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CHAPTER 6


DISCOVERY AND DEVELOPMENT OF COAL RESOURCES

 

            Coal is sometimes referred to as “black diamonds,” and platinum as “white gold.”  The discovery of coal was an important event in our local history, more important than the first discoverers realized.  Development of coal mines contributed much to the prosperity of Princeton for many years.  The trade winds have slackened.  We may be in the doldrums now, but the future Princeton will be determined largely by the use that is made of the untapped coal resources of Similkameen and Tulameen valleys.

 

            E.R. Hughes, now of Victoria, succeeded Jack Biggs as mines inspector with headquarters in Princeton, writing to “The Spotlight,” 3 January, 1951, estimated the Princeton coal area as about forty square miles, with deposits of “at least 300,000,000 tons,” exclusive of the Coalmont and Nicola deposits.  The recorded output in 1951 was 1,640,518 tons.  The largest annual output from any property was 81,780 tons by the Granby colliery in 1940.  Mr. Hughes pointed out that none of the mines now inactive were closed because their coal resources were exhausted.  He estimated that coal mined represented less than one per cent of probable reserves.

 

EARLIEST COAL DISCOVERY

 

            According to Mrs. S.L. Allison, coal was discovered in Similkameen before the mainland was proclaimed a crown colony on 19 November, 1858.  In the summer and fall of that year John Fall Allison explored the valley and found coal on the right bank of the Similkameen, just above the forks, near the east end of the river bridge, and in the hill that rises on the south side of the new road to Hedley.  This outcropping attracted early settlers who mined their own coal, and in winter-time hauled it on sleighs over the ice to their homes.

 

            The site of Similkameen’s first coal discovery was not forgotten.  In 1898 the Vermilion Forks, Mining and Development Co. Ltd., was organized, and bought from S.D. Sands the Princeton townsite.  Mr. Sands had married Rose Allison, from whose father he had the land.  The company secured 1200 acres of coal land adjoining Princeton.  In 1909 John Gulliford tunnelled “Discovery Hill,” and hauled coal by horse-team to Princeton and Hedley.  By this time its commercial possibilities were apparent.  W.J. Waterman had interested Authur Hickling in Similkameen, and this led to the formation of an English company which financed and reorganized the Vermilion Forks Company under the name of Princeton Coal and Land Co. Ltd.  In 1909 Ernest Waterman was appointed local director, with Charles Graham superintendent of the Princeton colliery.  The output that year was only 150 tons but the following year (James Holden mine manager) it rose to 11,868 long tons.  In 1909 only 32 men were employed.  In 1910 the number rose to 67, and by 1912 there were 110 men on the payroll.

 

            Mr. Waterman continued as general manager when Francis Glover was appointed manager in 1914, with Andrew McKendrick overman since 1912.  The coal seam, originally worked by a small adit on the river bank, was now operated by a slope 12 X 9 sunk 1100 feet from the bench above.  During the latter part of 1914 there was trouble with fire in the old workings, and difficulty in sealing off this area.  By 1916 the mine was served by a spur from the completed Kettle Valley railway.  The banner year was 1917 when 52,000 tons of coal were mined.  William James succeeded Andrew McKendrick as overman in 1918.

 

            The development of a prospect at Findlay Creek was undertaken in November, 1923.  In this year George Stringer (of Stringer & Sons, England) took an option on the mine, and a new company was formed.  Difficulties at the old mine increased:  fires in No. 1 mine continued; and in No. 2, further east, crushing caused by intrusive rocks increased.  This led the management to sink a new shaft on the west side of the river adjoining the town.  Here a good seam of coal was developed, but its location (beneath the town) was a source of trouble.  The old mine was abandoned in 1924, and the new one in February, 1926.

            The last remaining company mine buildings on the townsite were near the corner of Endcliffe Avenue and Bridge Street.  Here were two large, wooden buildings.  During the second World War, they were used by collectors to store waste paper collected for the war effort.  In 1949 the area was bought by the Princeton School Board, and the buildings taken down.

 

            It is no longer possible to trace the spur from the road to the original mine.  For some years after the mine closed this was a favourite walk.  As late as 1928 underground fires broke through the surface, lighting up the bench at night-time.  It was a weird sight.  No further work was done at the Princeton colliery till 1948.  From 1909 to 1924 333,000 tons of coal had been mined, and it was known that much remained.  It was hoped to tap “a little bit of hell that did not catch fire.”  In September, 1948 Fred Mannix & Co. Ltd. commenced strip-mining; but this was discontinued in April, 1949.  The property was then leased to Joseph P. Wukelick, who with a few men did some hand-stripping at intervals till February, 1951.

