Anthracite

If you have ever passed through Banff National Park, you have definitely visited downtown Anthracite. While no trace of it exists now, its spirit lingers, watching the course of modern society take shape, while we forget about Anthracite's existence.
The area marked in white is the approximate original surveyed area of the Anthracite townsite. The red marks where the TransAlta Cascade hydroelectric plant water tower overlooking the ghost town. 
 
          Anthracite, whose remains are by far the most elusive within the Banff National Park, embodies the narrative of the impact modern forces have on these living historical localities. In fact, millions of people each year driving on the TransCanada Highway unknowingly pass through the original Anthracite townsite. This seemingly frivolous fact illustrates the change in attitudes toward the historical and industrial significance of Anthracite and other forlorn mining towns in Alberta. Unfortunately not much remains of the town anymore. Even though there are rumours of bridge and building foundations found within the area, I discourage you from trying to find these ruins. The heavy traffic on the highway throughout the year would be blocked by visitors stopping here and risking their own lives doing so. There are also real dangers entering fenced off forest, including rusted objects, wildlife, and other hazards associated with off-trail hiking. Let this article be your guide to Anthracite, and if you wish to know more, please contact Parks Canada before exploring the area.
          The discovery of coal within the Cascade Coal Basin is the sole reason for the formation of Anthracite. George M. Dawson of the Geological Survey of Canada conducted a survey of the Rocky Mountains and published a comprehensive report in 1886 of the mineral resources available in what is now Banff National Park (Lothian, pg. 96, 1976). These reports made settlers searching for coal-bearing land flock to the Rocky Mountains to stake their claim and their fortunes. In 1914 the Commission of Conservation, struck by the Laurier government in a period when the federal government was encouraging wise-use resource policies, estimated that the Cascade Coal Basin alone contains 400 million tons of anthracite coal and 1,200 million tons of “soft” coal (Dick, 1914). By the time mining was becoming established at Anthracite the coal mining regulations were amended from leasing land to instead making it for sale within the Cascade Coal District - containing 23,040 acres. The prices were set at $10 per acre for coal lands, and for anthracite coal it was $20 per acre, which was later reduced to $12.50 (Lothian, pg. 96, 1976). The nature of the freehold land Anthracite sat on created legal implications for the construction of the TransCanada Highway a few decades later.
          The townsite of Anthracite was formed between 1885 and 1887 by an Ottawa lawyer named McLeod Stewart, before its inclusion within the Banff National Park, at the base of Cascade Mountain - about 6 kilometers east of the town of Banff (Lothian, pg. 97, 1976). He acquired 1,600 acres of land, incorporated the Anthracite Coal Company Limited, and 1886 began operations. There were two separate town plans for Anthracite, one in 1887 prepared by P.R.A. Belanger, and another in 1888 by J.W. Vaughan. The townsite’s location was between the modern Calgary Power Plant to today’s Tunnel Mountain Road, sandwiched between the new CP rail line and the Cascade River. By 1887 they had 200 men employed at the mine and 1,500 total residents at its peak (Calgary Herald, 1926, Cited in Lothian, 1976). The amenities in this town include a general store, hardware store, hotel, pool hall, barbershop, restaurant, houses for families, and a bunkhouse for single men (Fryer, pg. 12, 1982).
          Since the Banff area was still under the jurisdiction of the Northwest Territories liquor was strictly prohibited. This did not stop smugglers that wanted to sell their illicit alcohol to miners who had cash on hand. Prostitutes also arrived in the town to fulfill the needs of the single men. A prostitute named Blanche Maloney became a well-known businesswoman in the town of Anthracite. Her house was the most popular place in town as it was a brothel and a distribution center for her bootlegging activities. She was eventually charged $200 in 1888 by the Northwest Mounted Police, but by this time the mine was dying out and men were leaving the town (Fryer, pg. 12, 1982).
          In February 1890, within three years of opening, the mine closed due to financial difficulties. The market for coal was very cyclical, and the coal extracted from Cascade Mountain was not the quality that the CPR was looking for. The seams were steep and narrow, which made it difficult to make the efforts profitable (Fryer, pg. 13, 1982). It is quite ironic that the town was called Anthracite, which is the highest grade of coal you can obtain, when the anthracite grade of coal was found only a few kilometers away at the Bankhead mine. In 1891 W.H. McNeill, an experienced mine operator from Iowa, obtained the Anthracite Coal Company assets and began operations. Business was booming with people coming in from Banff and Calgary, bringing population levels back to previous levels (Fryer, pg. 13, 1982). By 1896 the mines production rose to about 20,000 tons annually, which was quite impressive considering the warped lower cretaceous coal seams making mining difficult, especially for the Bankhead operation in later years.
