Mountain Park

With a coal mining operation surrounding the cemetery, Mountain Park is another ghost town that is threatened by modern resource extraction on Cheviot Mountain.
Map Legend
Red: Cemetery 
 
Green: Remains of old mining operations, sign for old hospital, railway lines
 
Blue: Old mine portal
 
White Boundary: Approximate original townsite
              The day we left for Mountain Park there was a light snowfall. The road from Cadomin to Mountain Park, which was built in 1937, was extremely treacherous.  After passing the limestone quarry on the road heading to Mountain Park there was a split in the road as we approached the border of Teck Coal’s operation, situated on Cadomin and Cheviot Mountain. One road leads directly to the Whitehorse recreational area the road parallel to the mine truck lease road leads to the once booming town of Mountain Park.
              As we kept driving on the poorly maintained road we went under a couple of tunnels aptly called “super tubes”, which brought us after a couple of kilometers to the townsite of Mountain Park directly on our left. At 6,200 feet above sea level, the locals boast that the Mountain Park Cemetery is the highest in Canada. Unfortunately there was too much snow to see much of the artifacts that scatter the town, including old railway tracks, mineshafts, fences, and shrapnel from a once operating coal mining town. After my experience, I highly suggest visitors come in the months of July and August not only for the beautiful mountain scenery, but also for their safety and vehicle wear and tear.
            The history of this town, like the many other towns in the Alberta Coal Branch, shows a parallel timeline. The town sprang up after the Mountain Park Coal Company Limited started the mine on a property staked out by John James Gregg in 1909. The president of the company, H.M. Thorton, raised $1,184,972 (approximately $25 Million in 2015 dollars), to build a 31.6-mile railroad spur line in from the Grand Trunk Pacific line near Coalspur. Construction started in 1912 and completed in July of 1913 (Fryer, 1976, pg. 134). In the same year of completion, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway crews began running mixed trains into Mountain Park (Kozma, 2001). This spur line not only allowed miners to come into the furthest south and extremely isolated settlement of the Coal Branch, it boosted the success of the mine in Mountain Park due to its direct access to transportation.
          Production itself began in 1912 with 11 workable seams and five mines, with a tipple handling output. By 1913 the Edmonton Daily Bulletin stated that the entire Mountain Park Colliery operation was producing 2,500 tons of coal a day (Fryer, 1976, pg. 134). The abundance of coal was evident in the Mountain Park Coal Area Geological Map (1949) drawn by the Geological Survey of Canada. The Mountain Park operation is situated on top of a group of formations called the Blairmore Group, which is a Mesozoic lower Cretaceous formation that is rich in sandstone, shale, and conglomerate. The coal seams are located in the Luscar Formation within the group, which is, of course, rich in coal. The bituminous properties of the coal mined west of Coalspur (Mountain Park, Mercoal, Cadomin, Luscar) had excellent steaming characteristics, which was perfect for locomotive fuel. 
The 400 men needed to work on this operation stayed in about 80 dwellings in two rows on Main Street. They were monotonously painted. Each was white, trimmed with green. As this town was a mining camp, most camps hired only single men. However, Mountain Park Coal Company allowed for married couples and families to live on site (Fryer, 1976, pg. 134). The officials lived in nice six-room bungalows, and some workers built their own homes within the town. The town had all of the amenities of a regular boomtown. They had a pool hall, cafes, churches, stores, a dance hall, a hockey arena, and the Cheviot Hotel, which burned down in 1934 only to be rebuilt promptly afterwards.
             However, disaster did strike in 1915, only two years after the line was built. That year, the North Saskatchewan flooded to its greatest extent, rising 35 feet above normal levels. As part of the same drainage, Mountain Park was also hit with devastatingly powerful floodwaters following four days of heavy rainfall at the end of June. The rain poured off the steep mountain slopes, sweeping with it the snowcap and filling the valleys in combination with the rising floodwaters. The swollen McLeod River took everything with it, including the newly built spur line and bridges. Crews immediately began repairing the damage done to Mountain Park, but this caused a major slowdown in coal production for approximately eight weeks. With no connection to the outside world, townspeople soon faced diminishing supplies of essentials. By the end of August the mines were back in operation, but with heavy financial losses.