           

UNITED EMPIRE (RED TRIANGLE)

 

            Princeton’s second coal mine was operated by The United Empire Mining Co., which in 1908 secured nine claims 2 ½ miles northeast of Princeton, on One Mile Creek, sometimes referred to as Hunter Creek.  The B.C. Portland Cement Co. completed its massive stone buildings in 1911.  The spur from the GNR was completed and extended to the mine, which hoped to supply the necessary coal for the cement plant operations.  The balance was to be shipped across the Line.  The Cement Plant operation is a story by itself, and must be told elsewhere.  Sufficient here to state that it did not fulfill great expectations, and was soon closed down.  This had an adverse affect on the nearby coal mine, which shut down in May, 1914.  W.C. McDougall and M.H. Whitehouse were president and vice-president of the coal company; with E.G. Marston secretary-treasurer, and W.G. Simpson mine manager.  The mine closed in spite of the fact that the company had been reorganized in 1913 under the name of the East Princeton Coal and Land Co.

 

            In 1917 the company appeared as the Tulameen Coal Co.; and in 1933 as the Red Triangle Coal Co., whose president was J.T. Maage of Tonasket, Washington.  W.R. Foster was superintendent.  A tunnel, 825 feet, was run to tap standing pillars.  W. Forsyth was shift boss during part of 1935, after which year we hear no more about this company.

 

CHARLIE HUNTER’S MINE

 

            Charlie Hunter and Ben Bowen were inseparably connected with the Tulameen Valley Coal Mine, discovered in 1924.  Charles Alexander Hunter was born in Scotland on 1 April, 1875, and was a soldier during World War I.  He had a ranch about 1 ½ miles west of Princeton.  It was reached by a wagon road following the north bank of the Tulameen west from Princeton.  Here he discovered coal, and he and Ben Bowen did much of the exploratory work.  They started with next to nothing, but by hard work and wise management were able to make a success of their mine.  By the end of 1924 ten men were employed.  The year’s output was 1073 tons.  Work on KVR spur was begun, and 6831 tons of coal were mined in 1925.  Production increased each succeeding year.

 

            All the necessary machinery and equipment for a big mine were installed.  Dave Francis was overman in 1927, when 42 men were employed, and output was 14,406 tons.  John Bennett became mine superintendent in 1928, with Andrew McKendrick manager, and Thomas Dobie, T. Rowbottom and W. Foster firebosses.  That year 50 men were employed, 17,886 tons were produced, and the average wage was $5.20 per day.

 

            In 1929 the Tulameen Coal Miners Ltd. was organized, with M.Y. Alvazoff managing director, John C. Bennett mine superintendent, William Strang overman, and Thomas Dobie and Robert Gourley firebosses.  Robert Dixon became president in 1930.  Then followed difficult years.  The long years of the Depression began suddenly with the crash of stock markets in the fall of 1929.  R.B. Bennett had won the federal election in 1927, and remained in power till he was succeeded by W.L. Mackenzie King.  There was a spate of political parties:  farmers, CCF, Social Credit, who believed that something was radically wrong with the “system.”  Unemployment increased each year, and it was little consolation to know that conditions were no better elsewhere.  It was the longest and most serious Depression Canada had yet experienced, lasting from 1929 – 1936.  All this had a profound effect on social and economic conditions in Princeton.  These years are still remembered as “the hungry thirties.”

 

            At first, Victoria put men to work on government projects, but soon decided they could not maintain the standard of wages being paid for relief projects.  Then the Dominion instituted relief camps to which many single men, and some married men, were admitted.  The men were assured of food, clothing and shelter, with a few cents per day spending money, but the congregation of men with a common grievance only served to increase prevailing discontent.

 

            The situation in Princeton was aggravated by the arrival of Arthur H. Evans, a professional labour agitator.  Miners at the Tulameen had real grievances, and Evans found it easy to organize them in defence of proclaimed demands.  This was in November, 1932.  A strike followed in December.  Local police were heavily reinforced, foot as well as mounted men being rushed here.  Early on 3 December there was a clash between police and workers.  It was a bitter cold night, and a great crowd of men and women, even children, had tried to keep themselves warm around a huge bonfire near China Creek.  Police claimed provocation, denied by the workers, and charged the crowd, which was soon dispersed by the mounted men.  This served to increase the bitterness which had been stirred by the fiery oratory of Arthur Evans.

