Nicholas Sheran
Narrow gauge locomotive
View of the town of Blairmore
  • Indigenous effigy made from coal in the form of a bison

    Early indigenous people transform coal found in seams in foothills and mountain regions into effigies.

    Most of the effigies depict bison, usually cows, with tongues out, indicating either running or being in labour. The specimens have all suffered damage from ploughing but are still remarkable and accurate anatomical reproductions of bison.
    Source: Royal Alberta Museum

  • First record of coal in Alberta, Peter Fidler’s Journey page

    The presence of coal in Alberta is first recorded by a European explorer.

    In the February 12, 1793, entry of “Journal of a Journey over Land from Buckingham House to the Rocky Mountains in 1792 & 3 by Peter Fidler,” Fidler describes his coal discovery.
    Source:  Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, Archives of Manitoba, E.3-2 fo.30

  • First commercial coal mine in Alberta, Sheran mine in Glenbow, Edmonton, 1948

    The first commercial coal mine begins operation near present-day Lethbridge, Alberta.

    Nicholas Sheran’s mine, 1881
    Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-1948-2

  • First large-scale commercial coal mine in Alberta. Nicholas Sheran’s mine, 1885

    The first large-scale commercial mine begins production in Alberta.

    The entrance to Galt Drift Mine No. 1 in 1885 near present-day Lethbridge; Sir Alexander Galt establishes the mine to exploit the region’s abundant coal deposits. Galt also establishes the North Western Coal and Navigation Company in the same year to supply coal to the Canadian Pacific Railway.
    Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-3188-43

  • A view of International Coal and Coke Company at Coleman in the Crowsnest Pass, ca. 1912

    Coal mining begins in the Crowsnest Pass region of Alberta.

    A view of International Coal and Coke Company at Coleman in the Crowsnest Pass, ca. 1912, eleven years after production started; the region yields a high volume of industrial steam coal.
    Source: Image courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces, a digital initiative of the University of Alberta Libraries, PC003325

  • Mountain Park Station, Mountain Park, Alberta, ca. 1920-1923

    Coal Branch mines open southwest of Edson, Alberta.

    Mountain Park Station, Mountain Park, Alberta, ca. 1920-1923; small-scale mining had begun in the Coal Branch about 1909, but after 1910 the arrival of the railway opened up the region to large-scale mining. Mountain Park appears to have been the first major community to grow, reaching a population of about 330 by the early 1920s.
    Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, CL26

  • Pit ponies pulling loaded coal-filled wooden mine cars underground at Newcastle Mine in 1914

    First large commercial mine in Drumheller starts production.

    Horses pull coal-filled wooden mine cars underground at Newcastle Mine in 1914, three years after Newcastle opened in Drumheller.
    Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A6152

  • An initial gas explosion triggers a larger coal dust explosion, killing 189 miners. The initial fatalities estimate reported in the Edmonton Capital newspaper on June 19, 1914, was later revised

    Alberta’s deadliest coal mine disaster occurs at Hillcrest, Alberta.

    An initial gas explosion triggers a larger coal dust explosion, killing 189 miners. The initial fatalities estimate reported in the Edmonton Capital newspaper on June 19, 1914, was later revised.
    Source: Image courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces, a digital initiative of the University of Alberta Libraries, Ar00113

  • Strikers from One Big Union (OBU) at Drumheller, Alberta,  in 1919

    Cost of living rises by 65% since onset of World War I in 1914, contributing to coal industry labour unrest and heightened union activity.

    Strikers from the One Big Union (OBU) at Drumheller, Alberta, in 1919; the union forms after labour workers broke away from the United Mine Workers Association union. Miners are drawn to the OBU because of the deepening economic crisis.
    Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-2513-1

  • Newcastle Mine in the Drumheller mining district of the province after ten years of expansion in 1921

    The province is divided into thirty-two coal mining districts as the industry expands broadly.

    Newcastle Mine in the Drumheller mining district after ten years of expansion, 1921; Drumheller is one of thirty-two districts created to facilitate keeping track of the booming industry’s developments, inspections and infrastructure requirements.
    Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A6081

  • A view of the booming International Coal and Coke Company Ltd. at Coleman, ca. 1945

    The Second World War begins to revive Alberta’s economy and coal industry, which had declined during the Great Depression.

    A view of the booming International Coal and Coke Company Ltd. at Coleman, ca. 1945; increased demand for steam coal during the war years led to greater production within the industry.
    Source: Glenbow Archives, NC-54-2930

  • On February 22, 1947, an issue of The Western Examiner proclaims the discovery of the Imperial Leduc No.1 oil well as the birth of a new Alberta oil field.

    The discovery of a major oil deposit at Leduc, Alberta, foreshadows a decline in the province’s coal production.

