Small Resource Railways and Other Lines
Spur Lines in Southern Alberta
Lethbridge Spur Lines
Taber and Elcan Spur Lines
Redcliff-Medicine Hat Spur Lines
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Spur Lines in Southern Alberta

lthough the Canadian Pacific Railway, as successor to the Alberta Railway and Irrigation Company, dominated the coal industry in the Lethbridge area other independent collieries were developed. These collieries, like those at Taber and Medicine Hat-Redcliff had relatively brief histories and a succession of owners. Most of the coal was used for domestic purposes.1

Lethbridge Spur Lines

Lethbridge Spur Lines
Lethbridge Spur Lines

The decision by the CPR to reroute their Crow’s Nest line in 1909 enabled some of these independent mines to be opened. The main beneficiaries were the Chinook Coal Company and the Diamond Coal Company. The CPR mines were served by a spur to Hardieville with two short offsets. The CPR was also the contractor for the short railways to Commerce, Royal View and Coalhurst.2 Until the line was built to the Chinook mine (Commerce) the coal was transported via the Diamond City Coal Co. Railway.3 The Diamond Coal Company constructed its own railway and provided its own locomotive to haul the coal cars. It also purchased a passenger car.4 The Lethbridge Coal Company at first transported its coal over an 800-foot aerial tramway across the Oldman River where it was hauled by horse and wagon to Lethbridge. By 1921 a narrow-gauge (3 foot) railway had been built to connect with the CPR line. The coal was loaded in 5-ton cars and hauled by a gasoline powered locomotive.5

Alex Johnston in a brief essay on the coal mines in the Lethbridge area quotes from an unattributed article written in 1947:6

Few citizens of Lethbridge realize the immense size of the underground workings. To date, over 24 million tons of coal has been removed, necessitating the driving of over 1,800 miles of tunneling in the form of entries and (rooms) varying in width from eight to 30 fit. Production figures are more astonishing when it is realized that, if the coal were loaded into boxcars, it would form 36 trains stretching from Lethbridge to Calgary or, if piled on the ground, would cover the populated area of Lethbridge to the depth of a four-storey building.

Taber and Elcan Spur Lines

Taber and Elcan Spur Lines
Taber and Elcan Spur Lines

Short spur lines were built at Taber and Elcan. (Elcan is the latter part of tabernacle spelled backwards.) Apparently a spur was built to gravel pits at Elcan in 1909 and extended in 1911 to the Rock Springs Coal and Brick Company.7 According to R.F.P. Bowman the name Elcan appeared in CPR timetables until 1934 though the spur track had long since been removed.8 A spur to the Regal Collieries was opened for traffic in 1917. The company contracted to have the railway built and provided a 75-horse power engine to haul the coal cars to the CPR Crow’s Nest line.9

Redcliff-Medicine Hat Spur Lines

Redcliff-Medicine Hat Spur Lines
Redcliff-Medicine Hat Spur Lines

Coal and shale mines were opened at Redcliff. A spur line from the CPR mainline to the Bayliss mine (1882) appears on a map published in 1885.10 This line was taken up after 1910.11 Spurs were also built into three other mining sites, brick and tile making along with pottery becoming major industries at Redcliff.12 At Medicine Hat, a spur line approximately 7 miles in length was laid to the Ajax mine also variously known as the Ansley, and the Swan.13 The total length of the spur was not built at one time. It appears that the initial part of the line was built to serve the Maple Leaf Mill (formerly the Hedley-Shaw) approximately a mile from the Canadian Pacific main line.14 In 1913 the line was extended by the city to the then city boundary where it was to connect up with a line (3.5 miles) from the Ajax mine.15 However the mine extension was not completed until 1919.16 An engine and passenger car were leased (or bought) from the CPR, the latter supplying the cars for transporting the coal.17 A turnaround was made in the vicinity of the mill where the CPR took over the consist.18 In 1946 the track was abandoned to the turnaround but the mine continued to operate until 1967.19

Originally, a proposal was put forward in 1917 to transport the coal over the South Saskatchewan River by an aerial tramway and be transported over the Redcliff Brick and Coal Company spur, which would have been extended for that purpose.20

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Notes | Bibliography | Abbreviations
1. ERCNB Coal Mines Atlas.
2. Canadian Pacific Railway Plans and Profiles, 1910–11.
3. Provincial Archives of Alberta, 77.237/247 a-d, Mine Inspectors' Reports, 6 March 1912.
4. PAA, 77.237/104 a-c, Department of Public Works, Annual Report, 24 August 1909.
5. PAA, 77.237/676.
6. Sir Alexander Galt Museum and Archives, 19 August 1982.
7. Taber Historical Committee, from Tank 77 to Taber To-day, (Taber:1977), p. 526.
8. R.F.P. Bowman, Railways in Southern Alberta, Occasional Paper No. 4, Historical Society of Alberta,Whoop-up Country chapter (Lethbridge: 1973), p. 28.
9. PAA, 77.237/228 a-d, 23 October 1917.
10. R.G. McConnell, Geological and Topographical Map of the Cypress Hills, Wood Mountain and Adjacent Country, 1885.
11. Letter from C. Dacre, Secretary, Redcliff Museum, 24 February 1987.
12. PAA, 77.237/104 a-c; Sectional Map No. 66.
13. ERCB Mines Atlas; Medicine Hat Museum M84.1.26.
14. W. Hart, The Rest of the Story-The Beginning of the Ajax Mine, Medicine Hat Museum, M.81.22.1.
15. Canadian Railway and Marine World, January 1919, p. 16; Medicine Hat Museum M.84.26.1, The Story of the Coal Industry in the Early Days in Medicine Hat, Medicine Hat Historical and Museum Foundation.
17. Medicine Hat Museum M.84.1.26.
18. W. Hart, The Rest of the Story, M.81.22.1.
19. PAA, 77.237/772 a-1; Medicine Hat Museum M.84.1.26.
20. Medicine Hat Museum, M.74.54; M.84.1.26.