19640462000 | Nicholas Sheran at the entrance to his mine at The Coal Banks, AB, 1881

Nicholas Sheran at the entrance to his mine at The Coal Banks, AB, 1881
1881, 19th century
Silver salts on paper
13 x 14 cm
This artefact belongs to : © Sir Alexander Galt Museum and Archives
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Keys to History

The arrival of the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) on the southwest prairies was the catalyst for the development of the area's first industrial enterprise - coal mining. Nicholas Sheran was an American trader and adventurer who travelled in the region before starting a ferry service across the Belly (now Oldman) River at a place the Blackfoot called Sik-ooh-kotoks (black rocks), in spring 1874. He also mined coal from a forty-five cm seam near his ferry crossing. The coal made its way to Fort Benton, Montana, on wagon trains returning from the whiskey posts along the Whoop Up Trail. When the NWMP established Fort Macleod that fall, Sheran recognized both a new market and changing circumstances, and moved his operations to a place called The Crossing.

  • What

    Nicholas Sheran (1841-82) stands at the entrance to his coal mine. Geologist and scientist George Mercer Dawson took this photograph in 1881.

  • Where

    Sheran foreshadowed the Galt enterprises in southern Alberta by being involved in two businesses - transportation and coal mining.

  • When

    After Sheran's death in May 1882, ownership of the mine passed to his sister, Mrs. Marcella McFarland. She effectively disinherited her brother's two Métis sons, Charles and William, by shipping them off to the Grey Nuns in Edmonton.

  • Who

    Marcella then recruited a cousin, James Sheran, to come from the eastern United States to operate the mine. The result was a long and bitter legal battle between them over ownership of the mine.