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No longer a mining town, but a town with a mine

In the 40 years since the coal mines shut down, Canmore has seen a dramatic change – but from Mineside to South Canmore and over to Teepee Town, a surprising amount of 1979 Canmore remains
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Given how much Canmore has changed since the mines closed in 1979, it can be easy to think that the old town has been completely erased. 

Sure, in the 40 years since the coal mines shut down, Canmore has seen a dramatic change. But from Mineside to South Canmore and over to Teepee Town, a surprising amount of 1979 Canmore remains. 

When the mines closed July 13, 1979, Canmore was a town of about 3,000 residents. Canmore’s first coal mine – the No. 1 Mine – opened in 1886, and coal mining sustained Canmore as its key industry until after the Second World War when Canmore’s economy slowly began to diversify. 

By the 1960s and ‘70s, all aspects that drive Canmore today: tourism and the idea of Canmore as a resort, second-home ownership and the influence of both provincial and national parks, were in place.

Edna Appleby, a former Canmore teacher and author of Canmore: The Story of an Era, put it well when she wrote that Canmore was no longer a mining town, but a town with a mine. 

Even so, coal mining still had a large presence, and by 1979, the town’s identity had been shaped through 93 years of coal mining.

 

Mineside 

Of all the regions of Canmore, Mineside is the most changed as nearly all the buildings and infrastructure connected to the mines were demolished after the mines closed. 

Even so, three of Canmore’s historical buildings are on Mineside, the Directors’ Cabin, the McNeill Heritage Home and the Lamphouse. 

The Lamphouse, built from Rundle stone at the No. 2 Mine in 1918, is today the only building on any of Canmore’s mine sites that remains from that era. 

However, upstream from the No. 2 Mine along Canmore Creek at the No. 1 Mine, the heavy concrete footing for the hoist that hauled coal cars from the mine can be found near the trail that passes through the mine site. Footings for the fan house can be found at the top of the ravine overlooking the south side of the creek. The No. 1 Mine closed and its buildings were demolished in 1916.

From the No. 1 Mine, it’s a short distance to Quarry Lake or Canmore Creek No. 3 Surface Mine. Surface or strip mining was no longer used after 1974. Mine engineer Gerry Stephenson was given the job of reclaiming the site and rather than fill it in, Stephenson created Quarry Lake, which by 1979 was already a popular and much-loved legacy of coal mining in Canmore. 

Another much-loved legacy of the mine that was still active in 1979 is the spur line and the Engine Bridge, now the centre piece of Canmore’s trail system, where the coal train ran, hauled by a bright blue locomotive covered in coal dust.

Overlooking the spur line, tucked into the north side of Hospital Hill, the McNeill Heritage Home was built in 1907 by Walter F. McNeill after he took charge of the H.W. McNeill Co. following his father’s death. It’s a short distance from the McNeill Heritage Home along the spur line and the dike to the Directors’ Cabin, built in 1910 for the directors of the Canadian Anthracite Coal Co., which owned but did not operate the Canmore mines at that time.

Both Hospital Hill (Three Sisters Drive) and the Horseshoe (Rundle Crescent) still have a some of their original homes, a few of which may in fact be houses brought down from the Georgetown mine site after it closed in 1916. Other houses that were around in 1979 can be seen at the bottom of Hospital Hill (two small ones could date back to the No. 1 Mine era) and again as Three Sisters Drive begins to climb towards Three Sisters and Quarry Lake.

 

opera_house_colour_low_resThe Canmore Opera House.

 

South Canmore

In 1979, South Canmore, the residential area south of downtown, was a mix of miners’ houses built after the Canadian Anthracite Coal Co. leased 108 lots in the early 1900s and houses and cabins were built between the 1950s and the ’70s. Many of the cabins were built by Calgarians. 

Some of those houses, such as the two that face one another on Fifth Avenue immediately west of the Roundhouse daycare, and a few of the cabins are still there. As it is today, much of South Canmore also lacked sidewalks in 1979. 

Canmore kids still attended the Model School in 1979. Opened in 1922, the six-room school was the first building on Townside to have electricity. The adjoining buildings were built between 1956 and 1979. 

The Model School, meanwhile, was torn down in 1992, while the rest of the school buildings, which had become Lawrence Grassi Middle School, were demolished in 2009.

While there’s no trace of those buildings left, the stand of spruce trees along Seventh Ave. and the two tall spruce trees next to the bus loop off Fifth Street and Sixth Avenue mark the northeast and the southwest corners of the school complex. 

 

Downtown

In 1979, houses mixed with commercial buildings throughout the downtown core, including along Main Street, and while only a handful of those houses remain on Main Street, a surprising number of commercial buildings in use today were there by 1979.