          The following year was not nearly as successful for the townsite. On June 16th, 1897, a combination of heavy rainfall and deforestation of the Bow Valley due to forest fires caused a massive flood that created more setbacks for the mining project. A crest of water up to two meters high flooded the mine completely.  Luckily the miners managed to escape in time (Fryer, pg. 13, 1982). All of the houses on the Cascade River were destroyed, and many of the residents left for Banff or Canmore after the disaster. By 1904, with fewer than 100 residents within the townsite, the mining projects were discontinued, but diehard residents still lived within the company townsite. By 1910 a road was built between Calgary and Banff that went right by the former mining community (Lothian, pg. 99, 1976). The federal government desired to clear the townsite since it was not being used anymore, however, there were legal obstacles for the government to begin demolishing within the right of way. Only two of the buildings in the townsite still standing were owned by the Anthracite Coal Company, but the other lots within the townsite were sold to former miners, which all had freehold claims (Lothian, pg. 99, 1976). By 1915 everything was demolished and removed from the townsite except for a log store and two dwellings.
          The year 1937 presented an opportunity to reclaim at least a part of the townsite as public land. The department of Mines and Resources received approval to build the Calgary-Banff highway over what the original CPR Main Line (Lothian, pg. 99, 1976). The plans for the road allowed for a turn, which passes through surveyed portions of the townsite. The Canmore Mines Limited taking over the assets of the Canadian Anthracite Coal Company in 1938, agreed to sell off the land to build the road at $20 per acre (Lothian, pg. 100, 1976). Even though this was a sign of the reclamation of Anthracite to the Banff National Park this did not mean that resource extraction ended there. In fact, Frank Wheatley in 1928 located a coal seam near the townsite and purchased a lease to begin mining operations (Lothian, pg. 100, 1976). Despite the National Parks Act protecting the lands of the Banff National Park from resource extraction, the legal nature of the freehold lease allowed for mining within the boundaries of Banff. By 1945, when the mine flooded, Wheatley’s concern began negotiating with the Canmore Mines Limited to prospect the coal seams at the old Canadian Anthracite Coal Company’s holdings. By 1947 the family bought out 331 acres of coal-bearing land and produced 10,540 tons of semi-anthracite coal, but by the 50’s they were also affected by the economic monolith that became the modern oil and gas industry, and had to shut down operations in 1953 (Lothian, pg. 100, 1976).
          After the Wheatley operation ceased, the government realized that about 11.65 acres of the Wheatley land would be required to construct the TransCanada highway (Lothian, pg. 100, 1976). The government expropriated the land on May 4th, 1955, and began to evaluate the coal mine to determine the worth of the surface and mineral rights (Lothian, pg. 100, 1976). Geologist B.A. Latour determined that the recoverable reserves in the mine amounted to approximately 3.5 million tons, and about 75 percent of the coal recovered by the Wheatley family was taken from Crown land, which was a violation of the National Parks Act (Latour, 1953). After about three years of negotiation, both parties agreed to a settlement of $70,000 for all of the land, including the lots of the original townsite. The deal passed in October 31st, 1957 – reducing the amount of private land within Banff National Park substantially (Lothian, pg. 100, 1976). With this land acquired, the Federal Government was able to begin construction of the TransCanada, moving the new CPR line south towards where the original townsite used to lie.
          The actions the Canadian Government took to acquire the freehold land belonging to the Wheatley family and other residents not only illustrates their desire to develop a major highway to connect all of Canada, it also demonstrates their attitude towards the preservation of the natural beauty of the Canadian Rockies. Today when you are driving through Anthracite you will notice that there are no markers, signs, or indicators that you are within the townsite. Anthracite is nothing more than a well-kept secret, and a symbol of the complicated struggle to protect a national park from industrial activity even after the 1930 Parks Act.          
    
 
 
    
Photos
  1. Old Hammer
    Old Hammer
    Photo by Phillip Van Hooft
  2. CPR Main Line
    CPR Main Line
    Photo by Phillip Van Hooft
  3. ELK!
    ELK!
    Photo by Phillip Van Hooft
  4. Rusted Railway Tie
    Rusted Railway Tie
    Photo by Phillip Van Hooft
References
Dick, W.J. Conservation of Coal in Canada. Commission of Conservation, Ottawa,
1914. Print.  
 
Fryer, Harold. Ghost Towns of Southern Alberta. Surrey, B.C.: Heritage House,
1982. Print.
 
Latour, B.A. On the estimated tonnage of coal underlying property of Frank
Wheatley and Sons, Banff National Park. Geological Survey of Canada, October, 1953.
 
Lothian, W. F. "Chapter 10: Minerals and Timber." A History of Canada's National
Parks. Vol. IV. Ottawa: Parks Canada, 1976. 96 - 101. Print.
 
Photos taken by:
Mike Wells Photo
TRUNK Studios (Phillip Van Hooft)