Coleman National Historic Site of Canada

Coleman, Alberta
View of Coleman National Historic Site of Canada, showing the mine site, 1998. (© Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, L. Felske, 1998.)
General view
(© Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, L. Felske, 1998.)
Address : Coleman, Alberta

Recognition Statute: Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
Designation Date: 2001-10-17
  • 1903 to 1971 (Construction)
  • 1903 to 1945 (Significant)
  • 1971 to 1971 (Significant)
  • 1955 to 1955 (Significant)
  • 1970 to 1970 (Significant)
  • 1907 to 1960 (Significant)

Event, Person, Organization:
  • Crowsnest Pass Railway construction  (Event)
  • International Coal and Coke Company  (Organization)
Other Name(s):
  • Coleman  (Designation Name)
  • International Coal and Coke Company  (Other Name)
Research Report Number: 2001-SUA June


Existing plaque:  18th Avenue and 77th Street, Coleman, Alberta

Coleman played a vital role in making the Crowsnest Pass one of Canadas most productive coalfields until the 1950s. Between 1903 and 1913, the International and McGillivray mines helped to fuel the boom years of the region. These operations relied on sophisticated preparation techniques and skilled miners of many ethnic backgrounds to produce large quantities of coal and coke. Coleman is one of the few Canadian sites where substantial physical evidence exists of the surface plant and of the town, where mine management and militant unions vied for control.

Description of Historic Place

Coleman National Historic Site of Canada is a small community situated in the Crowsnest Pass, which is the major transportation route through the southern Canadian Rockies. The distinctive character and layout of the historic townsite is determined by a flat area of land bounded by the Crowsnest River to the south, and the irregular line of the steeply sided outcropping of rock to the north. The townsite itself is divided through the middle by the Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR) railway line, which separates the mine site from the community areas on the north side. The remnants of the historic mine site consist of a few service buildings, some of which date from the first decades of the mine's operation, a row of coke ovens and the massive steel-frame and metal processing plant which dates from 1971. The main street of the town runs parallel to the tracks and consists of a visually cohesive collection of predominantly one- and two-storey buildings set flush to the property line, but featuring a mix of roof shapes and materials that include brick, wood-frame, stucco, and concrete. The street north of the main commercial areas features a mix of institutional and residential buildings, which include: the church high school, bank, fire hall, and the original offices of the International Coal and Coke. West Coleman, which is cut off from the rest of the town by an outcropping of rock, forms a distinctive area within the townsite that is characterized by a dense grouping of very modest, wood-framed miners' cottages set on narrow lots with shallow setbacks. Official recognition refers to the surface plant, the area around the mine entry and into western and downtown Coleman.

Heritage Value

Coleman was designated as a national historic site of Canada in 2001 because: it was one of the most important coal producing centres in the Crowsnest Pass, the greatest coalfield in Alberta and southeastern British Columbia during the key period prior to 1913, and afterwards, until the early 1950s; the site's resources are unique in the region, consisting of elements relating to mine entries, surface plant, rail link, and community - all of the major components involved in the planning of a typical coal mining operation; Coleman is the only place in the region where substantial physical evidence of the historical community exists adjacent to significant mining related resources; the site illustrates important aspects of mining culture related to the role of companies, technology, labour, the state, and class and ethnic aspects of community development, in the evolution of the industry.

The town of Coleman was founded in 1903 by the International Coal and Coke Company which developed the adjacent mine site. Although underground mining ceased around 1960, the surface plant continued to process coal extracted from nearby open pit mines until 1983.

Source: Historic sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 2001.

Character-Defining Elements

The key elements relating to the heritage value of this site include: the natural landscape defined by the floodplain of the Crowsnest River and bounded to the north by the steeply-sided, irregular outcropping of rock; the layout of the town plan defined by the wide streets lined with small lots, laneways, and the railway corridor that separates the mine site from the town; the division of the district into three clearly defined zones consisting of the mine site, West Coleman with its small miner's cottages, and the core area made up of the commercial main street and adjacent streets featuring a mix of institutional, industrial and residential buildings; the mine site with its vestiges of the historic surface plant consisting of machine shop, wash house, coke ovens, power plant and related historic landscape features; the residential character of West Coleman defined by the wide streets, lined with small wooden houses, with similar, although not identical, shallow setbacks away from the public right of way, often separated by low fencing; the small scale of the typical miners' cottage found in West Coleman and in core area of the town which was typically wood-frame, one- or one-and-a-half storeys in height with a front gable, side gable or hipped roof; the larger scale and more elaborate architectural detailing of the mine manager's house; the character of the main street which features one- to three-storey wood, stucco, or brick buildings featuring flat or front gable roofs and set flush with the sidewalk; the functional diversity of the buildings in the core area which reflect the range of services in a small mining community including a church, two schools, a bank, a fire hall, a mine office, a newspaper office, an original hospital, and police barracks; landscape features within the community, including the public park on the main street and the miner's path, which provided a pedestrian link between the houses located on the height of land above the town and the mine sites.