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Early Camrose settlers dug coal from the sides of Stoney Creek to supplement their wood fires. Camrose is in the centre of very large coal deposits – one of the reasons for the railways’ interest. By 1907 coal was being mined in many locations around Camrose producing 5,000 tons of coal annually.
By 1914 production had grown to 60,000 tons annually..
In 1911 Stoney Creek Collieries Ltd. had purchased the Stoney Creek mining site from its previous owners. The company owned 100 acres of coal-producing land along the Stoney Creek Valley and set up a business selling coal locally and shipping to Saskatchewan. The colliery became the largest payroll industry in Camrose and area. For the most part the colliery was owned by Dennis Twomey and Frank Farley.
The seams of coal were from four to six feet thick and extended in vast areas underground to the southwest, west and northwest of the Rotary Pavilion’s current site. At first, the coal seams were horizontal, which allowed for inexpensive mining. Later the seams were extended to mine coal at deeper levels. Gus Knudsvig, a local miner, described the mine as containing four or five shafts, one of which extended almost two miles and was shored up with poplar poles.
At the deepest point, the shaft was about 80 feet below ground. Vertical shafts fitted with ladders were dug for safety and fresh air. Rails were laid at the base of the shafts, with horse-drawn wagons pulling a ten-car load inside and a five-car load outside to the tipple.
Miner and horse
from the Twomey family archive
The mining method used in the local coal mine was established in Great Britain in the 19th century and is called Room and Pillar (or Room and Stall) mining. The coal was extracted and pillars of coal were left to support the roof thus creating a room. When the seam was exhausted the miners worked backward removing the pillars as they returned to the mine entrance.
For an imaginary tour of a local area coal mine as published in the Camrose Canadian in 1924, follow the link at the bottom of this page.
Coal produced in the mine was largely lignite and sub-bituminous coal. The coal was screened just west of the site of the Rotary Pavilion. Most of the lump coal was sold for domestic consumption and the small pieces (slack) was sold to the powerhouse on the north side of Mirror Lake. Local farmers came to the pit head to buy coal, hauling it in horse-drawn wagons and sleighs. Coal retailed for $4.50 a ton. In comparison, a gallon of red paint sold for $4.50 and a 100 pounds of flour $2.95. By the early 1940s natural gas had replaced coal and coal production from the Stoney Creek Colliery virtually ceased.
Camrose Power Plant – Glenbow Museum collection
Local coal provided an abundant and cost-effective means to heat homes and cook food. Once the community built its power plant, Camrose had a ready supply of power to serve its residents and attract businesses.
When the local newspaper advertisements encouraged residents to “shop local” it meant goods “produced” locally. Camrose was home to a tannery, brick factory, cement block plant, paint factory, flour mill, wood planing mills, and a creamery that all utilized the abundant power supply. The local electricity and water franchise were sold to Calgary Power in 1929.
Coal mining was a source of steady employment for miners and distributors of coal. At one time the mine was Camrose's largest employer.
We still see the effects of the mines in our extensive green space. On the remote chance the mine areas could settle even after many decades, the City of Camrose tested the area extensively and left many of the mining areas as parkland.
That abundance of green space became expected in future developments and has resulted in Camrose having such a significant amount. What a gift!
Historic mine area superimposed on an aerial photograph of Camrose
Courtesy of the City of Camrose
Coal is the product of prehistoric vegetation, high temperature, and time (millions of years). It is mostly carbon with hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen making up the remainder. The higher the carbon content the higher the coal quality.
Lignite or brown coal is the lowest ranked fuel because it has a low energy content as a result of its high moisture and sulphur content. Formed about 50 million years ago, the sub-bituminous coal also found in the Camrose mines has a higher carbon content, less moisture, and lower sulphur content.
With the world’s concern about carbon emissions and their effect on global warming, the use of coal for energy production has rapidly decreased.
Twomey family archive
City of Camrose
Camrose and District Centennial Museum
Four Seasons Environmental Centre material – prepared in 2007 – spearheaded by Ken Duncan; research and writing by Glen Hvenegaard, Chad Winger, Susanna Bruneau, and Kim Macklin.
Twomey Family archive
A Light into the Past A History of Camrose 1905 to 1980 – published in 1980 by the Camrose Historical Society
Camrose After 7 Years
Early 20th Century issues of The Camrose Canadian