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Ribbon Creek...2

The Ribbon Creek mine's importance to the overall company operations took an even greater leap in 1950 when the Nordegg mine suffered a devastating fire in 1950, closing mine operations for nearly 18 months. Desperate to secure some revenues, the company increased its operations at the Kananaskis wilderness mine site and dispatched dozens its best out-of-work Nordegg miners. Desperate to secure some revenues, the company increased its operations at the Kananaskis wilderness mine site and dispatched dozens its best out-of-work Nordegg miners, including D'Amico. "It was a nice place, although there was not much in the way of amenities," says D'Amico, who was joined by his wife and two children. "I was the boss and I had a good crew of miners."

Ribbon Creek Main Street circa 1950 Main Street - winter -1950
Ribbon Creek Main Street. Tar shacks and trailer homes around 1950.
Photo courtesy of Ruth Oltmann (private collection).
Main Street in 1950 following a snow storm.
Photo courtesy of Ruth Oltmann (private collection).

The townsite's temporary location was close to the mining operational centre. As a result, living conditions were Spartan. Given the remote, albeit spectacular, setting and the total lack of modern-day services available elsewhere, it was for many of the residents a throw back to pioneer times. The company built a bunkhouse for the single men. There was also a dozen tar paper shacks used by families as well as half a dozen prefabricated two-bedroom homes for senior mine officials. Electricity was supplied through transformers located along Calgary Power lines which passed by the townsite. However, there was no water or sewage system. Residents got their water from a spring behind the mine office or from Ribbon Creek.

There was a small store with limited supplies but the main shopping items were purchased 32 kilometers northwest in Seebe. Grocery orders were compiled and once a week supplies were delivered to the village. A doctor visited the village once a week but there was a qualified resident nurse at the townsite, the wife of a miner. In case of an emergency, an ambulance was on site to take an injured or sick person to hospital in Canmore. For the first three years of the village's life, children went to school in Seebe, but by 1951 a small school was built in the general area of the present youth hostel to accommodate 26 children from grades one to eight.

Winter scene -1950 Miner beside tar shack residence - 1950
Winter scene in 1950.
Photo courtesy of Ruth Oltmann (private collection. )
Miner beside his tar shack residence in 1950.
Photo courtesy of Ruth Oltmann (private collection).
Snow covered street - 1950

In the beginning, the mine's operational methods were also of pioneer vintage, using horses to transport men and equipment. But eventually the underground mine, working two eight-hour shifts and using a traditional room and pillar system, became fully mechanized, with electricity supplied by Calgary Power, and the implementation of coal-cutting machines, duckbill loaders, shaker conveyors and belt conveyors. The coal was then transported by a fleet trucks 35 kilometers north to Morley Flats at Ozada, a CPR station on the Stoney Indian Reserve.

Norman Holt held the contract to haul the coal. He had a fleet of 21 trucks and trailers and employed 40 men in two shifts from Monday to midnight on Friday to move the coal from Ribbon Creek to Ozada. At the time, the road through the Kananaskis Valley was gravel and dangerous, especially sections that climbed over the mountain where Barrier Lake is today.

Snow covered street in Ribbon Creek around 1950, looking towards Mount Bogart.
Photo courtesy of Verda McAffer.
Ribbon Creek and Mt. Allan circa 1950
Ribbon Creek area and Mount Allan in winter, around 1950.
Photo courtesy of Verda McAffer.

"I remember the first snowstorm we had and a lot of drivers were not used to snow," said Holt. We lost five trucks in one day." Along the way, truck drivers passed the sites of two former Second World War prisoner-of war camps, one near Barrier Lake, and the other two kilometres southwest of the Ozada CPR station.

When the trucks dumped their loads off at Ozada, it was back to Ribbon Creek for another haul. Although Holt, who lived in Kovach, said the Ribbon Creek was one of the best contracts he ever had, the hauling of coal by truck would in part cause the doom of coal mining in the Kananaskis.

Kananaskis WWII POW Camp
Kananaskis Second World War prisoner-of-war camp, north of Ribbon Creek.
Photo courtesy of Ruth Oltmann (private collection).
The decision four decades earlier not to finance the Kananaskis operation, which would have included a rail line to the site, came back to haunt the company: it was just too unprofitable to haul the coal by truck from the mine to Ozada. As well, eastern market outlets were dwindling, freight rates to the central Ontario market increased and briquettes proved difficult to sell.
House ruins Truck service station foundation
© Johnnie Bachusky
© Johnnie Bachusky
Ruins of a house at Ribbon Creek townsite. Foundation of truck service station at Ribbon Creek.

In February, 1952, two months after Nordegg's mine resumed operations following its devastating fire, the last coal was mined in Kananaskis. The miners and families at Kovach and Ozada scattered to other Alberta coal mining communities, some back to Nordegg while others went to either Canmore or the Crowsnest Pass. Most of the equipment and some of the buildings followed them but many Ribbon Creek buildings stood silent and vacant until 1969 when they were demolished. By 1976, the provincial government created Kananaskis Provincial Park and Kananaskis Country and future coal mining was prohibited.