 

            Evans and others were arrested, and charged with being members of an unlawful association, the Communist Party of Canada.  A prison term did not stop their activities, and so long as the Depression continued there could be no end to the local troubles.  In the summer of 1933 Evans was “kidnapped” by a number of local men, who put him in a car, drove him to the outskirts of Merritt, bought him a ticket and bundled him onto a train at Dot station.  Some time later, a court case arose out of the “kidnapping” but in a mass of conflicting evidence the case faded out.  Evans led the “On-to Ottawa” trek in 1935.  He died in the Vancouver General hospital on 14 February, 1944, after being struck by an automobile.

 

            Operations at the Tulameen did not prosper after this labour trouble.  In February, 1935, the mine was shut down, and allowed to fill with water.  An effort was made to resume operations in September, but in March, 1936, the attempt was abandoned.  Charlie Hunter died of cancer on 25 March, 1935.  His passing coincided with the end of the mine which he had discovered and developed.

 

PLEASANT VALLEY

 

            The life of the Pleasant Valley coal mine dates back to 1925 when Robert Schulli and M.J. Mullin reported a new prospect on the south side of the Tulameen River, two miles south-west of Princeton.  In 1926 diamond drilling operations were carried on by the W.R. Wilson interests under the superintendency of Ridgeway Wilson of Victoria.

 

            W.R. Wilson became president of the Pleasant Valley Coal Co. Ltd. in 1928, and plans were made for operations on a large scale.  Early in 1929 a bridge across the Tulameen was completed, linking the mine with the KVR.  Thomas Cunliffe was overman, with John Gillham and William Harmison firebosses.  But the labour troubles of November, and the strike in December, 1932, brought a halt to the work at the end of the year.  Work in No. 2 mine was resumed in January, 1933, but the mine closed towards the end of the year.  Work was resumed at No. 2 mine in 1934 with Thomas Cunliffe Overman, and John Gilham and James Sim, firebosses.

 

            Pleasant Valley had been one of the most promising operations in Similkameen, and was often referred to as “Wilson’s Mine.”  He was known as “the Grand Old Man of British Columbia mining.”

           

LYNDEN (BLUE FLAME)

 

            In the fall of 1929 American interests began operations at the Lynden mine (lease 962) near the Nine Mile bridge, south of Princeton, and nearly a mile from the highway; from which a road was built following Lamont Creek, and opposite the old Dewdney Trail.  Some of the company directors lived at Lynden, Washington and this accounted for the mine name.  First president was M.C. DuVall of Bellingham; first manager was W.R. (Bill) Foster, with Frank Lester, Bob Gourley and William Harmison firebosses.  In 1927 the output was 2770 tons, and 44 men were employed.

 

            Sam K. Mottishaw in 1928 was appointed superintendent and manager; 50 men were employed, and the output was 18,398 tons.  The company reorganized in 1929 as The Blue Flame Coal Co. Ltd., with Lester Ecker (Bellingham) president, and Sam Mottishaw superintendent.  Robert Alstead was placed in charge in 1930, and in 1933 the mine was acquired by the W.R. Wilson interests, following closing of the Pleasant Valley as a result of labour disputes.  The Blue Flame Collieries Ltd. (W.R. Wilson president; R. Alstead superintendent) was then listed (1934) as the Wilson Mining and Investment Co. Ltd. Blue Flame mine.  This became Similkameen’s most important producer in 1935, with 99 men on the payroll at the end of the year.  The coal was trucked to chutes near Princeton.

 

            W.R. Wilson died in March, 1937, and thereafter was a break in production at the Blue Flame.  Then came the Second World War and work at the mine was not resumed till the spring of 1951, when the Taylor Burson Coal Co. Ltd. reopened it, with Jim Fairley in charge, and Arthur Hilton, Thomas Bryden and John Magielka firebosses.  This company explored a new prospect east of Blue Flame No. 1 in 1952, but the life of these properties was not prolonged.