            Regardless of the disaster of 1915 and frequent labour disputes, from 1911 to 1959 work was plentiful and workers made regular income even during the Depression years. The total output over those nearly 50 years was some 6,427,236 tons of coal with no deaths from cave-ins, explosions, or floods (Fryer, 1976, pg. 135). Mountain Park easily had one of the smoothest operations in the entire Coal Branch.  However, doom eventually reared its ugly head. On June 20th 1950, the mine closed after 39 years of operation due to a lack of orders for coal (Fryer, 1976, pg. 136). The Leduc oil discovery of 1947 dawned the beginning of the modern oil and gas industry in Alberta, and ultimately spelled death for the coal industry. The miners were given 30 days to move their properties off of company property, which was a very brutal and sudden end to the once successful mining operation.
            Now, 65 years after its closing, there is still a significant visitor numbers in Mountain Park. According to the sign proudly erected in front of the historic site, Dave and Owen Davies removed in 2010 132 tons of abandoned rails north about 1 mile towards Cadomin. Three sets of tracks near the old station were left to preserve the history of the rail spur. The Davies brother’s dad (Bill Davies) worked in the underground mines as well as their grandfather (James Davies) who is buried at the historic Mountain Park Cemetery. In 1974, former Mountain Park residents replaced the original rotting wooden cemetery fence with a chain link fence, and in 2006 the Elk Valley Coal Company donated materials for employees to build a new heavy chain link fence. In 1997, 85 original Mountain Park and Cadomin residents cleared out the brush and debris from the cemetery. Many plots were cleared and volunteers continue to  maintain the cemetery. As you walk through the Mountain Park Cemetery you will find beautiful graves to honour the miners that fought in the World Wars, informational plaques with snapshots of Mountain Park’s rich history, and new graves for the many individuals and families that had a connection with the town of Mountain Park.
            However, despite the amazing efforts of the local community, only a few hundred meters away from the cemetery signs read “Caution: Blasting Zone”, and prohibit trespass on the mine lease. Teck Coal’s mining activities on Cheviot Mountain are still going strong exploiting the abundant coking coal within the mountain. This is marketed to Asian steel mills. Even though the activity benefits the local economy, the mining in such close proximity can potentially have consequences to the historic site of Mountain Park in the future. There is definitely a conflict of interest that arises out of this. On one hand you have residents in Cadomin supporting the mining project on Cheviot Mountain, and on the other the Alberta Coal Branch may lose the historic resource of Mountain Park. As with any ghost town affected by the elements of modern industrial activity, Mountain Park’s historical and genealogical significance remains at stake despite the economic benefits. Hopefully the mining activities of the coal company do not wake the resting ghosts of this once booming town.
Photos
  1. Trespassing Sign
    Trespassing Sign
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  2. Mountain Park Spur Line
    Mountain Park Spur Line
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  3. Graveyard Fence
    Graveyard Fence
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  4. Gravestone
    Gravestone
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  5. Snowy Memorial
    Snowy Memorial
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  6. Those Who Have Served Us...
    Those Who Have Served Us...
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  7. Train Bridge
    Train Bridge
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  8. Dominion of Canada
    Dominion of Canada
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  9. Mystery...
    Mystery...
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  10. Mine Enterance
    Mine Enterance
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  11. Old Railway Track
    Old Railway Track
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  12. Blasting Zone
    Blasting Zone
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
References
Fryer, Harold. "Mountain Park". Ghost Towns of Alberta. Langley, BC.
            Stagecoach Publishing Co., 1976. Print. Pg. 133 - 136.

 
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.
 
Photos Taken By Caroline Thomas