O’Canada Soapworks and The Settler’s Cabin are in two of those Main Street houses. Two other Main Street houses around in 1979 are still in use as houses: one, with light blue siding, stands next to the Ralph Connor Memorial Church and other, a small gray house, can be found next to The Settler’s Cabin. 

The west end of Main Street beyond Eighth Avenue is largely unchanged from what it was in 1979, including the two-storey home built in 1910 for mine manager J.J. Morris. Next to it, the Canmore Guide & Scout Hall started out as a community hall and then served as Canmore’s kindergarten in 1970s. 

The L-shaped log building that is now home to The Wood on the northeast corner opened July 1, 1977 with the restaurant Zigg’s Junction, Bux book store and the first iteration of Rusticana as its tenants. Canmore Printcraft operated out of the basement.

Kitty-corner from The Wood, on the southwest corner of Main Street and Eighth Ave., Rexall Pharmacy, meanwhile, began as a medical clinic that later became Mironuk I.D.A. Pharmacy. Another medical clinic, Three Sisters’ Medical Clinic, and pharmacy, Canmore Drugs, was located at 713 Main St.

Finally, on the northwest corner of Main Street and Eighth Avenue, the small brown building now used by Rebound Cycle as a storeroom housed Stonecrop Pottery. Stonecrop moved from its Bow Valley Trail into that location, an old automobile garage, in 1976. 

Moving north away from Eighth Avenue, The Great Canadian Dollar Store, Valhalla Pure and Stonewaters Home Elements are in buildings that were also in use in 1979. At that time, they were Macleod’s Hardware, Horbay’s department store and Marra’s Grocery. By 1979, Marra’s was operating out of its new building, which today, is the back half of Stonewaters. 

The CIBC has been in its Main Street location since at least 1975. 

And 40 years ago, the only place to buy alcohol was at the local Alberta Liquor Control Board store, the small brown building that now serves as the Town of Canmore’s Arts and Events office.

The building that is now home to Good Earth Café started as a gas station, possibly in the 1950s, before it was converted into the Mountain Peaks that later became the Fireside Inn. 

The one-storey building on the corner of Main Street and Sixth Avenue that houses Century 21 and Bellacrusta was home to the Sears mail order store, Tiger Takeout and Trofimuk’s dry cleaner. Across Main Street, the Canmore Professional Centre, on the corner of Main Street and Sixth Avenue was in operation by 1979, as was the Bow Valley Motel, now the Lamphouse Hotel, and the Drake Inn, which at that time, was Tatranka Lodge.

Finally, mixed in with those downtown houses and the few commercial buildings are most of Canmore’s historic and historical treasures, including the Ralph Connor Memorial United Church (1891), the Northwest Mounted Police Barracks (1893), the Canmore Hotel (1890), St. Michael’s Anglican Church (1893), the Canmore Miners’ Union Hall (built between 1910 and 1913) and The Three Sisters Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion.

North of Main Street, along Eighth Avenue and Fairholme Drive, the Bow Valley Senior Citizens’ Lodge opened in 1976. Many of the houses in the neighborhoods that surround the Seniors Lodge, including Mt. Peechee Place, Mt. Rundle Place and Ninth Street had been built by 1979, as well.

Continuing north past the Seniors Centre, the Canmore Golf Course, having opened in the 1960s, was in full swing. 

 

Teepee Town/Bow Valley Trail 

Teepee Town, named after the concrete tipi that stood at the site of the A-1 Motel, and while the A-1 is now just an empty lot, it offered the only swimming pool in town in 1979. 

Like South Canmore, some of the 1979-era houses still stand, as do some of its businesses

At the western end of Bow Valley Trail, the Akai Motel, the Rocky Mountain Ski Lodge and Rundle Mountain Lodge, along with Craig’s Way Station and the Petro-Canada gas station still stand from 1979 Canmore, as does Canmore’s third police station (now the Trinity Bible Church). 

Travelling east along Bow Valley Trail, three cabins on the corner of Bow Valley Trail and William Street are all that is left of Straw’s Cabins, which was just one of the gas stations and cabin camps spread out along the 1A. 

Old Canmore Road, meanwhile, marks the 1979 entrance to Canmore from the Trans-Canada
Highway.

Canmore from 1979, like Old Canmore Road, is still there. There’s no doubt that Canmore has changed a great deal in the 40 years since the mines closed, but if you’re new to Canmore and are wondering what the town used to look like, or if you’re old to Canmore and are feeling nostalgic, it doesn’t take long to see that old Canmore is still there. 

 



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