Heinz's Report - July 12, 2004
Coal Creek #9 Mine
This is Fernie�s Centennial Year so our gang of happy adventurers decided that it would be appropriate to connect our �Elk Valley Amazing Summer Adventures� with the history and heritage of this special place. Our first trip in this vein was to bike up to one of the old coal mine sites in the valley � notably the Coal Creek #9 Mine. Coal Creek #9 mine officially closed in 1958, but it's heyday was much earlier. Our guide for this trip was Andy who had been reconnoitering this area for some time and told us that �it was an easy winding road�.
It is easily accessible off Coal Creek Road, about seven kilometers from the Aquatic Centre. On the right of the road you will see a number of tracks going up the side of an old coal slag heap. This is the normal access if you�re hiking, but Andy�s �easy road� is about 200 metres further up Coal Creek road, same side. While the road does have some gentle grades, it is a bit of slog up some 10 or 11 switchbacks and you have to be in the granny gear all the way. The elevation gain to the buildings is about 300 or so metres and it took us about an hour to ride up. This is in addition to the 30 or so minute ride from the Aquatic Centre in town. We couldn�t make it all of the way up on bikes as the last few switchbacks are quite steep and now mainly overgrown. It was hard for us to imagine these brave souls driving their load of coal down this narrow and winding road bed!
Apparently, the reason for locating this mine so high up off the valley floor was to avoid the collapsing of tunnels (called bumping) and it was thought by locating the mines higher up there would be less chance of these occurrences. It did require skillful driving down narrow roads and also hoisting supplies up. At the site, the parts of the hoisthouse and the upper end of the steep hoistway and track still remain, but require concentration and focus as you clamber about the steep slopes.
Another big concern for the miners of this era was the constant threat of mine explosions from the methane gas found in the coal seams. Most mines had large ventilation fans built at the surface which were used to draw air out of the mines. Special shafts were dug to permit fresh air to enter the workings. Some of the #9 fan house and shafts are still standing.
As we wandered around the mine site we tried to imagine how it must have been in the Coal Valley back then. Except for the ruins, it is so natural and organic now - nature has taken over again. We listened hard to hear the ghosts of the past in the whispering cottonwoods and pines. It is ironic that with our insatiable appetite for fossil fuels, the methane gas in the Elk Valley coalfield is now actually becoming attractive as a new fuel source and the BC government is going to allow the exploitation of this natural landscape for Coal Bed Methane (CBM)gas. Maybe in a few years we will actually get to experience again what it was like back then!
After we soaked in the quiet, eerie ambience of the site we headed down to our bikes and had an enjoyable coast down the road, being rewarded for our hard work coming up. It went by much too fast � less than a quarter of the time going up. Time for the whole trip � about 4 hours, including a good hour for exploring and experiencing the site. If you're not up to riding or hiking up to the mine site, you can take the road on the left just before the bridge on Coal Creek Road. This leads to the old town site of Coal Creek which was a thriving community from 1897 until the advent of the automobile, when people started to 'commute' from Fernie. We did this trip the day before but I didn't have my camera with me. Not much remains of this place but you can get a sense of the old main street as you bike past some of the old foundations.
A very worthwhile adventure back into the history of this interesting, diverse and picturesque valley, a story that continues to evolve into the 21st century.