    On February 22, 1947, an issue of The Western Examiner proclaims the discovery of the Imperial Leduc No.1 oil well as the birth of a new Alberta oil field. During the decade after the 1947 discovery, many mines close, and most coal towns decline significantly.
    Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-789-80

  • A heavy-duty truck hauling coal at the Wabamun surface mining operation near the TransAlta Power Plant demonstrates the advanced mechanization propelling Alberta’s modernizing coal industry in the 1960s

    Large-scale surface mining begins in Alberta near Lake Wabamun to fuel a large thermal electric power plant.

    A heavy-duty truck hauling coal at the Wabamun surface mining operation near the TransAlta Power Plant demonstrates the advanced mechanization propelling Alberta’s modernizing coal industry in the 1960s.
    Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, gr1989.0516.1088#1

  • The Whitemud Creek Mine in Edmonton’s river valley in 1968

    The last mine in Edmonton’s river valley closes.

    The Whitemud Creek Mine in Edmonton’s river valley in 1968; this operation is the last of Edmonton’s coal mines to close in 1970. At this time, the mine continues to rely on horses to haul coal to its opening.
    Source: City of Edmonton Archives, EA-20-4998

  • Atlas Mine in Drumheller Valley after restoration.

    Drumheller Valley and Canmore mines close after decades in operation.

    The Atlas Mine in Drumheller stops production in 1979 and officially closes in 1984. The large structure is the last wooden tipple standing in Canada. The mine is a Provincial Historic Resource, a National Historic Site of Canada and one of the region’s star attractions.
    Source: Courtesy of Sue Sabrowski and the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology

  • The retired Marion 360 Stripping Shovel at the Diplomat Mine site near Forestburg, Alberta.

    Mining near Forestburg ends after more than seventy years.

    The retired Marion 360 Stripping Shovel at the Diplomat Mine site near Forestburg, Alberta; the interpretive site is a Provincial Historic Resource and Canada’s only surface coal mining museum. The kind of large-scale surface mining conducted near Forestburg requires massive equipment such as the Marion 360.
    Source: Diplomat Mine Interpretive Site

  • The Wabamun power plant in the final stages before destruction.

    Wabamun coal-fired power plant is retired and demolished after almost fifty years in operation.

    The Wabamun power plant in the final stages before destruction; it had begun generating electricity in 1962 by burning coal mined at large-scale surface operations near Wabamun Lake. The planned closure of the plant is featured in an Edmonton Journal article on April 2, 2010.
    Source: Edmonton Journal

Play Timeline

Nicholas Sheran (1841-1882)

Nicholas Sheran, credited with establishing Alberta’s first commercial coal mine, was an Irish-American adventurer and Civil War veteran originally from New York City. A sense of adventure drew him west in 1874 to the Fort Whoop-Up trading post near present-day Lethbridge. Up until his foray as Alberta’s first coal mining entrepreneur, Sheran is said to have been an “Indian fighter”, buffalo hunter and prospector, but the social and cultural evolution of the West began to outdate Sheran’s modes of life.

Sheran reinvented himself using the boating skills he had acquired as a young man during several years on Arctic whalers. In June 1874, he built two flat-bottomed rowboats to establish a ferry over the then-Belly River near present-day Lethbridge about 1 km (3,281 ft.) northwest of Fort Whoop-Up.

As an increasing number of travelers were moving through the region and needed quick passage over the river, the ferry was a timely venture.

In his spare time, Sheran began digging coal from a small seam along the Belly (now Oldman) River and was able to unlock a few tonnes, which he began to sell at the Fort Whoop-Up post to traders from Montana. After the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) built Fort Macleod on an island in the Oldman River, Sheran moved his ferry down river about 10 km (6 mi.), where he began to quarry coal from an exposed 2 m (6 1/2 ft.) thick seam at a location now within the City of Lethbridge. Moving closer to the NWMP provided Sheran with a more permanent market for his coal. In December of 1874, NWMP work parties with wagons began picking up coal from Sheran’s mine for use at Fort Macleod.

From November 1875 onwards, Sheran was able to sell his coal for $4-5 per tonne to wagon trains that occasionally passed through on their way to Montana. By early 1881, he had dug out 3 to 4.5 m (9.8 to 14.8 ft.) in places, which increased the risk of roof collapse. Dr. George Dawson of the Geological Survey of Canada prompted him to construct a timbered entry for protection against landslides and roof collapses. By this time, Sheran had also

built a cabin and a coal shed, as well as a wooden wheel-barrow track leading 275 m (902 ft.) north along the bank of the river to the mine.

Sheran continued extracting coal from his mine until June 1881. Less than a year later, at the age of forty-one, he drowned at Kipp’s Crossing in the Oldman River on May 27, 1882. Sheran’s mine continued producing until 1941; in its last forty years of operation, over 480,000 tonnes (529,100 tons) of coal came from the Marcella Sheran McFarland Mine.

Coal Conventional Oil Turner Valley Gas Plant Natural Gas Oil Sands Bitumount Electricity & Alternative Energy