 

ASHINGTON

 

            The history of the Ashington Coal Co. Ltd. is confined to the year 1929.  President of this company was Joseph W. Irwin of Coquitlam; Edward Floyd was superintendent, with Peter Carr shift boss, William Westenedge and Peter Hunter firebosses; and the indispensable Herb Cornish, who had the gift of being able to do almost anything, and doing it well.  Mr. Floyd had ample office space in the building now occupied by the Canadian Legion Branch.

 

            The “mine” was situated in Princeton, within a few feet of the north bank of the Tulameen River, just beyond the bridge.  Mr. Floyd took a prominent part in Board of Trade activities, and on one occasion reported to this body that his men were now nearing the main seam, and gave the exact day and hour when it would be contacted.  He painted a glowing picture of the expansion that would follow, but the great day came and passed and little was heard about the mine.  It is doubtful whether prophecy raised expectation among oldtimers who were “from Missouri.”

 

THE BLACK MINE

 

            This mine was named for the property owner, A.S. Black, a prominent lawyer in Princeton for many years.  He and Perly Russell were the backbone of the local Conservative association.  The mine was six miles from town, and reached by a road into Findlay coal basin.  In 1929 it was leased by Haigh and Winter of Princeton, who did an immense amount of work on the property, locating and grading a new road to the mine, and building tipple and bunkers.  In 1938 it was operated by the Glover Trust Syndicate, with Francis Glover as manager.  Only a few men were employed.  Production was expected, but no great amount of coal was brought to the surface.

 

            Granby took over the Black mine in 1947, and in December of that year the Marwell Construction Co. Ltd. of Vancouver, undertook to strip-mine it, and supply coal for the Granby power plant.  Fred Mannix & Co. Ltd. continued the operation in the year 1949 with B. Montgomery as superintendent, but operations were suspended at end of March, pit fenced and mine abandoned.  Some hand-stripping was done in December, 1951 by R.B. Savage and three partners.

 

GRANBY

 

            It may be remembered that the Princeton Coal and Land Co. mine, the first in Similkameen, after it had been taken over by the George Stringer interests, took an option on coal lands at Findlay Creek, and started developing prospects in 1923.  Nine years later a new coal mine was opened by the lessees of Lots 970 and 385, near Bromley Creek, five miles south-west of Princeton.  In this development Percy W. Gregory was agent for Princeton Properties Ltd., which took over the assets of the company.  In 1906 a hole 863 feet deep had been sunk by Alex Sharpe with promising results.

 

            The Bromley Vale Collieries Ltd. was organized (1932) with Randolph Haig president and P.W. Gregory secretary.  In 1934 the Bromley Vale mine was operated by the Cascade Coal Co. Ltd. and in 1936 by the Black Diamond Collieries Ltd.  The Granby Consolidated Mining, Smelting & Power Co. Ltd. comes into the picture in 1937.  Coal was trucked from the Granby Colliery four miles to the bunkers on the north bank of the Similkameen, then conveyed across the river to the Granby steam power plant.  Thos. M. Wilson was manager, and 97 men were employed in 1933.

 

            Because of high operating costs, and labour troubles, the mine was closed on 4 December, 1943, after producing 464,368 tons of coal during the preceding seven years.  Granby power plant used an average of 210 tons of coal daily.

 

            Under the name of Tulameen Collieries Ltd., with T.M. Wilson manager, work was done at Tulameen No. 3 mine and Pleasant Valley No. 4 in 1946.  This latter was the only mine operated by the company in 1949.

 

OSCAR LIND MINE

 

            Frans Oscar Lind, who died on 21 January, 1956, began the development of the Allison Flat Mine later known as the Tulameen Valley Coal Co. Mine.  Begun in 1935, it was taken over by this company in 1936, and was run by W.D. Seaman, who represented American capital.  During the winter of 1938 there were 57 men employed, and this number increased later.

 

            The miners were organized under the United Mine Workers of America, and there was considerable trouble during the winter of 1942, when T.A. McCloy represented the miners in negotiations.  Eventually organization under the UMWA was recognized, and for a time work progressed smoothly.  But there were troubles of other sorts and this mine, too, was forced to close.

 

BRITISH LAND LTD.

 

            Since the Tulameen Valley Coal Co. mine was closed no coal mining on a comparable scale has been done in Similkameen.  Charles H. Jackson, for the British Lands Ltd., in 1941 worked a prospect six miles by road south-west of Princeton, and continued interest in this for a number of years.

