Ribbon Creek/Kovach

Kovach, or Ribbon Creek, is the most elusive ghost town in all of Alberta. As pictured below, the locations Google Maps shows for Kovach is very different from where I have found remnants of the town. With that being said, there may be traces of Kovach that I did not see. Even though Kovach remains a mystery to me, I have to say that its existence is absolutely critical to Alberta's industrial history with the resilience of the Brazeau Collieries operations, and its influence on future resource development projects.
The approximate location of the remains are within the red marker, and the location Google offers for the townsite is marked by the green pin. This vast difference in apparent location made it extremely frustrating trying to locate the original townsite.
Route to Cadomin from Hinton, AB.
          From looking at maps, hiking articles, and being in the area itself, I can officially say that Kovach (or Ribbon Creek), located at the southeast side of Mount Allan, is the most elusive mountain ghost town that I have attempted to visit. As pictured on this site you will see that the most exciting thing I encountered was a slab of a concrete foundation and a pipe sticking out of the ground. My first endeavour to visit the town involved me climbing the silver chair of the Nakiska Ski Resort as an attempt to get into the deep mountain location as seen on Google Earth. After a nearly vertical climb, I was not pleased to find the peak of the mountain and thick forest blocking me from my destination. When I revisited the area I found that you could get to the townsite by going to a parking lot by Ribbon Creek and following a set of paths. Upon my arrival I found that the “Troll Falls” trail runs directly through what is supposed to be the original townsite, and there is an adjacent trail that leads to the old mine site. This information was contradictory to what I have seen with Google Earth, which makes me curious to see if there is more than what I saw to Kovach, even though the remains were bulldozed in 1969 (Bachusky, 2013).
          As I discuss the history of Ribbon Creek you will notice that it is tied directly to the histories of Nordegg and Ozada (the coal processing plant for the Ribbon Creek mine).  As you have already noticed, this ghost town has two names that are interchangeable. The name of Ribbon Creek makes the most sense, as the townsite is right by the creek of the same name. The locals also referred it to as “Ribbon Crick”. Meanwhile, the name Kovach comes from the district ranger Joe Kovach who looked over the townsite (Bachusky, 2013). The discovery of the resource potential at Ribbon Creek happened as early as 1848, when James Sinclair told John Palliser of the Kananaskis Lakes Country route to the far west. John Palliser brought this information to the British Government in 1857 to lead an expedition to investigate the coal fields in the Rocky Mountains. Between 1903 and 1909, Donald Bogart Dowling made the first detailed geological surveys of the Ribbon Creek area, which prompted none other than Martin Nordegg to stake a claim on Mount Allan itself (Bachusky, 2013). Most of the coal seams in Mount Allan are located in the Kootenay Formation of lower cretaceous age, which was first introduced by G.M. Dawson in 1885 (Crockford, 1949, pg. 28). This stratigraphic age proved prime for coal resource potential for many of the mines within the western Canadian basin. This formation consists of grey and black shale, sandstones, coal seams, and thick sandstone at the base of the formation. Throughout Kananaskis Country you can witness the outcrops of the Kootenay Formation, showing sandstone, shale, and conglomerate, above the timberline on the ridges of Mount Winds, Bogart, Kidd, and Allan. The actual coal seams are a minor part of the stratigraphic successions in the outcrops, but the commercially thick seams can be found in irregular intervals within the coal bearing shales, which begin to appear in an alternating fashion beginning at a depth of 100 feet (Crockford, 1949, pg. 32 - 34). 
          Martin soon returned to Germany to raise capital for his German Development Company (GDC), and soon after staked 4 more claims in Big West Country northwest of the Kananaskis coal field. The relationship between the Nordegg and Ribbon Creek townsites occurred as early as 1909 when financing became a critical factor in the GDC’s decision-making. Martin Nordegg favoured the Ribbon Creek coal field over the more northern Brazeau coal field because of its accessibility to American and Eastern markets. This strategy was not in the agenda of the Belgian banker Eugene de Wassermann, who was hired by Martin Nordegg in 1909 to organize funding for the company (Bachusky, 2013). Martin’s biggest mistake was making Wassermann’s paycheque based on commission for the amount of capital he could raise. Of course, the northern fields were a lot more expensive to start up and were therefore developed immediately, meanwhile the Kananaskis field staked out by Nordegg were not be developed for four decades later.
