Leitch Collieries Provincial Historic Site
Leitch Collieries was one of the largest and most ambitious mines in the early history of the Crowsnest Pass. Established in 1907, it was the only coal company in the Pass completely Canadian owned and operated. The first entry into coal seams occurred at Byron Creek, south of the present site, and the town of Passburg was located nearby.
The No. 2 Mine was developed in 1909 in the area known locally as Police Flats. In the 1880s, rustlers used this area to gather herds of cattle to drive to Montana. The enclosing hills, abundant grass and water, and adequate shelter made it an ideal place to hold animals until they could be smuggled across the border to the United States. To put an end to this activity, the North-West Mounted Police established a post at this location.
Soon, most of the mine’s activity was concentrated here, and the new town of Passburg, one kilometre west of the site, was built as a bedroom community for Leitch Collieries miners and their families. When the mine ceased operations, the town’s buildings were moved over time to other communities in the Crowsnest Pass.
Leitch Collieries pursued massive development, and the mine was heavily mortgaged to cover the costs. Steep coal seams at the No. 2 Mine made it difficult to hold heavy coal cutting machinery against the coal face, and underground mechanization could not be easily utilized. To increase production, improvements were made above ground. These included: included:
- an impressive row of 101 coke ovens;
- a 27 metre (90 foot) wooden washery;
- a huge tipple with a daily capacity of between 1,000 and 2,000 tons/900 to 1800 tonnes of coal; and
- a large sandstone power
house, completed in 1910, which supplied electricity to the surface
operations and the town of Passburg.
In 1909 and 1911, despite the serious effects of strikes, development continued using non-union labour. Financial setbacks occurred with the start of World War I as coal markets went soft, and contracts with England, the Balkan countries and the United States never materialized. Relations with the banks became strained. So did the company’s relationship with the Canadian Pacific Railway – an important customer and provider of transport to market for Leitch Collieries’ coal and coke.
Bad luck continued to dog the company and coal production ceased in 1915. An agreement to sell the mine for one million dollars was reached with John Frankland of Vancouver, but he died before the deal was completed. Unable to raise the capital to start production again, Leitch Collieries management grew frustrated as neighbouring mines expanded production to meet war demands. By 1919, the company was forced to liquidate its assets.
Last reviewed/revised: May 30, 2016