Coalspur

An example of a "classic" ghost town in the Coal Branch, with forlorn mine carts, building foundations, and an old train bridge from the operations of the collieries. I do warn anyone visiting Coalspur to be aware that it is CNR property and it is tresspassing entering the townsite.
Legend for Townsite Map
Red: Collieries with foundations
 
Yellow: Old CNR Train bridge crossing Embarass River
 
Pink: Abadoned mine carts
Route to Coalspur from Edson, AB.
            Coalspur is one of the few “classic” ghost towns within the Alberta Coal Branch. About 7.5 km south of Robb, it is completely abandoned with maybe 10 residents living in the vicinity. Located right off of Highway 47 you will see a sign stating “CN Coalspur,” where the old train station used to be. Park on the side of the highway and walk by the train tracks and you will see an old bridge belonging to CN Rail without the train tracks that used to service the town. Once you enter the town you will find mine foundations, remnants of old buildings and shrapnel from old mining activity that endure as a material culture epitaph to Coalspur. It is evident that this town had only a population of 400, since the surface area of the town was not extensive by any means. Today there are a couple of active residents, but most human activity in the area is a result of the railway workers and people passing by on the highway on their way to Edson or Robb.
            Although Coalspur did not acquire the same population as the other Coal Branch towns it still served as the centre for the railways for the entire branch as well as the headquarters for the Brazeau Forest Reserve (Kozma, 2001). A group of British financers in 1912, supporting the proprietary name “Canadian Agencies Limited,” gave life to Coalspur as a community, providing the CNR’s spur line for the west and east portions of the Coal Branch (Fryer, 1976, pg. 148). All trains stopped here to take on water, coal, or passengers. People mailing to the tiny hamlet would write “Coalspur”, eventually giving it its name. In 1913 the Yellowhead Pass Coal and Coke Company employed 70 men to begin operations and build a camp around the development. The mine achieved  500 tons a day, which was a competitive production rate at the time (Fryer, 1976, pg. 149).
            However, Coalspur soon had its fatalities and hardships. In April of 1917 the first mining fatality claimed the life of mine manager Donald McKay. He died being crushed under coal. The year 1918 brought pestilence and misery, with the great 1918-19 ‘flu epidemic devastating not only Coalspur, but also the entire Coal Branch. Train-travelling miners, officials, and train engineers likely spread the epidemic. You were particularly vulnerable to that global epidemic living near the train line. Adding more misery in the same year, the Olliphant Mine powder house, situated three miles from Coalspur, exploded, killing two men. Then, in 1922, two mine inspectors died in the Yellowhead mine, a sub-bituminous mine near Coalspur. Doing a safety inspection for the miners, their visit coincided with an active fire still burning in the number three shaft of the mine. The inspectors died of carbon monoxide poisoning (Fryer, 1976, pg. 149).  
            Despite the recurrent tragedies within the town, the living was quite lovely all things considered. A log house in Coalspur rented for $1 a month (about $15 in 2015 dollars), a frame house for $5 (about $74 in 2015 dollars) (Fryer, 1976, pg. 149). Business boomed during the years of 1934 and 1945, with one man by the name of T.B. Cuthbertson owning a hotel, general store, and even the school. Mr. Cuthbertson’s properties jumped in value after WWII. Unfortunately he sold too early to get the full benefit of the increased property prices (Fryer, 1976, pg. 149). Branch Lines Limited, a passenger bus service, ran two busses twice a week into the town. One carried 17 passengers, the other 7. Of course, a road connection was  valued by the Coal Branch settlements as a nice alternative to rail.
            As with the community histories throughout the Coal Branch, the game changer for Coalspur occurred in the late 40’s and early 50’s. The Leduc oil and gas discovery spelled doom for Coalspur’s mining industry, and by 1950 the mines worked only sporadically. In 1952 the mine tipple at King Coal mine burned to the ground, effectively ending the future of Coalspur. Since the Coalspur mine closure only a very small population of people remain in the area, most likely workers for the railway or the remaining nearby coal mines. In 1956 there were 25 people living in the town, which have diminished significantly in number since then (Fryer, 1976, pg. 150).
           Currently there are nearby coal mining projects, and active railway maintenance in the Coalspur area. In fact, one way to get into the main town area is an old bridge located near the railway tracks. A sign on the rickety bridge reads “CAUTION: CNR Private Property – No Trespassing”. I would not recommend walking on this bridge, mainly for legal reasons.  To see the old mine tipple and foundation go around the old mine carts by walking south while avoiding crossing the Embarrass River. It is said that the Luscar Sterco open pit mining operation plans to expand from Coal Valley north toward Coalspur, but it is not known whether the ghost town or the wildlife will be directly affected by the modern development (Coal Valley Resources, 2014). The geology of the area suggests that the mines focus on the Coalspur Beds, which are Tertiary Palaeocene from the Cenozoic era. This formation is rich in conglomerate, volcanic ash, and most importantly – coal seams (Stewart, 1929) (Coalspur Mines, 2012). This formation lies higher than the Brazeau formation, which is why the operations are open pit strip mines. Hopefully, unlike what became the townsite of Luscar, Luscar Sterco’s operation does not destroy Coalspur and what remains one of the most fascinating ghost towns in the area.
    
Photos
  1. The Coal Spur Line
    The Coal Spur Line
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  2. Train Cars
    Train Cars
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  3. Coal Carts
    Coal Carts
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  4. Train Bridge
    Train Bridge
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  5. Ruins
    Ruins
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  6. Possible Machine Shop?...
    Possible Machine Shop?...
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
References
Regional Geology: Vista Coal Mine Project. Coalspur Mines, 2012. Print.
 
Coal Valley Resources. Robb Trend. CVRI. 2014. Print. 
 
Fryer, Harold. "Coalspur". Ghost Towns of Alberta. Langley, BC.
Stagecoach Publishing Co., 1976. Print. Pg. 127 - 130.
 
Kozma, Leslie. "Railways and Coal: Good Old Days on the Coal Branch." CN
           Lines 10.4, 2001. Print.
 
MacKay, B.R. Coalspur Coal Area: Outer Foothills Belt. Department of Mines and            Resources: Geological Survey of Canada, 1949. Print.
 
Steward, Charles, and Charles Camsell. "Cadomin Sheet - West of 5th Meridian
            - Alberta." Alberta Geological Survey, 1929. Print.

 
Photos Taken By:
Caroline Thomas