Crowsnest

The namesake of the Crowsnest Pass, the now-empty hamlet had the most diverse economy out of all of the towns within the Pass. While it offers the "classic" ghost town atmosphere, it is still a vital checkpoint for the CPR's crowsnest line for transporting commodities, as well as a beautiful spot to soak in the natural beauty of the Western Canadian Rockies.
Legend:
Blue: Crowsnest Townsite including train station and Summit Hotel
 
Yellow: Summit Lime Works
 
Red: Crowsnest Dance Hall
Directions to the Crowsnest Lake Dance Hall from Highway 3
          Surprisingly Crowsnest, the namesake for the Crowsnest Pass, is not nearly as influential to the Pass’ history or economic activity as Frank or Bellevue. With that being said, Crowsnest did have the most diversified economy within the Pass. The town of Crowsnest is now what you could consider a “classic” ghost town, with only the Summit Hotel and train station for CPR employees being operational in the locality. At one point, Crowsnest was a place of entertainment, mining, and transportation for the few locals that lived in the hamlet. As it was relatively insignificant compared to the other towns of the Pass, it is quite surprising that it is relatively untouched by modern industrial activity. In fact, looking at old photographs of Crowsnest and seeing the townsite today, the only difference is a lack of buildings and human activity, with nature reclaiming the townsite. The only activity that takes place today are routine stops of CPR trains going through the Pass, and outdoorsmen that want to experience the nostalgic isolation of the townsite that is experienced in few other places within the Canadian Rockies.
          When the CPR was being built in the 1890’s the locality was originally called Bull Head (Bachusky, 2005). It was used as a divisional point for the railway because of its location between Alberta and British Columbia. Initially the CPR’s employees and officials occupied the townsite. Six houses were built alongside the tracks with boarding houses for the train men, engineers, and fire fighters, as well as a station and a roundhouse for locomotives (Fraser, 1979, pg. 115). When settlers looking for work populated the town, a laundry house, hotel, post office, general store, dance hall, and church (that doubled as a school) sprang up, turning Crowsnest into a bustling little hamlet. The Summit Hotel, built in 1899, was originally owned and operated by Andy and Kate Good. The hotel is a two-storey structure that featured a bar, which was very popular among the working men in the area. The funny thing about the Summit Hotel was its location on the British Columbia/Alberta Border, causing much debate over which province had governance over the business. Of course, Mr. Good took advantage over this confusion and applied favourable provincial liquor laws to his establishment (Bachusky, 2005). Unfortunately in 1921 the original Summit Hotel was burned to the ground (Fraser, 1979, pg. 115). Despite the tragedy, the hotel was promptly rebuilt, and has been in operation since. In 1923 more houses were built, including three CPR company houses and a handful of privately owned log cabins (Fraser, 1979, pg. 116).
          The commercial activity within Crowsnest was not limited to transportation and hospitality. The limestone on the Crowsnest Ridge Mountain was exploited by the locality as early as the 1880’s. Two Italian plasterers from Toronto, who found the limestone’s “plastic” texture perfect for their trade, started the limestone quarry and began to transport the precious limestone to Lethbridge (Wilson, 2002). In 1903, E.G. Hazell, a plasterer from England, recognized the importance of this special lime for construction and purchased the limestone quarry, building two beehive kilns that processed the limestone to be sent to market. To make the transportation of his lime easier, Hazell was advised by the CPR to move his operations west to make room for a spur line to ship the lime (Rose, 1979, pg. 118). Hazell took the CPR’s advice, and in 1905 he bought a 63-acre plot from Archibald Macmolt McVittie and moved his operation there. Shortly after, in 1915 Hazell added 50 more acres to expand on his operation (Wilson, 2002). After many years of operation, the Summit Lime Works was officially incorporated in 1938, with shares being held by Hazell’s two daughters. During both WWI and WWII Mr. Hazell utilized Chinese and Japanese internees as his labour force, avoiding any labour disputes that would otherwise be experienced with a unionized workforce (Wilson, 2002). The quarry’s peak production rate under Mr. Hazell’s leadership was in the 1950’s when it was producing 50,000 tons a year, unfortunately the output during the 60’s and 70’s declined (Wilson, 2002). The lime was confined primarily to the Livingstone Formation, high in calcium content, which was exploited in several quarry sites until the 80’s when they were abandoned and efforts were concentrated into exploiting quarry 1 (Macdonald, 1981, pg. 27). In 1991, when Quarry 1 was nearly depleted, the Summit Lime Works were acquired by Graymont from the Hazell family, and has since been in operation producing 250 tons a day (or 91,250 tons per year) from four kilns, making Summit the smallest plant in Graymont’s portfolio.
          Even though the exploitation of lime was successful for Mr. Hazell and his family, the coal business was not nearly as kind for the Spokane-Alberta Coal and Coke Company that was formed in the early 1920’s. In a 1922 article written in the Coleman Journal, there was a lot of hope for a coal mine being developed southeast of Crowsnest, which was perfect for steam for locomotives. The spur line being constructed was about five miles in length, connecting the mine to the CPR main line to transport coal easily to market. By February of 1923 the grade for the spur line was completed and 100 men were working on the initial development of the mine (Coleman Journal, 1922, pg. 119). Unfortunately the market for steam coal dramatically decreased that year, which led to the project being abandoned entirely. The prospect was not exploited until the Coleman Collieries acquired the property in the 1940’s and developed it as an open pit mine named the Tent Mountain Mine, which exported the coal to Japan. The railway grade that was laid became a road connecting the mine to the Crowsnest 3 and the coal processing plant in Coleman. The mine was shut down in 1983, making it one of the last operating coal mines within the Crowsnest Pass.
          The ice business was also quite prominent in Crowsnest due to the hamlet’s reliance on transportation. It began in 1920 when the train ran from Medicine Hat to Crowsnest on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, bringing all sorts of goods through the hamlet (Fraser, 1979, pg. 117). Eventually an ice house was built and filled regularly to preserve the perishable food items, especially fruit, which were seen as luxuries in the isolated mountain community, The ice was also used as a commodity in itself, which was harvested from Island Lake and cut in large cubes to be sent to Nelson, Revelstoke, Cranbrook, and Lethbridge from Crowsnest. Because Crowsnest was a focal point for shipping in Western Canada, transient trains became a major issue for CPR workers, leading to the construction of relief camps to house the isolated workers. After nearly 30 years of being a prominent exporter of ice the business died out in 1949, around the same time steam locomotives were being retired from the CPR’s fleet and the Crowsnest townsite was declining in population and activity (Fraser, 1979, pg. 117).
          Despite the school closing down and the population of the town declining in the 40’s and 50’s, the Crowsnest Lake Dance Hall, built in 1931 by Alex Morency, was still a cornerstone to the social activities of the people of the Crowsnest Pass (Wilson, 2002). You can reach it by heading west on Highway 3 and turning opposite of the Travel Alberta building into a community called “Summit”. As you reach a dead end you turn left and you follow the road left until you reach a dirt road that forks out into two paths. You can follow either path to reach the tree-covered Dance Hall. The hall itself is seen as a rare example of recreational architecture in the Rocky Mountains outside of a national park. It is also a rare structure because it is one of the few surviving dance halls that were built in Canada during the interwar period. Morency also offered boat excursions on the pre-historically significant Crowsnest Lake, which was later discovered in the 1970’s to be an important site for recreational and hunting activities for the indigenous people of the pass for 8,500 years. Unfortunately when this amazing archaeological discovery was made the post office in Crowsnest closed down, as well as the dance hall, officially ending the hamlet’s conventional commercial activity.
            
