Tag Archives: banff
History in my Backyard: The Town of Bankhead
Well, not quite my backyard, exactly, but very close.
In Banff National Park, right near Lake Minnewanka, the ruins of an old coal-mining town are now a picturesque and short hiking trail.
The town of Bankhead existed for a mere 17 years, closing in 1922 when the CPR shut down their coal mine. (The price of coal had dropped, the miners were on strike, and the federal government had begun to consider a more conservation-based ideal in the national parks, as well as dealing with the reduction in royalties… the writing was on the wall.) At its peak in 1911, the mining operation processed 500K tons of coal. When the town closed, the mine entrances were sealed by blasting.
The parts of the town that could be moved were – houses went to Banff or Canmore, the church went to Calgary, and all useful parts of the mining operation taken away. The remaining concrete foundations are now overgrown with vegetation. The area itself is under monitoring due to environmental degradation from the coal. After all, in the early 1900s, no one had any concern (or much idea) of the ruin such operations would bring to the local environment.
Plant life has survived and even flourished, but there are numerous signs warning visitors not to eat anything. The signs are necessary: rhubarb plants grow in many places, huge and flowering. If not for the signs, I would have been tempted to take a cutting; I love rhubarb. Planted by Chinese immigrant mining families that lived in shanties behind the operation, they are some of the hardiest plants around. The meadows are full of wildflowers and grasses; the forest has begun to overtake other buildings.
The path is dotted with plaques and information, detailing the origins and functions of the various buildings. The transformer building includes photographs of some of the town residents and of their daily lives. The managers of the mine were British mostly and the workers were mainly immigrants (Polish, Irish, Italian, Chinese, etc.) They had a soccer team, kids played hockey, much like many towns today. They also had electricity, a modern sewage system. Their drinking water was supplied by a reservoir filled from the Cascade River. The town’s population was as high as 900 residents, so that’s quite a bit of water and sewage to deal with. The town was incredibly modern, even though it didn’t exist for very long.
And why did I come here?
My current novella features a town very much like Bankhead, and I wanted to get a feel for the area and its history before I started writing my second draft. There are bits of information that will make my story that much richer.
I’ll post some more photos of the hike this week; there were just so many to choose from.