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Ribbon Creek
Kovach's coal mining dreams have given over to an Olympic mountain paradise.

From the parking lot at Ribbon Creek, a popular recreational area in Alberta's mountainous Kananaskis Valley, 115 kilometres southwest of Calgary, a large open meadow can be seen along the eastern slopes of Mount Allan, the spectacular venue for alpine events during the 1988 Winter Olympics. At the eastern base of the mountain, a half kilometer from the parking lot near Highway 40, hikers sometimes wander into another clearing; a narrow avenue sprinkled with gravel and chunks of coal. At the far end behind bushes and trees, there are odd cement foundations and a cluster of rusted pipes popping out of the ground. A further search in the bushes uncovers the remains of tarpaper shacks and scores of rusted-out tin cans. There is even the remains of a two-man biffy in the woods, just out of sight from day-users of a picnic area. These are the last fading remnants of a ghost town called Kovach, named after district ranger Joe Kovach, who worked in the Ribbon Creek area.

Former Ribbon Creek mine manager Zupi D'Amico
"We didn't know who this guy Kovach was. We always referred to the place as Ribbon Crick," said Zupido D'Amico, mine manager from 1950 to 1952. The townsite of Kovach is now long gone, much of it now covered by the Ribbon Creek parking lot. The alpine meadow is where the open pit coal mine used to be from 1947 to 1952. Underneath the ski runs at Nakiska are long abandoned coal mining tunnels.
Abandoned rail line pokes out of hill
© Johnnie Bachusky
Former Ribbon Creek mine manager Zupi D'Amico visits the former townsite in 2001.
Abandoned mine shed
© Johnnie Bachusky
An abandoned rail line pokes out of a
hill at the former Ribbon Creek minesite.
© Johnnie Bachusky
An abandoned mine shed along an alpine trail half-way up Mount Allan towards the minesite.
For most of the first half of the 20th century, the Ribbon Creek area was a place for entrepreneurial dreams. Renowned geologist Donald Bogart Dowling made the first detailed geological surveys of the Ribbon Creek area from 1903 to 1909. Dowling, whose work also included drawing the first boundaries of Jasper National Park and assessing large quantities of coal strata throughout the Rocky Mountains, was one of many people then taking a keen interest in the valley, including famed trapper George W. Pocaterra, who prospected for coal in the Evan-Thomas Creek valley and along the slopes of Elpocca Mountain near Highwood Pass.
Wooden ruins of a horse stable Two-man outhouse
© Johnnie Bachusky
© Johnnie Bachusky
The crumbling wooden ruins of a horse stable, used by miners during Ribbon Creek's brief history. A two-man outhouse near the townsite.
Cement garage foundation Cement garage foundation
© Johnnie Bachusky
© Johnnie Bachusky
Above left and right: Cement foundation of a garage to house the coal trucks which hauled the Ribbon Creek coal to Ozada.
The geologist's findings were enthusiastically embraced by German entrepreneur Martin Cohn, who came to Canada in 1906 as the emissary of the German Development Company (GDC), which was formed to investigate the potential of western Canada's natural resources. In 1907, Cohn, accompanied by Dowling, made an expedition on horseback through Kananaskis Valley and staked a claim on Mount Allan. He then returned to Germany to report on Ribbon Creek's potential to his financial backers. At first, German experts scoffed at the notion of any significant high-quality coal deposits in the Canadian Rockies, but a follow-up first-hand inspection by the Berlin Academy of Mining convinced German financiers to follow Cohn's lead.
Root cellar behind tar shack ruins Tar shack ruins
© Johnnie Bachusky © Johnnie Bachusky
Above left and right: A root cellar behind the ruins of a tar shack which housed a miner and his family.
Ribbon Creek Hostel, formerly the school
That same year, GDC staked four coal fields in Big West Country, northwest of the Kananaskis coalfield in central-west Alberta. A decision had to be made on which area to develop first: the southern coal field in the Kananaskis Valley or the northern coal fields in Big West Country. Cohn favored Kananaskis as it would be closer to eastern Canadian and American markets and existing rail lines, and therefore cheaper to develop. However, European decision makers had other ideas. GDC hired Belgium banker Eugene de Wassermann in 1909 to organize the funding through the most prestigious financial houses in Europe. Wassermann worked on commission and the more money he could raise, the greater his earnings.
© Johnnie Bachusky
The Ribbon Creek Hostel, former site of the town's school.

The startup costs to develop the northern coal fields would demand far greater investment capital. Wasserman, always mindful of his commission fees, was adamant
and determined to develop the northern coal fields first. The resulting decision by this ambitious European fund-r
aiser was to have an enormous impact on future Alberta settlement, and accompanying economic, social and environmental policy that defines west-central Alberta and Kananaskis Country even today. The immediate consequence, however, was that Kananaskis coal field was left undeveloped for nearly four decades.

Truck service station ruins Coal slag
© Johnnie Bachusky
© Johnnie Bachusky
Pipes from the former site of Ribbon Creek's truck service station still poke out of the ground a half century after the town closed.
A pile of coal slag near the Ribbon Creek townsite.

Martin Cohn, already deeply attached to the beauty and potential of the Canadian Rockies, soon changed his last name to Nordegg, the name of the town built to service the northern coal fields, which by 1909 was under the ownership of Toronto-based Brazeau Collieries. Although Nordegg's German background led to his downfall from the coal mining industry during the First World War, the mine and town he spearheaded became one of the most dynamic and innovative coal mining communities in western Canada.

In the late 1940s, Brazeau Collieries, which also assumed control of the Kananaskis coal field in 1909, decided to develop the Ribbon Creek area to capitalize on the opportunities in the Ontario anthracite coal market and the popularity of fuel briquettes, already a successful venture at Nordegg. A strip mine was opened on the lower southeastern slopes of Mount Allan in 1947, followed by an underground mine the next year. Plans were immediately in place to build a permanent townsite but a temporary locality was quickly put in place at the bottom of the mountain for nearly 150 miners and their families. The settlement was never incorporated as a town and was classed only as a village or hamlet, listed officially as Kovach in the Gazetteer of Canada.

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