Luscar

The crater which used to be Luscar, Alberta, is a living example of the threat modern development poses on Alberta's valuable historic resources.
A satalite image of what is left of Luscar, AB.
Route to Luscar from Cadomin, AB.
           The ever-changing forces of modern society such as transportation technology and the prospect of lucrative resource development endlessly challenge a ghost town’s historical remains and material memory. This is vividly illustrated when you head south only 8.6 km from Cadomin as you approach a T-intersection with a sign directing you to the Luscar townsite.  According to Internet articles and Harold Fryer’s Ghost Towns of Alberta, little if no remains exist of Luscar , and that it is simply a mining project. When I arrived at Luscar nothing could prepare me for what I was about to see: a large coal cleaning plant alongside a giant crater in the ground. The mine has obliterated what once was a historically significant town.
            Stop for a moment and reflect on the scene greeting you as you approach a modern outlook interpretation at the side of the road that describes the most recent resource development being pursued by Cardinal River Coals, a joint venture company from Luscar Limited and The Consolidation Coal Company of Canada Limited. Its open pit-mining project has been inactive since the early 2000’s. It now just houses a plant that cleans coking coal from the Cheviot Mountain near Mountain Park. This crater is truly a sight to see, and it makes me wonder how a project of this size did not get much resistance from the local or environmental community. But knowing that this mine started in the early 1970’s, Cardinal River Coals were able to extract a lot of the resource and use the lease space to process the coking coal closer to the Cheviot mine.
            The pit has scooped from the earth all memory of Luscar, founded in 1921 with a peak population of 650 people and a total output of 11 million tons of coal and briquettes by 1956 (Fryer, 1976, pg. 140). The town became active as soon as the CNR made a spur line from the Leyland Station to tap into the unexplored coal-field staked out by none other than John James Gregg. However, unlike most towns in the Alberta Coal branch, it took until 1925 to truly kick off mine operations. In 1934, during the depression, Luscar Collieries took a massive gamble by purchasing a $175,000 (approximately $3 million in 2015 dollars) coal cleaning plant. In a moment of crisis within the coal industry in Alberta Luscar Collieries made a  bid to stand out from its competitors, take the risk, and achieve technical advancement (Fryer, 1976, pg. 141). For the moment, the gamble paid off. The coal cleaning plant was extremely successful, employing a cutting edge technology called “static process” to dry-clean coal using air currents. The plant was able to handle a daily capacity of 880 tons of coal per day (Fryer, 1976, pg. 142).
            The resource potential of this mine is even evident today. The Mountain Park Area Geological Map (1949) by the Geological Survey of Canada states that Luscar sits on a Mesozoic Lower Cretaceous formation called the Blairmore Group. The Luscar Formation itself is rich in coal, which the original mining project was tapping into. When I visited Luscar it was evident that economic forces were at play in the town’s doom, with the current active mining and operations within the boundaries of the town. When Luscar was founded in 1921, the Mountain Park Coal Company opened a 5.3-mile spur from the Leyland station to reach the new mine. In 1924 the mine was expanded to include the work at Mountain Park using a single crew train (Kozma, 2001). What is interesting about this expansion is that it is still utilized today. Locomotives do not transport coal to the cleaning plant anymore, but rather mining trucks, using the lease roads, transport the coking coal from Cheviot Mountain to where Luscar used to stand. In 1932 the Luscar spur was extended 3.8 miles further to service the K-D Collieries Mine, which is also known as the Gebo Mine. The Mountain Park Company was forced to give running rights over its spur to the CNR so it could get access to Gebo. Of course, this generated a lot of competition and a lot of business within the region (Kozma, 2001).
           WWII was a period of peak employment. There was enough wealth in people’s pockets that in 1941 mine employees contributed $10,000 (nearly $175,000 2015 dollars) into the Victory Loan campaign (Fryer, 1976, pg. 141). Work was plentiful, and Luscar flourished with a variety of commercial ventures. The Luscar Hotel provided meals daily for up to 150 men. The barbershop, beauty parlour, theatre, and town butcher thrived. Not only the businesses prospered; so did the workers themselves. In August 26, 1949, the Luscar Collieries won the Ryan Trophy for having the lowest work accident rate in the three Prairie Provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba) (Ross, 1974, pg. 150). This award was presented at the Mercoal Theatre with free entertainment courtesy of the Luscar Coals Ltd. However, this could not stop tragedy from striking down the young settlement. On May 12th 1945 an explosion in the underground mine killed 5 men. The mine had to be flooded to prevent more explosions. The bodies of both D. Davies and M. Hlushka were recovered immediately after the tragedy, and the bodies of D. Astley, P. Zozuk, and Steve Zayezierski were not found until a year later. Of course, charges were laid on mine manager Mr. A. Hnatyshyn and court proceedings began in January 1947 (Ross, 1974, pg. 150). September 12th, 1949, was also a bad day for Luscar. George Shipka severely injured his arm when caught in a gear in the local briquette plant. Only a few hours later, Walter Lewicki capsized his bulldozer over the hill in the townsite, and George Slynski turned his car over on the highway (Ross, 1974, pg. 155). January of 1956 there was a fire in the briquetting plant, two miles from town, causing $250,000 in damage and throwing 6 men out of work.
           In October of the same year, the Leduc oil discovery wreaked its havoc on Luscar, when coal orders fell to insufficient levels. Coal from the Luscar Collieries, to that point powering BC lower mainland’s electrical generation, was replaced by Alberta’s natural gas through pipeline. Happily for the miners the company did everything it could to help workers settle and get work in other areas. They even paid the way for workers relocating to new work locations. Today it is hard to believe that Luscar used to be a lively community full of musicians and athletes. It is unfortunate for visitors to discover that nothing exists of Luscar anymore, but I encourage you to come see the rich wildlife that dot the valley of this lost mountain community.
Photos
  1. Coal Processing Plant
    Coal Processing Plant
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  2. Crater
    Crater
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  3. Coal Plant
    Coal Plant
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
References
Coal Association of Canada (CAC). "Report On Total Tonnages of Coal Produced
            by Member Companies During Calendar Year 1979." (1979). Print.
 
Fryer, Harold. "Luscar". Ghost Towns of Alberta. Langley, BC.
Stagecoach Publishing Co., 1976. Print. Pg. 140 - 142.
 
Geological Survey of Canada (GCoC). "Inner Foothills
           Belt Cartography." Mountain Park Coal Area Geological Map (1949). Print.
 
Kozma, Leslie. "Railways and Coal: Good Old Days on the Coal Branch." CN
           Lines 10.4, 2001. Print.

 
Ross, Toni Antoniuk. "Chapter Eleven: Explosion of Luscar Mine." Oh! The Coal
Branch: A Chronicle of the Alberta Coal Branch. Edmonton, Alta.: Ross, 1974. Print. Pg. 150 - 160.
 
Photos Taken by Caroline Thomas