 

            Adjoining the British Lands property, the Taylor prospect was recorded in December, 1945, in the north half of Lot 88, Yale Division.  This same year Elmer Burr had a crew of three men working on lots 292, 103, 102, on the Similkameen River south of Princeton, with James Taylor in charge.  In 1946 the Taylor Burson Coal Co. Ltd. was formed.  A new prospect was opened up on Lot 300, six miles south of Princeton, in 1947.  These properties, with James Fairley and a small crew, continued with varying success for a few years.

 

            Arthur W. Hewitt explored a prospect on Lot 1133, Yale Division, in April, 1951.  The licence was assigned to Robert Evans in July, 1953; and transferred to M.J. Mullin in June, 1954, in which year operations were suspended.

 

            M.J. Mullin and sons in 1948 secured a 121 acre coal claim one mile south-east of Princeton, and for the next few years did some exploration work.

 

COALMONT AND BLAKEBURN

 

            These efforts may seem small in the light of past history, but they represent the work of men who still have faith in the future.  In dealing with the history of Coalmont and Blakeburn it may not be amiss to start at the end of the story, for this links it with Princeton history.  In 1955, coal licences 69 and 70, covering Lots 297 and 298, were transferred from Ed Mullin to Mullin’s Strip Mine Ltd.  Twelve men were employed, including nine truck drivers, transporting coal from Blakeburn to the Granby Power Plant.  This operation continued till the Granby mines were closed in 1957.  In the Princeton and Tulameen areas today there are practically no operating mines, but we refuse to believe that this chapter in our history is closed.  We still think that, in ways hardly dreamed of today, the best is yet to be.

 

            The provincial mining report for 1908 notes development work on coal outcrops at Granite Creek and Collins Gulch which runs north into the Tulameen east of its junction with Otter Creek.  It is not known that the Collins for whom the gulch was named had anything to do with the Collins expedition of 1860.  It is usually stated that “a man named Bonthrong” discovered and prospected for coal near the site of Blakeburn and at the gulch.  Nearest approach to the discoverer’s name in mining reports index is Bonthrone, but date references suggest no connection with coal discoveries in Tulameen.

 

            A number of local men interested themselves in financing development of prospects.  These included Isaac McTavish, a kindly, canny Scot of ample proportions, who for many years ran the Coalmont store, now operated by Walton W. Smart.  Mr. McTavish died at New Westminster on 15 October, 1950, in his 75th year.  The sawmill begun at Tulameen late in 1909 supplied much of the lumber for the growing Coalmont.  There was great rejoicing when the GNR arrived in 1911.  Progress was assured.  By l911 Coalmont was assuming the appearance of a prosperous business centre.  “The Coalmont Courier” was established in 1912, with Ed. N. Clark editor-manager.  The front page carries the proud boast:  “Circulates in every home in Princeton, East Princeton, Tulameen, Aspen Grove, Merritt, Nicola, Hedley, Keremeos and around the terrestrial globe.”  It proclaims itself to be “the largest newspaper in the province, outside Kamloops, Vernon and Vancouver” (One wonders about Victoria).  Coalmont is featured as “The City of Destiny – Coming Coal Metropolis of Southern British Columbia, with a population of 10,000 in the near future.”

 

            One advertisement urges prospective buyers of lots to “Take time by the forelock:  she has no back hair”.  Hotels and places of business were not afraid to buy space.  Granite Creek Hotel (H. Goodison) has “good stabling in connection”.  Hotel Otter Flat (Mrs. E.J. Henderson) offers “good fishing and boating”.  Coalmont Hotel (L.N. Marcotte) assures its patrons of “courteous attention and first-class accomodation”.  F.P. Cook completed his Coalmont store in 1912.  J. Jackson had “Livery and Feed Stables” at Coalmont and Tulameen.  Ruddy’s Restaurant catered to travellers, and Lin Kee did the laundry.  Henderson & Tilson at Tulameen, and Tilson and Co. at Coalmont, sold dry-goods.  James Clarke, jeweller and watchmaker, had a Coalmont agency run by A.D. Worgan.  These items are interesting in themselves, but still more so as illustrating the mood of the moment, and the faith people had in the future based on an expanding coal industry.

