Nordegg was a company town of Brazeau Collieries Limited. The mine was operated between 1914 and 1955 and employed 1,100 miners at its peak. The town itself was home to 3,500 people housed in 450 structures. The town takes its name from the German Martin Nordegg who personally discovered the coal seam here and financed its extraction through his connections with European capital. Interestingly when the Great War broke out, Marin Nordegg's ownership was snatched up by the Canadian government and the name was changed to Brazeau. The company store, running by the name of the Big Horn Trading Company supplied the town's goods. During the Great Depression, a relief camp was located in Nordegg. In 1937, the company began to manufacture briquettes and by 1950 was the largest producers of these in Canada, with an output of 1500 tons daily. Strip mining began in addition to the underground methods in 1946. Nordegg was no stranger to calamity. On October 31st, 1941 disaster stuck when an explosion killed 29 miners. In June of 1950 a fire ripped through the plant, but this was persistently rebuilt only to meet the end of the coal era a few years later. On January 14th 1955, the mine was closed for good.
By 1906, significant Alberta coal fields were already being exploited around Lethbridge, Canmore and the Crowsnest Pass. In 1907, reports of potential coal deposits in the foothills of Central Alberta attracted interest from investors, such as Martin Nordegg, who, acting as a representative of German business interests, staked a claim on some potential coal fields in this area. With further assistance from British and Belgian investors, Nordegg's German investment group entered a partnership with the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR), which resulted in the formation of Brazeau Collieries Ltd. In 1911, construction began on a processing plant, ancillary structures and a nearby town site. Two slope mines were sunk soon after. By 1914, more than 100,000 tons of coal had been extracted and the mine was processing 1,000 tons per day. By 1923, it was the most productive mine in Alberta. The railway consumed most of the mine's produce. Although the partnership with the CNoR promoted the mine's rapid growth, dependence on the railway meant that the mine was beholden to the railway's fuel needs and also had to deal with rapidly changing railroad technology. During the Great Depression, the mine was severely hurt by a sharp drop in the railway's demand for coal, due to the lack of agricultural rail traffic. Production rebounded in the 1940s when the Second World War prompted a surge in demand for coal from both the railroad and from commercial markets. Demand was so high that when the mine's processing facility was destroyed by fire in 1950, the company went heavily into debt replacing it with a larger, more modern, fireproof facility. However, in 1948, Canada's railways began converting to diesel-powered locomotives. Also, in the early 1950s, the high cost of transporting coal and the increasing availability of fuel oil made coal uncompetitive in most commercial markets. The loss of both the railways and eastern Canadian markets meant the end of the Brazeau mines. Production dropped off dramatically after 1950 and the site was officially closed in January 1955.
The Nordegg / Brazeau Collieries Mine site is an excellent collection of early to mid twentieth century structures necessary for coal extraction and processing. The oldest structures on the site, built between 1913 and 1923, are all support buildings, such as warehouses, small dwellings, a carpenter/blacksmith shop and a lamp house. Their frame construction, brick clad exterior walls design and layout is typical of coal mine structures of that period. Other structures, such as a garage built in 1932 and the boiler, hoists, pump houses, wash house, coal chutes and storage bins built in 1946 demonstrate the evolution of the site as the coal processing technology developed. The site is dominated by the processing plant, which includes coal storage bins, the elevator, conveyor ramps, crushers, and the briquette plants. These structures, all built in 1950/51, were constructed to be purely functional and were adapted to the demands of the coal-mining industry. Their steel-frame construction and sheet metal-clad exterior walls are fireproof and give the structure a striking industrial appearance. The overall layout of the site and the placement of the structures on a hillside show the path taken by the mined coal from the extraction point above the site, through mine portals via the narrow-gauge rail system to the processing plant and, ultimately, to the rail siding and rail car loading facilities at the foot of the hill. A number of large refuse piles and slack heaps also serve to demonstrate the production capacity of the facility.