Leitch Collieries Provincial Historic Site
Collieries was one of the largest and most ambitious mines in the early
history of the Crowsnest Pass. Established in 1907, it was the only
coal company in the Pass completely Canadian owned and operated. The
first entry into coal seams occurred at Byron Creek, south of the present
site, and the town of Passburg was located nearby.
The No. 2 Mine was developed in 1909 in the area known locally as Police
Flats. In the 1880s, rustlers used this area to gather herds of cattle
to drive to Montana. The abundant grass and water, along with adequate
shelter, made it an ideal place to hold animals until they could be
smuggled across the border to the United States. To put an end to this
activity, the North-West Mounted Police established a post at this
Soon, most of the mine’s activity was concentrated here, and the new
town of Passburg, one kilometer west of the site, was built as a bedroom
community for Leitch Collieries miners and their families. When the
mine ceased operations, the town’s buildings were moved over time to
other communities in the Crowsnest Pass.
Leitch Collieries pursued massive development, and the mine was heavily
mortgaged to cover the costs. Steep coal seams at the No. 2 Mine made
it difficult to hold heavy coal cutting machinery against the coal
face, and underground mechanization could not be easily utilized. To
increase production, improvements were made above ground. These included:
- an impressive row of 101 coke ovens;
- a 27 metre (90 foot) wooden washery;
- a huge tipple with a daily capacity
of between 1,000 and 2,000 tons of coal; and
- a large sandstone power
house, completed in 1910, which supplied electricity to the surface
operations and the town of Passburg.
In 1909 and 1911, despite the serious effects of strikes, development
continued using non-union labour. Financial setbacks occurred with
the start of World War I as coal markets went soft, and contracts with
England, the Balkan countries and the United States never materialized.
Relations with the banks became strained. So did the company’s relationship
with the Canadian Pacific Railroad – an important customer and provider
of transport to market for Leitch Collieries’ coal and coke.
Bad luck continued to dog the company and coal production ceased in
1915. An agreement to sell the mine for one million dollars was reached
with John Frankland of Vancouver, but he died before the deal was completed.
Unable to raise the capital to start production again, Leitch Collieries
management grew frustrated as neighbouring mines expanded production
to meet war demands. By 1919, the company was forced to liquidate its
Leitch Collieries on Alberta Primetime (ACCESS TV)
Leitch Collieries was one of the most impressive and sophisticated early coal mines in the Crowsnest Pass. It was the
only fully Canadian-owned and operated coal mine in the Pass and is an important part of our early history.
Last reviewed/revised: September 9, 2014