This Land: Leitch Collieries, Crowsnest Pass, AB

May 28, 2022

The Leitch Collieries, Limited was a state-of-the-art coal mining company. It was built to last; however, due to several unfortunate events, it was only in operation for 8 short years.

It is located east of Frank Slide, and it was the only completely Canadian-owned coal mining operation in the Crowsnest Pass.

Power House

Coal mining requires lots of power, so the operation had its own power plant. It was 30 feet wide by 200 feet long and constructed of sandstone and mortar.

All repairs were done on site by the carpenters, blacksmiths, and machinists on staff. There was even a locomotive repair area next to the machine shop. This area could house 2 locomotives, which were serviced once per month. Some of the work would be done from down below (which is now the location of the public restrooms).

Manager’s House

Billy Hamilton was the manager and a part-owner. His wife, Ellen, designed the spacious home for their family of 6 children, staff, and occasional guests. The home had indoor plumbing, 3 fireplaces, hardwood flooring, and a dumbwaiter.

I love the photograph of 2 of the Hamilton girls and their enormous dog, Major. The little boy is from the Kerr family.

Another favorite photo is of the Kerr family. You can see that the family dog is at the center in their life, or at least the dog found the Geographical Center of Attention, as most dogs do. The mother is just beaming! Haha!

Coke Ovens

The collieries also produced coke, which is essential for smelting metal ores. Coke is simply “cooked” coal. This process purifies the coal, allowing it to burn at a much higher temperature. Construction of the coke ovens began in 1910, but by the time the company closed at the start of WWI, only the first 32 of the 101 ovens had ever been fired.

After the company’s remaining assets were liquidated in the 1920s, the structures were dismantled or vandalized. The coal seams were mined in the 1940s by Mohawk Collieries.

This Land: Sandon Ghost Town

May 26, 2022

Sandon Ghost Town is mostly family owned and operated by the Wright, Pellowski, and Turok families. This historical site receives no government funding. It exists due to the dedication and passion of these families, their friends, and volunteers. And it’s FREE. (Camping is $15 non-electric, $20 electric, including firewood.)

We came to see the trolley buses, but we were so captivated by the history. We arrived at dusk and easily found a campsite along the river. We walked around the ghost town briefly, but it was getting dark, so we decided to save it until morning.

In the morning, we went to the little mobile cantina operated by Vida Turok. She was serving up an enormous breakfast to Hal Wright, the station manager of Silversmith Power & Light Generating Station. Hal invited us to join him, and we ordered breakfast too.

Hal is so passionate about Sandon. Although he’s an engineer, he’s a brilliant historian. We were drawn in by his wealth of knowledge. He also told us about the trolley buses and how the collection will include a bus from every place they originally operated.

Brill Trolley Interpretive Display

Each trolley bus has a history. Once Hal knew our personal history, he told us which buses would be of interest to us because they were once in cities where we had lived. Bus #2368 once traveled the streets of Saskatoon. There was a photograph of it in service on September 26, 1969 at 20th St. and 2nd Ave.

Trolley buses were preferred over streetcars. Because they rode on tires rather than rails, they could get around stopped traffic. Most of the coaches in the collection were doomed to be wrecked, until they were rescued. Some had sat at auto wreckers for years. Others had been used as bunkies at cottages. All of them are fascinating pieces of Canadian manufacturing history and slices of urban life.

Silversmith Power & Light Generating Station

Hydro electricity has been generated in Sandon since 1897 at this original historic facility! Hal Wright is the station manager and he maintains and operates the equipment as it always has been done. No computers here! He records electrical levels, pressures, etc. using pen and paper in a log book. The machinery is fascinating. It was so well designed that friction is extremely low. The bearing housings were at ambient temperature. Hal will give you a free, personalized tour of this working artifact. His enthusiasm is contagious. Be prepared to be amazed!

Sandon also has a steam locomotive and freight train exhibit, a visitor’s center, a museum (operated by the Sandon Historical Society), and numerous hiking and biking trails.

This Land: New Denver, BC

May 25, 2022

“This land was made for you and me.” This is a line from the song by Woody Guthrie. In the 1960s, Canadian folk singers, The Travellers, changed the lyrics to include Canadian locations. The theme of our cross-Canada journey this year is: This Land. Although we won’t be visiting all the places mentioned in the song, we will see as much as we can.

Our first stop in our journey coincidentally was New Denver, BC, the location of the Japanese internment camp during WWII. We saw a sign for Kohan Reflection Garden, and we are never ones to miss a Japanese garden, so we stopped. However, we had not made the connection that this was the location of an internment camp most Canadians are familiar with.

During WWII, innocent Japanese-Canadians were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to remote internment camps. This was a deplorable event in Canada’s history, and one we should not be too eager to repeat. Fear can be used to justify all sorts of atrocities. These past two years have shown us how quickly people can be turned against each other through weaponized fear.

The Kohan Reflection Garden is located along Slocan Lake. At this elevation, spring had just begun, and the blossoms were a wonderful tribute to all the beautiful Japanese Canadians who suffered.

Also located in town is the Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre. Unfortunately, it was after-hours, but we were able to peak through the fence. The community center and 3 cabins for internees are all that remain of this appalling chapter.

This land. Our land.

Never forget. Never repeat.