After 30 years, miners return to Valley | DrumhellerMail
Last updateMon, 14 Oct 2019 1pm

After 30 years, miners return to Valley

miners2008.jpgThere is excitement at the Atlas Coal Mine, for the past, present, and future.
The National Historic Site in East Coulee, east of downtown Drumheller, on Highway 10 is one of Canada’s most complete coal mining museums in the country with artifacts that are unmatched anywhere. The facility serves as an attraction, as well as a shrine for the coal mining history in the Valley.
In the future, they have big plans to enhance the experience for visitors, as well as to educate about the mines’ history. This includes an interpretive centre, and eventually the underground experience.
The excitement today is there is something going on at the Atlas, and that hasn’t happened in three decades. There is a small group of big men who strap on helmets and lanterns, head up the hill, then duck into the dark recesses, and come out covered in black when the day work is done.
There is mining going on in the Valley, and there has been since last winter. It is a part of the Atlas Coal Mine’s “Tunnel Vision” project. A crew of miners are in the process of re-timbering and sheeting a passageway through the hill that runs from the top entry to the tipple structure, to the mine entrance. The passage has been in a state of decay since the mine closed in 1979. Under the aging tunnel is the original conveyor that transported coal from the mine down the hill to be sorted.
“This is one of the most important things we have done,” said Linda Digby, executive director at the Atlas Coal Mine, “the conveyer is one of our most important resources.”
She adds time is of the essence, had they not embarked on the challenging project, the tunnel, the conveyor and the history may have been left buried.
Manager at the Atlas Coal Mine, Carla Powell is bursting with excitement. She traces her roots back to miners who picked out a living underground in the valley. Seeing the crew come down the hill covered in black coal dust made her emotional.
She says the process of opening up the tunnel should not be lost on visitors. While the prospect of being able to come to the Atlas and head underground is an exciting prospect, equally cool is the process of coming to a site that celebrates the history of mining, only to find it is happening once again, right before their eyes.
For those like Carla who grew up in the Valley, whose fathers, grandfathers and uncles who built the community, one chunk of coal at a time, should understand the significance of the present mining.
“I would hate Drumheller to miss this moment,” she said. “This is history happening right before our eyes.”
The connection to the mining history runs right into the miners’ hands. Butch Napier of Devrial Resources who is leading the project, is a fourth generation miner. He has learned his uncle at one time worked at Nacmine.
“He is very committed to doing something his grandchildren will see later,” said Carla.
The miners are about two-thirds of the way through the hill. It has been a difficult task, and judging by some of the original work they are finding underground, the difficulties are not new. Areas that were cribbed decades ago need to be reinforced today.
Phase one of “Tunnel Vision” is called “Digging in.” It involves the opening of the tunnel as well as restoring and opening some of the historic building on the site.
Phase two is called “Building Up,” and involves completing some of the infrastructure that will help tell the story of the Valley more completely. This means a facility that will increase the mine’s capacity and impact, and allow it to offer more programs.
For visitors to see history in the making and learn more about the past in the Valley, follow Highway 10 east from Central Drumheller past the hoodoos to the community of East Coulee. The Atlas is across the river from the town site. Look for the tipple.

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