 

            As with Granite Creek, so with Coalmont and Blakeburn there is little today to suggest the magnitude of former operations, following the discovery of coal, and the organization in 1910 of the Columbia Coal & Coke Co. Ltd., with Mr. Parrish of Winnipeg and J.T. Johnston of Vancouver as president and vice-president.  The company acquired ten square miles of coal lands in the Tulameen Valley.  The railway came in 1911 (GNR), and by 1912 seventy men were on the company payroll.

 

            The Columbia Company sank a 2000 ft. tunnel in Fraser’s Gulch; a diamond drill hole of equal depth half a mile farther west and some tunnels and slopes at Bear’s Den.  The place was so named because a wandering bear fell through the roof of one of the cabins while the occupants were at home.

 

            To read the local papers of the time one would never have dreamed that the company was in financial straits, but such must have been the case for operations were suspended in the fall of 1912.

 

COALMONT COLLIERIES

 

            The property was acquired (1913) by the McEvoy Trust Co., and operated under the name of “A. McEvoy, Trustee Operators, Coalmont Collieries”.  Of this new company Arthur McEvoy of Vancouver was president; and A.N. Canting vice-president and general manager with residence at Coalmont.  A.H. Douglas, Vancouver, was secretary; and A. Ford, acting superintendent.  In 1914 the output was 4850 tons.  This was hauled by horse teams from Blakeburn to Coalmont.  During spring and summer fifty men were employed.

 

BLAKE WILSON AND PADDY BURNS

 

            For a time war conditions made mine operations difficult.  The Coalmont Collieries was closed during 1916.  The following year work was resumed under a Vancouver syndicate, with Alexander Sharpe manager.  Then the Coalmont Collieries Ltd. was organized (capital $3,000,000) with W.J. Blake Wilson president, L. Parrish vice-president, A.H. Douglas secretary-treasurer; and Donald McLean, manager (Coalmont) and Thomas Bysouth fireboss.  The 1918 output was 5744 tons.  W. Garrison of Princeton hauled the coal to Coalmont by horse-truck in summer and by team and sleigh in wintertime.  The following year the hauling was done by Monroe and McKay.  During the summers of 1918-19-20 the coal was hauled in five-ton trucks owned by Merlin McLeod and operated by F. Pope and C. Lucas.

 

            The aerial tramway installed in the fall of 1920, was 15,110 feet long, and had a carrying capacity of one ton per minute.  By 1924, when George Murray was appointed manager, 284 men were employed and the output for that year was 149,080 tons.

 

            A 1600 ft. tunnel was driven at an elevation of about 3800 feet to tap the coal seam in No. 4 mine at a lower level.  The 1927 payroll exceeded half a million dollars.

 

            The mine was 1600 feet above the tipple at Coalmont.  In 1930 John G. Biggs, district mines inspector, described Blakeburn and Coalmont “the largest, most important coal operation in Princeton district.”  Around 300 men were employed.  It was a good camp, and all men who worked there enjoyed a measure of content and well-being denied men elsewhere in the early years of the Depression.

 

BLACK WEDNESDAY

 

            The Thirteenth of August, 1930, will be remembered as the darkest day in the long history of Similkameen.  On that Wednesday in No. 4 mine at Blakeburn, occurred one of the most disastrous mine explosions in our provincial history, resulting in the death of forty-five men.  Of the forty-six men who were in the mine at the time, only one was able to stagger to safety.  He was John Porchello, who was not far from the entrance when the blast came.

 

            It so happened that mines inspector John G. Biggs was about to enter the mine when the explosion happened.  Within a matter of minutes he and George Murray (manager) were organizing relief measures.  Workers dug feverishly in the gas-laden air to reach their comrades, but none were ever brought out alive.  The anguish of wives, mothers and children, bravely hoping against hope, spurred volunteer workers to tireless endeavor.  It was days before all the bodies were recovered.  Those who looked on learned that the price of coal was not measured in terms of dollars and cents alone.

 

            The victims of the disaster were buried in Princeton cemetery; some under Roman Catholic auspices, the rest by The United Church.  The first funeral service was for Albert Cole, age 19 on August 17.  The last was for John Connell Smith, age 36, on September 4, 1930.

