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Source: Edmonton archives
Mining in the Beverly Area
In the early twentieth century Alberta was one of Canada’s main producers of coal. Several coal deposits run through the Edmonton area. The largest is the Clover Bar seam in northeast Edmonton, which is located underneath the Beverly area. This seam produced 95% of the coal produced in the Edmonton area.
Coal was first mined around Edmonton by the Hudson’s Bay Company in the 1840s, and regular mining operations began in the 1880s. Usually operated by one or two men, these small mines were typically dug right into the banks of the North Saskatchewan River valley where the coal seams had become visible through erosion. These small operations were commonly called “gopher hole” mines.
Coal mining in Alberta was seasonal work. Because there were so many mines in operation, there was not enough demand to make them work at full capacity. Winter was the busy season for coal mining, as cold weather increased the demand for coal. Although various organizations tried to convince the public to buy coal in the summer, when it was much cheaper, the practice never caught on.
Coal mining was an important industry around Edmonton. Between 1880 and 1974, when the last commercial mine in Edmonton closed, there were 153 mines and prospects recorded in the city. Mine workings covering 3,260 acres produced over 15 million tons of coal. Coal mining had a sizable impact on the local economy as a significant employer and generator of revenue. For example, all of the equipment used in the Humberstone Mine was purchased in Edmonton, and much of the miners’ salaries were reinvested in the local businesses.
By 1914 coal mining was a large industry, with over 8000 people employed by mines in Alberta. The coal mined around Edmonton had a relatively high moisture and ash content. Considered domestic coal, it was used primarily to heat homes in Alberta, though some was exported to neighbouring provinces.
Beverly as Mining Town
The first residents of European origin in the Beverly area settled on River Lots 36, 38, 40 and 42, which were surveyed in 1882. Lured by rich soil, coal seams and less expensive land than in nearby Edmonton, most settlers came from Germany, Scotland, England, Holland and Ukraine. In 1906 Beverly was incorporated as a hamlet. The Village of Beverly was incorporated in 1913 with the amalgamation of the sub-divisions of Beacon Heights, Beacon Heights Annex, Beverly Heights and Beverly Heights Annex. Using 50th St. as its western boundary with Edmonton, the new village of Beverly had over 400 residents, as well as a school, and several churches and stores. In 1914, the population had grown to 1000 and the community was incorporated as the Town of Beverly.
Over fifty mines were recorded as operating in Beverly between 1900 and 1950. The actual number is likely much higher, as small operations that lasted only a season or two may not have been recorded. Mining was a major employer for residents of Beverly, and the industry was central to the community’s development. Some of the major mines included the Clover Bar Mines (ca.1897-1923), the Old Bush Mine (1905-1925), the Bush Davidson Mine (1917-1944), and the Beverly Coal Mine (1931-1951).
Among the first merchants in town were Dan and Anastasia Danilowich, who operated a general store at 4508 – 118 Avenue. The couple emigrated from Ukraine in 1908 and settled in Beverly when Dan was hired as pit boss for Humberstone Mine. Dan and his brother John built the first general store in Beverly.
Many early municipal officials were also involved with the mining industry. They included:
Robert Walker, Town Reeve (1913-1914) and Mayor (1924-1926). Walker worked as a coal miner, laundry truck driver and elevator operator at the Beverly Coal Mine.
Robert Hay, Mayor (1916-1917). Hay was a union organizer.
Bradley Simpson, Mayor (1922-1923). Simpson was a carpenter and miner.
Thomas Kinch, Mayor (1927-1931). Kinch was also a carpenter and miner.
Frank Wagner, Mayor (1936-1937). Wagner worked as a mine labourer. He won the election on a platform of suing the Beverly Mine for closing.
Frederick Humberstone, the younger brother of William Humberstone and a partner in the Humberstone Coal Mine, was also active in political life. He was elected a School Board Trustee four times, and served as mayor from 1918 to 1921. Fred helped operate the Humberstone Farm, and lived in the farmhouse with William and Beata in the final years of his life. He died on January 28, 1921 at 64 years of age while serving as mayor.
Beverly was officially declared a mining town in 1932 by the Board of Public Utility Commissioners for the Province of Alberta.
The Mining Process
Operations at the Humberstone Mine in 1918
Perhaps the high point of the Humberstone Mine was in 1918. In this year it was reported in the Edmonton Journal that the mine was the best equipped in the Clover Bar field, with a capacity of 1,000 tons per day.
The mine originally used the room and pillar mining method, where miners would dig out coal using a pick and shovel, leaving “pillars” of coal in the centre of rooms to help hold up the ceiling. The tunnels were also shored up by timber men, using seven foot lengths of spruce, poplar and tamarack. The logs were cut by a crew near Entwistle and delivered to the mine.
The most common mining job was that of “hand pick” miners. Hand-pick miners were considered the most skilled. Using a pick and shovel, they worked in rooms as large as fifteen feet wide, though the spaces could be much smaller. In the winter of 1918 there were ninety hand pick miners. They could mine between twelve and twenty car loads in an eight hour shift.
In 1918 there were also six machine “punch” miners, which were used in narrow spaces. One of these machines, operated by two men, could pull out between twenty and thirty car loads in a shift. The machines dug out a section of coal from below, then the whole mass would be knocked down and pulled out.
Once the coal was freed from the ground, it was put into carts on tracks and pulled out by horses. The horses, known as pit ponies, lived underground and rarely went outside. As assets of the mine they were kept in the best of health. Once pulled to the main track of the mine the cars were picked up by “donkey” engines, powered by steam or compressed air. In a matter of minutes the engine could take between 15 to 20 carts to the bottom of the shaft. The coal was then dumped into hoist cars which brought it to the surface where it was poured over a shaker screen to separate and grade it based on size. A steam powered box car loader then poured the coal directly into box cars to be shipped away by rail.
Olde Towne Beverly plus bonus Fire Trucks
For those that don’t know, Beverly is a former village and town that amalgamated with the City of Edmonton on December 31, 1961. It was founded to serve the many coal mines in the North Saskatchewan River’s north bank, and was, at the time, unfashionably far from Edmonton. Wikipedia tells me the first coal mine was open in 1897, and that folks started calling the place ‘Beverly’ in 1904. The Great Depression was particularly hard on Beverly, and after the coal dried up, Beverly fell upon hard times.
This continues into today, as Beverly could fairly be called a ‘gritty’ neighborhood. Like all great neighborhoods though, Beverly’s residents are fiercely proud, and set on improving the area’s image with or without the city’s help.
Have a good and healthy season.
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