19640059000 | Miners, horses and coal cars at the entrances to the first two drift mines in the river valley at what became Lethbridge, AB, 1883
Miners, horses and coal cars at the entrances to the first two drift mines in the river valley at what became Lethbridge, AB, 1883
1883, 19th century
Silver salts on paper
This artefact belongs to : © Sir Alexander Galt Museum and Archives
Keys to History
By 1893, nine drift mines had been opened in the river valley and five were still producing coal. Drift mines were characterized by two horizontal tunnels, called entries, spaced six meters apart and dug right into the coal seam a distance of about 250 meters. One entry was an inlet for fresh air and the way by which men went into the mine, and horse-drawn cars of coal came out. The second entry was a ventilation outlet. At the far end of the second entry, a chimney was sunk from the side of the coulee to the ventilation outlet. A fire was kept burning there to heat the air. The faster that hot air rushed up the chimney, the more fresh air was drawn into the first entry from outside the mine.
Coal was extracted by digging rooms about five meters wide at right angles to the main entries. These rooms were about ten m apart along the whole length of the entries, and they were timbered for support while the miners took out the coal. The coal was loaded into horse-drawn cars and taken out of the mine to the incline railway along a system that connected all the drift mines. This method of mining was called room and pillar, or chamber working. When the mine was worked out, the miners went to the far end of the entries and began removing the support pillars of coal and any timbering as they moved back toward the mine entrance. The entries and rooms soon collapsed, and the mine entrance was finally sealed.
Drift mines, although easy to dig, could only follow the coal seam for about 300 m due to the limitations of the ventilation systems used in the 1880s and 1890s. At Lethbridge, that point was reached about 1887.
The drift mines had almost no impact on buildings in Lethbridge. For example, the entrances to drift mines passed the Galt Hospital to the north and south, but undermining near the building was carefully avoided. Today the hospital building, now home to the Sir Alexander Galt Museum and Archives, sits on a pillar of coal left untouched by the miners.
Drift coal mining in the river valley did not completely cease when the Galt companies quit in 1893. Lethbridge had a municipally owned and operated mine from June 1909 until October 1941. The coal was used primarily in the municipal power plant to generate electricity for the city.
In 1883 Fred L. Russell took this photograph of miners, horses and coal cars at the entrances to the first two drift mines in the river valley at what became Lethbridge.