Pocahontas

Pocahontas, named after the prestigious coal field in Virginia, USA, is now nothing more than a tourist attraction within the beautiful Jasper National Park
Directions to Pocahontas from Jasper, AB
Map Legend: 
Purple: Mine Superintendent's House
 
Red: Lower Pocahontas - Industrial Area
 
Blue: Upper Pocahontas, including mine cart exhibit
 
Yellow: Upper Pocahontas - Campgrounds and hidden cemetery
 
           Out of all the Alberta Coal Branch ghost towns I have visited, Pocahontas is by far the most tourist friendly. Its namesake was the town of Pocahontas in southwest Virginia, where the coalfields had similar low volatile bituminous properties . The town is conveniently located 13 km west of the Jasper National Park Gate. As you approach the locality you will see signs pointing to the Pocahontas Cabins. Once you take a left onto the road that passes by the cabins, you drive for another minute or so until you reach a turnoff where the Pocahontas trail begins. As will become evident, Pocahontas is separated in two sections, the upper town and the lower town. In the lower town you will see the remains of the vault, the root cellar, company store, tipple footings, scale foundations, powerhouse, concrete supports, and, of course, the immaculate superintendent’s house. Intermediate hikers should check out the upper town, which features a beautiful view of the old town area, mine carts, cemetery (which we could not find), and the beautiful Punchbowl Falls. With summer tours and local staff willing to supply a wealth of information on the derelict town, Pocahontas is popular among hikers, campers, and ghost-towners alike.
            Pocahontas’ peculiar origins lend to its appeal.  The town grew from one of 50 construction camps erected along the 184-mile road between Wolf Creek and Tete Jaune Cache to build grade for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (Fryer, 1976, pg. 124). It lived on to become a productive coal-mining town that provided fuel for the railway coming through the Yellowhead toward the Pacific. Before the construction camp was formed, on October 3rd, 1908, two men by the names of Frank Villeneuve and Alfred Lamoreau staked a claim on the coal seam, and in 1910 Jasper Park Collieries opened two mines. One was at Pocahontas and a second was directly across Jasper Lake, which was named Miette after the French voyageur Bonhomme Miette, said to have first climbed Mount Miette, or, alternatively, Baptiste Millette, an Athabasca River trapper.
          The geology of the area is worth keeping in mind when you visit or hike around Pocahontas. The Jasper Basin contains a number of distinctive formations, which geologists use to make distinctions between surrounding rock layers. The Jasper Basin includes the Gladstone and Moosebar formations. The Gladstone formation is 115 meters thick (the Calgary Tower is 191 meters high) with upward sequences of sandstone, shale, and minor coal seams. The Moosebar is 60m thick of dark-gray shale interbedded with layers of fine-grained sandstone. Both formations have fossil fuel resources based on mostly marine fauna (Langenberg, 1983). The coal seams founded in Pocahontas were 1 mile wide and 4 miles long from an initial post located on the North bank of the Athabasca River, at the mouth of Moosehorn Creek. In its short existence of 11 years (1910 – 1921) the mine had an output between 750,000 – 1,000,000 tons of coal (Jasper National Park). At 40 cubic feet equal to about a ton of coal, that’s the equivalent of 30 to 40 million cubic feet. To put that impressive output in some perspective, the cement foundations for the Encana (now Bow) Building in Calgary, which are the largest in Canada and third largest in the world, filled some 378,000 cubic feet. Pocahontas, then, extracted the equivalent of some 80 to 100 Bow building foundations in coal in an incredibly compressed period of time.
            Mine production was at first slow, but ramped up only after a couple of years. In June of 1911 only 25-30 tons of coal per day were being produced. In 1912, however, $250,000 (approximately $5.3 million in 2015 dollars) was spent on a permanent plant, machine shop, power plant, and supply shops which increased output. In 1913, with mine tipple construction, some 250 miners and construction workers lived within Pocahontas (Fryer, 1976, pg. 125). Single men lived, cramped, in some 50 four-room houses; families, in better digs, lived in the upper town in 20 two-room houses . The upper town also had a community hall, a school, a water tower. The community buried its dead in the cemetery (which remained elusive in our search). The lower town housed the single men in bunkhouses and also consisted of most of the official buildings, hotel, store, post office, railway station, and a hospital. For its short life, Pocahontas was a booming town that had an even larger population than its rival town Fitzhugh (now the town of Jasper). Not surprisingly for a resource town, single men took part in a host of questionable entertainment activities, including dog fighting. But they also participated in community-friendly activities like baseball. These activities allowed the town of Pocahontas to bond together, young and old, manager and worker, alike (Jasper National Park).
