Digging Deep into Albertas History

Digging Deep Into Alberta's History

THINGS TO DO:

Museums & Historic Sites

Digging Deep into Alberta's History

Source: Travel Alberta

Any exploration of Alberta’s roots ought to include the Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site, just 15 minutes from downtown Drumheller. The 100-year-old site in the Canadian Badlands preserves the last of the area’s once prolific coal mining operations.

Before Alberta was “big oil,” it was “big coal.” A century ago, industrialists and labourers by the thousands rushed west to find their fortunes in Alberta’s rich coal deposits. Wanting to know more, our family decided to dig deeper. Nothing like a road trip into the past to fire up the imagination.

The Life of a Coal Miner

At the Atlas Coal Mine, we were mesmerized by tales of “the man in the small dark place.” Coal mining was not for the faint of heart. Threats of explosions, cave-ins, and deadly gases meant that small acts of courage were required just to go to work each day. We hiked halfway up the valley and entered the mine. Peering into the pitch black, we tried to imagine the reality of a miner’s workspace: if the coal seam was 1.5 metres high, he crouched; if less than that, he had to work on his belly.

Climbing to the top of the last wooden tipple in Canada, my teenaged sons were astonished to learn the coal was sorted and cleaned by boys as young as 15. It was easy to imagine the wind gusting through the walls, filling the air with swirls of black dust as the workers scrambled to pick out rocks from the endless stream of coal.

We loved the above ground tour, with all of us loaded into coal cars pulled by an antique battery-operated locomotive. After we left the site, we visited the nearby East Coulee School Museum which gave us a glimpse into the lives of the miners’ families.

Touring the Crowsnest Pass

The next day, we headed to the southwest corner of the province to take the Heritage Tour through the Crowsnest Pass. There’s so much to see and so many ways to take it all in. You can hike or cycle along 25 different trails linking history to nature in beautiful alpine settings. The mining communities that thrived here are close together and connected by a walking trail.

Bellevue Underground Mine

Walking into the Bellevue Mine, what struck us first was the temperature – mountain coal mines are cold! We donned helmets, headlamps and warm ponchos as our guide took us 304 m (1,000 ft) into the depths of the mine. We looked into the small nooks and crannies the miners crawled in to do their work and got to see displays of the hand tools and small lamps they actually used.

Leitch Collieries

While it looks like an ancient ruin, Leitch Collieries was only built in 1907. Back then it was an ambitious business venture that used cutting-edge technology for processing coal. The owner’s lavish family home and the colliery buildings were constructed from sandstone found in a local quarry. The facility and its row of 101 coke ovens were only used for eight years due to bad timing and economic events. According to our guide, the mansion burnt to the ground under suspicious circumstances. All that remains of it today is a two-story sandstone shell and what’s left of the central fireplace.

EXPLORE ALBERTA

GOOD TIMES IN ALBERTA’S BADLANDS

Take a family driving holiday through the Canadian Badlands in southern Alberta for a lesson in history, arts, Aboriginal culture and everything prehistoric.

FAMILY HISTORY CELEBRATED IN ALBERTA’S UKRAINIAN CULTURAL HERITAGE VILLAGE

Through costumed actors and farmstead replicas, the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village in east central Alberta offers a glimpse into the life of our early pioneers.

SUMMER EVENTS AT ALBERTA’S BAR U RANCH NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE

Drive the cowboy trail this summer to Alberta’s historic Bar U Ranch for authentic cowboy cooking, rodeo events and plenty of family fun.

HISTORIC FORTS OF ALBERTA

Alberta forts and their museums reveal a colourful history of fur traders, bootleggers, Mounties, homesteaders and First Nations coexisting on the wild western frontier.
Banff National Park's Cave and Basin

BANFF NATIONAL PARK'S CAVE AND BASIN

Explore this National Historic Site and relive the moment in 1883 when three railway workers stumbled upon the natural hot springs that became the birthplace of Canada’s national park system.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

HEAD-SMASHED-IN BUFFALO JUMP

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump in southern Alberta brings the history of the Plains Indians to life. Learn about their culture, watch costumed hoop dancers. Feel the rhythm of the drums.
History In Alberta - Journey Into The Past

HISTORY IN ALBERTA - JOURNEY INTO THE PAST

Step into Heritage Park Historical Village and experience what it’s like to ride a historic rail car or sit down for an elegant 1920s dinner.
The Past Lives on at Heritage Park Historical Village

THE PAST LIVES ON AT HERITAGE PARK HISTORICAL VILLAGE

Ride the steam train at Calgary’s living history museum, explore authentic buildings and artifacts, and connect with the people of the day through live demonstrations.
Cave and Basin Origins of Banff National Park

CAVE AND BASIN – ORIGINS OF BANFF NATIONAL PARK

The Cave and Basin, an underground cave where bubbling thermal waters connect people to the essence of Banff National Park, is the birthplace of Canada’s national parks system.
Architectural Wonders in Southern Alberta

ARCHITECTURAL WONDERS IN SOUTHERN ALBERTA

If you want to see marvelous feats of engineering – most more than 100 years old – come along for the ride in southern Alberta.
Bodo Archaeological Site

BODO ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE

You can touch the past with your own hands at the Bodo Archaeological Site in central Alberta, where bison were hunted communally for thousands of years.
Get Crafty in Alberta

GET CRAFTY IN ALBERTA

More and more people are seeking out made-by-hand creations. Whether you're a collector or a budding artisan, the Alberta craft scene is where it's at.
Medalta's Historic Clay District

MEDALTA'S HISTORIC CLAY DISTRICT

Discover the essence of Medalta Potteries in Medicine Hat. It starts in the earth beneath your feet and lives on in works of art both practical and incredible.
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