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Hillcrest

Visitors traveling west on Highway 3 in the Crowsnest Pass, shortly after driving through Bellevue, can locate an access road which leads to Hillcrest — the site of the worst mining disaster in Canadian history. The Hillcrest Mine Disaster, which took place early on the morning shift on June 19, 1914, resulted in the deaths of 189 miners. Survivors were reported as saying the blast came like “the crack of a cannon and without the slightest warning.” Many of the men were killed by the force of the explosion, but the great majority died from a lack of oxygen, leaving those not killed by the force of the blast to breathe only deadly carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. There had been a report from the previous night shift of a build-up of potentially deadly methane gas.

Of the 235 men on shift in the mine that morning, only 46 survived. 130 of the 189 dead miners left widows with approximately 400 children under the age of 10. The town of Hillcrest Mines, which then had a population of about 1,000, had been devastated. The dead miners were buried in two mass graves, which are immaculately kept up today for visitors to view and remember the sacrifice of the workers and their devastated families and community.

Below, the ruins of the Hillcrest Mine, where 189 miners were killed in an explosion in 1914. Although the mine is long closed, the town lives on.
Hillcrest Mine HIllcrest Mine
© Johnnie Bachusky © Johnnie Bachusky

After coal was first discovered at Hillcrest in 1898, mineral rights were purchased for the land staked out by Hillcrest Coal and Coke Company, which was owned by Charles Plummer Hill of Port Hill, Idaho. Hillcrest Coal and Coke Co. owned the townsite as well as the mine, all the buildings, railroad, timber and water rights. The company quickly erected cottages and homes for its workers and in 1911 were approaching their production objective of 2000 tons per day.

With prosperous beginnings, the coal mining community was tragically turned upside down in 1914 and devastated once more on September 19, 1926 when another blast ripped through the mine, killing two more men. The mine resumed operations once more but finally closed in 1939.

 

To the right and below, abandoned mine buildings and foundation ruins.

Abandoned mine building
Foundation ruins

© Johnnie Bachusky

Most of the ruins of Hillcrest’s mining legacy have been overtaken by the mountain forest.
Abandoned mine building

© Johnnie Bachusky

Although most of Hillcrest’s mine ruins are accessible by walking trails, reminders of the historic mine can be located off beaten paths.
Abandoned mine building

© Johnnie Bachusky

Mining debris is still scattered throughout Hillcrest’s former mining properties.
Today, a small quiet village struggles on.
The ruins of the Hillcrest mine are scattered through the nearby mountain bushes and trails, providing visitors with haunting images and memories of pioneer courage and tragedy.

© Johnnie Bachusky

This former mine building is now serving only hikers and mountain bikers.