fire Station, which also served as town hall and the local library until 1979. In the distance, St. Paul's United Church dedicated in 1906.

International Coal & Coke Office, built in 1904. Followed by the Coleman Fire Station, which also served as town hall and the local library until 1979. In the distance, St. Paul’s United Church dedicated in 1906.

As I drove around the streets of Coleman I would see people out socializing on the sidewalks, sitting on porches, and purchasing goods from a nearby store, perhaps just like their ancestors did so many years before. The coal mine may have ceased, but not the small town charm; older buildings, slowly being transformed into galleries and other small businesses still stand gracefully against the mountain backdrop, and century homes still dot the streets.  Driving in Coleman takes you back in time, but a time not forgotten.

Coleman

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Categories: Alberta Road Trips

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