Yellowhead Townsite and Mine: Archaeology in Alberta’s Coal Branch

Alberta’s Coal Branch region, southwest of Edson, was once an area bustling with activity, not only due to coal production, but also with the day-to-day goings-on of communities. In its heyday, the Coal Branch supported a population of almost 3,000 people spread out among several towns including Cadomin, Mercoal, Mountain Park, Luscar, Lovettville, Coalspur, Robb, Coal Valley, and Beacon Hill. These communities, though small, had many amenities including stores, community halls, sports fields, schools, churches, and hospitals. Today, many of them have been completely abandoned or are only used for part of the year.

Part of the Yellowhead site, likely during the mid-to-late stages of mine development (Photo Credit: Provincial Archives of Alberta, Edmonton, PR1991.0312 A19987)
Part of the Yellowhead Townsite and Mine which was in operation from 1909-1919 (Photo Credit: Provincial Archives of Alberta, PR1991.0312 A19987)

Yellowhead Mine and its associated “stag camp”, and later townsite, was the first mining operation in production in the Coal Branch. Run by the Yellowhead Pass Coal and Coke Co., the mine began operations in 1909, before railroads or roads reached the area. Since the only way in and out of Yellowhead was by pack trail, the settlement was fairly isolated and difficult to get to. When mining first began, the coal could not be shipped out due to lack of rail access, so coal was stockpiled. The railroad Read more

Where in the world is …

Marlboro Plant, Marlboro (Evaluated as part of the the Yellowhead County Municipal Heritage inventory project).
Marlboro Plant, Marlboro (evaluated as part of the the Yellowhead County Municipal Heritage inventory project).

Marlboro? Wildwood?

Earlier this week I travelled to both Marlboro and Wildwood to attend municipal heritage inventory open houses. You might be scratching your head in confusion asking, “Where in Alberta are those communities located?” Both are located west of Edmonton along the Yellowhead Highway, in Yellowhead County. Marlboro is 26 kilometres west of Edson and Wildwood is approximately an hour’s drive west of Edmonton. Still not feeling overly familiar with Yellowhead County? A previous RETROactive blog post described the County and aspects of its history:

West of Edmonton, Yellowhead County is located along Yellowhead Highway 16. It encompasses 7,012,000 acres stretching from the Pembina River in the east to the Jasper National Park gates in the west. Travellers that frequent this section of the Yellowhead Highway are likely familiar with the Towns of Edson and Hinton and, of course, the iconic Rocky Mountains. What might be less familiar is that alongside these Highway 16 destinations and nestled off into the north and south of this transportation corridor are reminders of a long and varied history. Trapping, logging, farming, coal mining and more recently oil, gas and tourism have all impacted the development of what is now Yellowhead County. Various structures, cultural landscapes and buildings located in the hamlets of Evansburg, Wildwood, Robb, Cadomin and Brule (amongst others) retain glimpses of this diverse history. Miners cabins, ranches, hotels, industrial remains, barns, schools, churches, a pool hall and a water tower exemplify the range of potential historic places.

Brule Mine Landscape, Brule (Evaluated as part of the the Yellowhead County Municipal Heritage inventory project).
Brule Mine Landscape, Brule (evaluated as part of the the Yellowhead County Municipal Heritage inventory project).

The Marlboro and Wildwood open houses were opportunities for community residents to learn about the County’s inventory project. Twenty three different sites were featured (some of the sites are shown in this blog post). Their architectural, social, cultural, historical and/or landmark value was discussed. Attendees responded with enthusiasm and were full of questions about possible Municipal Historic Resource designation, the implications of designation and opportunities for conservation funding assistance. I responded to many of these questions by discussing “designation myths”. (Hmmm … perhaps a great topic for a future blog post?)

Over the coming months, this project will be concluded. To learn more about Yellowhead County’s heritage program, click here.

Written by: Brenda Manweiler, Municipal Heritage Services Officer

Myschuk Barn, near Wildwood (Evaluated as part of the the Yellowhead County Municipal Heritage inventory project).
Myschuk Barn, near Wildwood (evaluated as part of the the Yellowhead County Municipal Heritage inventory project).
Cadomin Photo Studio, Cadomin (Evaluated as part of the the Yellowhead County Municipal Heritage inventory project).
Cadomin Photo Studio, Cadomin (evaluated as part of the the Yellowhead County Municipal Heritage inventory project).
Shinning Bank Farm (Evaluated as part of the the Yellowhead County Municipal Heritage inventory project).
Shinning Bank Farm (evaluated as part of the the Yellowhead County Municipal Heritage inventory project).