Learn more about Leitch Collieries: its history, how it was named, and what it was like for coal miners who worked there.

What is a colliery?

A coal mine. A coal miner is a collier. These are British mining terms carried over into Canada.

How did Leitch Collieries get its name?

A family by the name of Leitch invested in the company, contributing both land and money.

What did Leitch Collieries do?

Leitch Collieries produced coal by mining it, cleaning and sorting it, and sending it off to market.

What is coal?

Coal is made of plant material. When a plant dies, bacteria quickly rot the sugary parts, but the lignin framework that strengthens the plant is left intact and can survive further bacterial attack if it is buried under water and sediment. Over time, heat and pressure from overlying sediments turn the material into coal.

What is coke?

Coke is produced in an oven by cooking coal for 2 days at a temperature of 1,050 degrees Celsius in a low oxygen environment. The volatile organic compounds (methane, ammonia, hydrogen, tar) are burned off, leaving a substance that is almost pure carbon.

Where was the coal mine?

The mine was up the creek valley about 1.5 km north of the processing plant where the ruins are today.

How did they get the coal from the mine to the plant?

Originally they used a rope haulage system. Starting in 1912, a gas-powered locomotive (a unique feature in the Crowsnest Pass at that time) pulled “trips” of coal cars, as many as 50 5-tonne mine cars, from the mine mouth to the tipple.

How high were the wooden trestle bridges on the railway from the mine to the tipple?

One was 27.5 metres and the other was 33.5 metres.

Were the trestle bridges dangerous?

No, but it was dangerous to jump off before crossing them.

In May of 1913, Tom Wright, while riding the train, felt it was travelling too fast and he jumped before crossing the first trestle. He broke his jaw. The train took the runaway switch at the tipple head.

How did they mine the coal?

Miners used the room and pillar method.

An entry tunnel was driven into the coal seam and another tunnel, a counter entry, was dug parallel to the first tunnel. Miners dug raises up through the seam from the counter entry and other miners dug crosscut tunnels intersecting the raises. Large blocks or pillars of coal at least 12 metres by 12 metres were left between the tunnels.

Who found the coal seams that Leitch Collieries mined?

William and John Kerr, who had prospected William Hamilton’s coal mine at Taber, came to the Crowsnest Pass to see what they could find. They lived in the old NWMP barracks while they were exploring. Hamilton became the mine manager at Leitch Collieries.

Was Leitch Collieries coal “dirty?”

If there were problems with non-burnables in one part of the seam, the company had extensive holdings and they could have concentrated on their best openings and seams. The coal was good quality and any “ash” (rock) problem in coke was probably adequately handled by the washery plant.

It’s a mystery why so many rail cars full of coal or coke were rejected because of too much ash.

How fancy was the mine manager’s house?

There were stained glass windows, mahogany mantelpieces on 3 huge fireplaces, a dumbwaiter to carry food from the kitchen up to the dining room, electricity, and indoor plumbing (very rare at that time). 

Why did Leitch Collieries only last 8 years?

World War I disrupted coal and coke markets. The company had spent too much on development and not enough on production, and they were in debt to the banks, which foreclosed.

A last-ditch attempt to sell ended when the buyer died.