Spirit of the Crowsnest

Spirit of the Crowsnest: The story of unions in the coal towns (Download PDF) was written for the Alberta Labour History Institute (ALHI) by well-known Edmonton author Linda Goyette. It provides an account of labour’s past as it played out in communities along Alberta’s Crowsnest Pass and tells a gripping story of the daily struggles and dangers faced by miners in there – that deep valley linking Alberta and British Columbia in the southern Rocky Mountains, is famous for its beauty and its disasters, its coal and the strong people who mined it. After the arrival of the CPR in 1885, the Crowsnest became the biggest coal centre in Alberta, out-producing other mining regions in the province such as Drumheller and the Coal Branch. Ten coal towns sprang up on the Alberta side of the Pass. Five remain: Blairmore, Frank, Bellevue, Coleman and Hillcrest.

It’s a story of the close communities that developed is based on personal interviews of people who remembered the whistles, whose blasts called miners to work, or to cross the picket lines, or most feared, signaled a mining disaster – until the discovery of oil silenced the whistles and put the communities into decline. A mainly immigrant population that mined for coal in the Crowsnest fought battles that are at the heart of Alberta’s trade union movement. Their struggles helped to produce some of the most fundamental gains for labour, including workers’ compensation and a basic union right to be recognized in the workplace. Through it all, Crowsnest Pass workers insisted on the basic dignity of their work and the human strength at the heart of their communities. It is what the historians rediscover every time they venture into the Pass. It is the legacy of the Crowsnest, handed on to us.