More than 139 mines were registered in the Drumheller Valley in the early part of the twentieth century. Thousands of people, most of them recent immigrants, poured into the area.
The population was overwhelmingly male, and most were bachelors. When not working, many of the men gambled, drank, bootlegged, and had fistfights for sport.
Underground conditions were often no better. Some sites required miners to crawl in and pick coal while lying on their sides. At other mines, men and ponies had to quickly flee rising waters when pumps failed. There were 28 labour strikes in 1918 alone. The “coal miners’ civil war,” as the locals called it, lasted until 1936.
Drumheller coal was at its highest demand at the start of World War II, by which time working conditions had improved immensely. But coal’s reign ended when oil was struck at Leduc, Alberta, in 1947.
Today, the Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site stands as a legacy to the coal mines of the Drumheller Valley and the people who worked in them. The most complete historic coal mine in Canada, it’s also home to the nation's last wooden tipple.
Drumheller celebrated its centennial in 2013 with a series of events that marked its history as a centre for coal mining. A traditional procession of miners was held alongside other activities to showcase the area’s rich history and culture.