Before the rush to fill thousands of mining jobs in Drumheller came the rush of young men with designs of making a start in business in the new frontier.
One of those men was Jesse Gouge, an American who came north and became a mining magnate in the valley.
Jesse Gouge was the oldest of eight children of William and Neoma (Demsey) Gouge. He was born in 1867 in Decatur, Illinois He studied in the public school system in his hometown, but left in his third year of high school to take a commercial course at Northern Illinois College. He then went on to study law in Webster City Iowa. He entered the Bar in 1897. In 1902, he was admitted to the district circuit courts of the United States and built his practice in Webster City and Waterloo, Iowa.
In 1907, he came north to Canada. According to the Hills of Home, he first settled in Manitoba and then Calgary to enter the real estate business. He came to Acme to open an implements business.
His foray into the mining business originates from a story where Gouge had occasion to travel to the Verdant Valley to set up a binder. He crossed the Red Deer River at the Greentree Ferry, and met a man with a load of coal dug out from a riverbank in the Newcastle area. Gouge was so impressed with the quality of coal, he hurried to the land office in Calgary and secured a lease in Drumheller.
Gouge, not having the funds needed to establish a mine, teamed up with Garnett Coyle, a Montréaler who owned a hardware store in Acme, and formed the Newcastle Coal Company.
Together they began the commercial coal industry in Drumheller. Mine #317 was the first established in the valley, and the industry took off.
He was a part of other ventures including the Alberta Block Coal Company and the Newcastle Collieries. He also maintained interest in oilfields in Roundup, Montana and Centralia, Illinois.
Gouge became an active member of the community and became a member of the local Rotary and Chamber of Commerce. He was also a member of the Board of Trade and the Coal Miners Operators Association. The family was committed to local causes as well as promoting music.
Gouge married Maude McGuire, and the family grew with a son and daughter.
Gouge was also involved in local politics. He had allegiances to the Liberal Party and ran federally in the Bow River Riding in 1917 and 1929, but never won.
Mrs. Gouge died in 1938, and Jesse retired to Victoria. He died in 1953. Although he had retired from professional life, at the time of his death he was still secretary treasurer of the Newcastle Collieries Ltd.
Gouge left a lasting impression on the valley and ushered in a period of industrial growth unparalleled since.
As a feature during the Centennial year of The Drumheller Mail, we are looking for stories from our readers on Drumheller’s Heroes. These are people from the past or present who have made a significant impact for the betterment of the community. We look forward to your ideas and submissions. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information, or call 403-823-2580.