 

            Blakeburn Relief Fund was organized by the Princeton Board of Trade with W. A. Wagenhauser as chairman, and Dave Taylor secretary.  Money poured from every part of the province, the total reaching over $33,000.  Disbursements were handled by a Permanent Committee at Blakeburn, of which J. Ovington was chairman, E.G. Lucas (manager of the Royal Bank at Coalmont) was secretary, and William McKinnon, treasurer.  In addition to this there was a separate United Church fund, and this was handled by the local minister, Rev. J.G. Reid, who lived at Coalmont.  Every cent received was distributed in benefits, expenses being absorbed by the Company and the Bank.

 

            The exact cause of the explosion was never determined.  The various theories advanced are discussed in the lengthy report submitted by Thomas Graham in the annual report of the Minister of Mines for 1930 (pp. 338 ff.)  Many left Blakeburn after the disaster.  Those who remained returned to work, and production of coal was resumed, though on a smaller scale than formerly.  On the 28th of October the Princeton United Church choir travelled to Blakeburn and gave a concert.  We had had rain in the valley and snow had fallen at Blakeburn.  Cars had to have chains.  Gerry Brown sent two cars from Coalmont.  George Murray brought one from Blakeburn; W.A. Wagenhauser, A.D. Broomfield; W. Paul Garrison and Dr. R. Manson all helped solve the problem of transportation.  It was the first concert Blakeburn had had since the disaster.  About 200 people were gathered in the cookhouse, and the choir never had a more appreciative audience.  It was commonly said that this broke the spell which had hung over Blakeburn since Black Wednesday.  Mr. Murray made sure that all the visitors had a hearty supper before returning to Princeton.

 

            After that, things slowly returned to normal, but life was never quite the same again at Coalmont and Blakeburn.  It was a blessing for Princeton that Blakeburn kept running all through the depression years.  Many of the miners were Scottish, and Burns’ Night was observed annually on the poet’s birthday.  Gerry Brown always gave the toast “To the Haggis” in his own inimitable way.  At other times in the year there were dances and various sports.  So, that Blakeburn was a happy family.

 

IT WAS A GOOD BLAKEBURN

 

            By the time the end came in 1940 the Depression was over, but Princeton was sorry to see Blakeburn close down.  Some notes written on Monday, 8 April, 1940, may be included here:

 

            “Billy Hazzard had agreed to take me to Blakeburn for service there tonight.  As arranged he called at the manse at 6:30.  The day had been fine; the evening was cool, the sky clear, and the road dry.  In less than an hour we were at our destination.

 

            “We had hardly begun our journey when Billy said the Blakeburn whistle had blown for the last time today.  He had seen some of the Blakeburn people in Princeton, and the news was authentic…When we arrived there, Billy said, “Well, the power plant’s still running.”  The lights were on.  He parked in front of the bunkhouse and prepared for a nap while I went to the church.  A good fire was on, and the place was warm.  Mrs. C.B. Hill, Mrs. Frank Barnes, Mrs. R. Murray, Miss Madge Jones (school teacher), Mr. and Mrs. Tewey Barnes, the Cole girls (who sang “The ‘Old Rugged Cros’ unaccompanied), and a few others, made up the congregation.

 

            “Stella Olsen was not there to play the organ.  At the close of the service eight, besides myself, partook of communion.  Soon after 9 o’clock I left with Billy Hazard for Princeton.  Soon after I arrived home, the radio broadcast the news that Norway had declared war on Germany, which had attacked Denmark and invaded Norway.  German troops had occupied Copenhagen.  Listeners are advised to tune in for further news.”  History was made at home and abroad the day Blakeburn closed down.  Some time after this, Mrs. W. Cole, writing to “The Merritt Herald,” told of happy days in the mining camp, and added, “It was a good Blakeburn.”

 

PEOPLE AND PLACE-NAMES

 

            Coalmont was so named because of the belief that there was a mountain of coal which could be stripped and operated by steamshovels.  It was the railway port for Blakeburn.

 

            Blakeburn was so named for W.J. Blake Wilson and Patrick Burns, who were the largest shareholders in the company that mined the area.  Mr. Wilson died in Vancouver on 22 June, 1934, aged 68.  At the time of his death he was president and managing director of Burns & Co. Ltd. 

            Senator Patrick Burns, the last of Canada’s great cattle kings, died in Calgary on Wednesday, 24 February, 1937.  In 1928 he sold his meat packing business for $15,000,000 and was appointed to the Red Chamber in 1931.  He and Mr. Wilson were the driving forces behind the Blakeburn coal mining operations which had a lasting influence on the history of Similkameen.