            Despite the fact that Jasper became a national forest reserve in 1907 and was the fifth official national park in Canada, mining and timber harvesting was greatly encouraged in the park. The government enthusiastically supported Pocahontas production, especially during The Great War. The Canadian Northern and Grand Trunk Pacific Railway were in a race to reach the Pacific through the Yellowhead County. However, the Grand Trunk Pacific had a massive setback when some 80 miles of its track was torn up and sent to France to support train travel during WWI (Fryer, 1976, pg. 125). Because of the massive war-based steel shortage, both companies had to use the CNR’s track on the west side of Jasper Lake, causing Pocahontas to be stranded from the main rail line. Despite being stranded, Pocahontas’ coal was extremely lucrative for the Jasper Park Collieries because the coal was being used to fuel troopships during the war.
            In 1921 doom came to the town of Pocahontas. Despite its relatively high output for the time, and the name it bore, it never lived up to the expectations that it would become a neo-Virginian coal field (Fryer, 1976, pg. 125). Bad post-war markets, insufficient railway access, and difficulties working the coal seam undermined the town’s prospects. After 11 years of working the seam a thrust fault made it difficult to extract coal from the strata. Coal decreased in quality, and lethal gas in the mine made production high-risk. Labour disputes between the workers and the management of Jasper Park Collieries set in. After Pocahontas closed down the first National Parks Act in 1930 was passed, which banned resource development and extraction from within park boundaries making revival of the forlorn town impossible. However, this didn’t stop Bob Stone, Pocahontas’ last resident, to operate the Post Office and live in a shack within the park until September of 1937.
            Even though Pocahontas remains a tourist attraction to the present day, it is one of the best-preserved ghost towns with a rich history that is well documented. The Jasper-Yellowhead Historical Society keeps records and photos of old Pocahontas, as well as other abandoned towns and settlements in the area. Visitors to Jasper National Park should make seeing this site a priority. . It is close to the town of Jasper, easy to access, and the beautiful view from the upper town is simply picturesque.
 
 
    
Photos
  1. Root Cellar
    Root Cellar
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  2. Foundations
    Foundations
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  3. Shack
    Shack
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  4. In The Woods
    In The Woods
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  5. More Unidentified Foundations
    More Unidentified Foundations
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  6. Foundation
    Foundation
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  7. Steel Support Rods
    Steel Support Rods
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  8. Destroyed Foundations
    Destroyed Foundations
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  9. Where The Moss Slowly Grows...
    Where The Moss Slowly Grows...
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  10. View From Upper Pocahontas
    View From Upper Pocahontas
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  11. Mine Entrance?
    Mine Entrance?
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
  12. Coal Cart
    Coal Cart
    Photo by Caroline Thomas
References
Fryer, Harold. "Pocahontas". Ghost Towns of Alberta. Langley, BC.
            Stagecoach Publishing Co., 1976. Print. Pg. 124 - 127.
 
Jasper National Park. Pocahontas In The Early Days. Jasper, Alta. Date Unkown.
Print.
 
Langenberg C.W. Structural and Sedimentilogical Framework of Lower
Cretaceous Coal-Bearing Rocks in the Grande Cache Area. Edmonton, Alta. Alberta Geological Survey. 1983. Print. 
Photos Taken By Caroline Thomas