The history of Drumheller is a series of tales that have almost become legend. Sam Drumheller stumbling on Thomas Greentree’s homestead; discovering coal seams; the mad dash to register lands to exploit the coal; the coin toss to name the community; contested land deals and trips along the frozen Red Deer River in a Model T Ford.
A couple names that are not heard as often in the retelling of the birth of Drumheller are Garnet Napier Coyle and Jesse Gouge. These two were the first to commercially exploit the vast coal reserves in the valley, and next year will be the 100th anniversary of the Newcastle Mine.
Linda Digby, executive director of the Atlas Coal Mine is hoping to build community support to celebrate the centennial of coal mining in the valley, and has scheduled a meeting in the near future to look at ideas.
“The Atlas Coal Mine Historical Society preserves and presents the coal mining history of the entire Drumheller Valley, from Nacmine and Midland, up to Wayne, and out to East Coulee. The whole Drumheller Valley was founded on coal. We believe the 100th anniversary of our founding is something to celebrate, and something to commemorate,” said Digby.
“Drumheller, this is your story. Let’s get together and talk about what this means to you.”
In 1911, Coyle, who owned a hardware store in Acme, and Gouge, who owned a farm implement dealership, partnered and the first commercial coal mine in the valley was registered. The Rosedale Mine and the Star Mine quickly followed the Newcastle. In 1912, eight other mines opened and by 1921, there were 27 mines operating in the valley.
The Newcastle and a handful of other predate the incorporation of the Town of Drumheller. For Digby, this is where much of the modern history of the valley begins, with the mines. It attracted business and investments in the valley as well as thousands from all over the world to eke out a living in Canada.
Gouge was successful in business ventures, and was a community leader serving on the local Board of Trade as well as the Rotary Club. Coyle was known to have the Midas touch, had interests in a number of mines, and eventually owned both the Regent Theatre and the Napier, which still bears his name.
The remnants of this history live on through the many institutions that celebrate the days of coal mining such as the Atlas Coal Mine, and the East Coulee School Museum. It is reflected in a historic downtown Drumheller where many of the buildings sprung up during this boom, and through the families and names that have endured for the near century since the roots of mining began.
Digby feels it is important to mark the century since coal came to prominence, and it is important the community is involved in creating the celebrations. They are looking for ideas and involvement in creating these celebrations as well as a Miners Memorial.
A meeting has been scheduled for Monday, March 29 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Civic Centre to brainstorm for ideas on how to celebrate the century of coal mining and explore the question what does coal mining mean to individuals as well as Drumheller.
For more information, contact Linda Digby at 403-822-2220.