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Mine Disasters

The numerous and horrible coal gas explosions in the mines were a constant threat in the early years of mining in the Crowsnest Pass. The cause of the explosions often was difficult to determine but careful detective work revealed that the likely cause of some of the major explosions was lightening. Lightening, it was found, could strike the rails of the mine tramways and run from the surface deep into the mines where it could ignite pockets of methane and coal dust. Grounding the mine railways helped solve the problem. Experiments also showed that wetting the mines and using coal ash and limestone dust in the dusty areas of the mines could greatly reduce the likelihood of explosions.

The Ministry of Mines Annual Report for 1916 described the conditions at Michel the night of the explosion in the No. 3 East Mine when 12 men were killed.

"The evening of August 8th was intensely close and sultry, with every indication of a thunder-storm. Shortly after 11 p.m., when shifts were changing, the storm broke over the valley, and was at its maximum force shortly after 11 to about half-past 11.

"The electrical storm is cited by most witnesses as being the most severe they had ever experienced; the thunder was deafening, the lightening-flashes most vivid, and the rain almost torrential; and it is presumed that the explosion occurred during the height of the storm."

The report went on:

"The explosion must have developed intense force as the mine was badly wrecked; the main entrance was completely blocked... and required three weeks of continuous shifts to clean up this part alone. Entrance to the mine was temporarily obtained through a disused prospect opening."

"Following the alarm sent out by Overman Cunliffe, there was, in keeping with other mine disasters the world over, plenty of willing hands ready to assist in the dangerous exploratory and relief work...."

"Telegraph and telephone connections with outside points were much delayed by reason of the electrical storm, but by 4 a.m. a special train arrived from Fernie, 25 miles [40 km] distant, bringing General Manager W. R. Wilson, Superintendent Caufield, Coal Creek Colliery, T. H. Williams, Inspector of Mines, mine-rescue teams, and the rescue apparatus of the company from Coal Creek, as well as the Government apparatus from the Mine-rescue Station, Fernie, this being in charge of Charles O'Brien, Instructor at the Government station."

Working in the mines was dangerous and many miners lost their lives deep in the shafts of the Crowsnest mines. Accidents from rock falls were common but the biggest worry was from gas explosions. The following were some of the worst mine disasters in the early days of Crowsnest Pass coal mining.

  • May 22, 1902, Coal Creek Mine Disaster.

    An underground explosion in the No. 2 Mine at the Coal Creek Colliery took the lives of 128 men in one of the worst mining disasters in Canadian history.

  • November 1904, Explosion at Morrissey.

    A methane outburst killed 14 men.

  • December 9, 1910, Explosion at Bellevue, Alberta.

    An underground explosion in the coal mine killed 30 miners.

  • June 19, 1914, Hillcrest Mine Disaster.

    On the eve of the First World War, an underground explosion at Hillcrest, Alberta, killed 189 of the 235 miners on shift in the workings. The Hillcrest cemetery eventually became an historic site. Methane gas and coal dust probably ignited by a spark caused the explosion.

  • April 15, 1917, Coal Creek Explosion.

    A coal dust explosion in the No. 3 East Mine at Michel killed 34 miners.
  • August 8, 1916, Explosion at Michel.

During a thunderstorm, an explosion kills 12 miners.

  • September 19, 1926, Hillcrest Mine Explosion.

    An explosion underground killed two miners.

  • November 23, 1926, Coleman Mine Explosion.

    Just two months later an explosion killed ten miners.

  • July 5, 1938, Michel Mine Explosion

    In the last explosion for many years, three miners were killed at Michel.

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