          Fast forward to 1947, six years after the tragic mine explosion in Nordegg. The Toronto owned Brazeau Collieries were booming with success producing 1500 tons of briquettes daily and setting plans to make Nordegg a strip mine to accommodate for the demand of lump coal. With production peaking, the collieries wanted to expand to meet the demand of the Ontario anthracite coal market and popularity of fuel briquettes. As a result, the Brazeau Collieries took control over the land staked out by Martin Nordegg in Ribbon Creek and opened an underground mine and strip mine in 1947, and laid out plans to build a permanent townsite (Bachusky, 2013). To get the operation spurred they created a temporary locality at the base of Mount Allan for 150 miners and families and it was thus listed as Kovach in the Gazetteer of Canada after the district ranger mentioned earlier. Many of the employees at the mine were transferred from Nordegg, but the miners were not necessarily happy about working at Ribbon Creek. Coming from the advanced settlement of Nordegg, which had power before Calgary, they had to be thrown back into pioneer conditions with no amenities to keep the miners happy and taken care of. There were bunkhouses for single men, about two-dozen tar-paper shacks used for families, and about 6 two-bedroom homes for senior mine officials. There was power coming into the townsite from Calgary power lines but there was no water or sewage system for the residents. The workers had very few options for supplies. There was a small store with very limited supplies, with a large haul of supplies coming into the town once a week (Bachusky, 2013). If you wanted to get something not supplied by the company you would have to travel 32 km to Seebe.
          Ozada, another town I cover on this website, comes into the picture around the same time as Ribbon Creek. Ozada served as a coal processing plant before being transported to market. The main reason for the geographic segregation of both operations comes from the location of the railway, which was a result of the Wassermann’s desire to profit off of raising more capital for the Nordegg operation. Due to the fact the Brazeau Collieries acted too late on the Ribbon Creek development, they could not influence the CPR’s route to make the operation more economically effective. With the tracks already laid nearly 30 km’s from the seams, Brazeau needed a way to get the coal to market. As you read more on Ozada you will learn in greater detail the methods they used to transport the coal as well as the conditions the Brazeau miners had to work in.
          The mining operation was extremely primitive, especially for its time. They would use horses to transport men and equipment, but they eventually utilized the room and pillar system where they implemented coal cutting machines, duckbill lowers, shaker conveyors, and belt conveyors (Bachusky, 2013). The coal would be transported to Ozada to be created into briquettes at the processing plant, and would be sorted at the tipple. Unfortunately the timing of the operation was all wrong with high operating costs due to lack of access to the railroad, along with freight rates to Ontario increasing, lost demand for fuel briquettes, and of course the CPR switching to diesel burners. The operation became simply infeasible to continue, and in February in 1952 operation closed for good (Bachusky, 2013). Even though most of the equipment and shacks were gone with the miners, many of the mining buildings stood on the side of Mount Allan until 1969 when they were demolished. Despite the reserves and economic potential of the Ribbon Creek mine, in 1976 the Alberta Government declared the boundaries of the Kananaskis Provincial Park and banned all resource extraction from the area. In 1988 the Winter Olympic Games held the alpine ski events on the opposite of side of Mount Allan from the Ribbon Creek ghost town, putting international eyes on what Martin Nordegg thought as a perfect place to build an industry and a town. In 2013 the Alberta floods wiped out many of the trails built by the provincial government, leaving truly nothing left of Kovach.
    
          
Photos
  1. View From East Face of Mount Allan
    View From East Face of Mount Allan
    Photo by Phillip Van Hooft
References
Bachusky, Johnnie. History of Kananaskis, Alberta. 2013. Web. 28 June 2015.
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Crockford, Michael Bertrand Bray. Geology of Ribbon Creek Area, Alberta.
Edmonton: A. Shnitka, King's Printer, 1949. Print.
 
Photos Taken By: 
Phillip Van Hooft (TRUNK Studios)
Mike Wells Photo