Sunday, September 13, 2015


September 13th, 2015

Nordegg. Most local people know that Nordegg was an old mining town that is nestled at the foothills close to the Banff National Park boundary, along Highway 11 (David Thompson Highway), West of the oil and gas town of Rocky Mountain House. But what they don't know, is the history as to how it came about, and the history that is there now!

Recently, a bunch of us local, Calgary, photographers found out that a lot of the old buildings in Nordegg were going to get torn down for re-development. From my visit yesterday, they've already started with a very small amount of development on the South side. They even have a board up with the lots that will be for sale. Luckily so far, there are still some old buildings standing.

This was my first venture right into the town of Nordegg, and after all these years of driving by it, I started to regret not coming here sooner with my camera. I came to "Main Street" where on the corner sits a beautiful brick building, which was the Big Horn Trading Company building.This building used to supply the town with all of it's goods. Up the road is the old bank building, all boarded up (luckily for me the door was open yesterday) and will probably be one of the unlucky buildings that gets torn down. Next to that is the beautiful community church. The pastor and his wife, a wonderful couple, were out taking things inside the two year old new basement of the church (this was built 2 years ago after when a large forest fire threatened the town) and we started to have a grand chat. They told me where the train trestles were, which buildings were which, and the history on the church. It was built in 1935 and was originally a Catholic Church. Now, it is non-denominational. When the original Priest left the town, he removed the bell. After a few years, amazingly, the bell was found and returned, and now they ring the bell every Sunday before service, and on special occasions.

After that, my journey took me to the part I have always loved, and that is the railway. As a lad in England, I used to go train spotting and have always loved trains and the history behind them. The title photo is the first trestle away from the mine..the track continues for a fair ways then the track stops as most of the track in this area (like in the South East of Alberta too..) has been removed. Walking through the overgrown railbed, you can almost hear the trains taking out the massive amounts of coal from the mine and shipping it off to other towns and stops along the way.

I'll now post some information from multiple sites, to give you more of an in-depth history on the mine and the town itself. This truly was an amazing spur of the moment road trip, and a site I will definitely have to re-visit in a couple of years to document the changes. Enjoy your walk through this historic site!

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. 

The heritage value of the Nordegg / Brazeau Collieries Minesite lies in its association with the development of Alberta's coal-mining industry. It is also an excellent example of coal-mining and coal-processing industrial architecture. 

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. 



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