Photos
  1. Supporting Beams in Dance Hall
    Supporting Beams in Dance Hall
    Photo by Jason Ferris
  2. Old Fireplace
    Old Fireplace
    Photo by Jason Ferris
  3. A Forlorn Kitchen
    A Forlorn Kitchen
    Photo by Jason Ferris
  4. The Dance Hall Stage
    The Dance Hall Stage
    Photo by Jason Ferris
  5. An Empty Hamlet
    An Empty Hamlet
    Photo by Jason Ferris
  6. Dance Hall Bar
    Dance Hall Bar
    Photo by Jason Ferris
  7. A Portal Through Time
    A Portal Through Time
    Photo by Jason Ferris
  8. Dance Hall Bathroom
    Dance Hall Bathroom
    Photo by Jason Ferris
  9. Dance Hall Stage
    Dance Hall Stage
    Photo by Jason Ferris
  10. Unknown Structure
    Unknown Structure
    Photo by Jason Ferris
  11. Inside the Dance Hall
    Inside the Dance Hall
    Photo by Jason Ferris
  12. Crowsnest Station
    Crowsnest Station
    Photo by Jason Ferris
  13. Crowsnest Townsite
    Crowsnest Townsite
    Photo by Jason Ferris
  14. Crowsnest Main Line
    Crowsnest Main Line
    Photo by Jason Ferris
  15. Ruins
    Ruins
    Photo by Jason Ferris
  16. Caution
    Caution
    Photo by Jason Ferris
  17. Survey Stake
    Survey Stake
    Photo by Jason Ferris
  18. Mysterious Podium
    Mysterious Podium
    Photo by Jason Ferris
  19. Utility Pole
    Utility Pole
    Photo by Jason Ferris
References
Bachusky, Johnnie. "Crowsnest." Ghosts Towns of British Columbia.   2005. Web.
10 Aug. 2015. .      
 
Coleman Journal. "Spokane - Alberta Coal and Coke Co." Crowsnest and Its
People. Coleman, Alta.: Crowsnest Pass Historical Society, 1979. Print.
 
Fraser, Eunice. "Crowsnest." Crowsnest and Its People. Coleman, Alta.:
Crowsnest Pass Historical Society, 1922. Print. Pg. 119 - 120.
 
Macdonald, D.E. "Limestone Prospects in the Vicinity of the Crowsnest Pass: A
Preliminary Assessment." Alberta Geological Survey. 1981. Web. 25 Aug. 2015. Pg. 27 - 29. .
 
Rose, Robert D. "A Brief History of Summit Lime Works LTD." Crowsnest and Its
People. Coleman, Alta.: Crowsnest Pass Historical Society, 1979. Print. Pg. 18 - 19
 
Wilson, D.M. "Train Hold-up at Sentinel” Crowsnest Highway. 2 Feb. 2002. Web.
25 Aug. 2015.
 
Photos taken by:
Deadwood Imaging (Jason Ferris)