100 Years of Mining, Five km and One Lovely Afternoon
Coal mining in the Elk Valley has been a way of life for over 100 years. It is the reason most of us are here; whether you work for the mine, or you were born here, with a parent or grandparent who mined coal. Even if you came to the valley for its recreational opportunities, mining still established the town and laid the infrastructure for the ski hill, golf course and other amenities that we enjoy. Despite this rich heritage, few of us spend much time thinking about it. Mining was not always the job it is today. It was dangerous, backbreaking work. To get some exercise and to reflect on this history, my spouse and I went for a hike on the Coal Creek Heritage Trail.
The trail starts at the gun range and continues five kilometres up to the old Coal Creek townsite. It is a gentle trail, with only two hundred meters of elevation gained and one hundred lost on the way up. This makes it great for a family outing. Alternatively, if you are looking for a shorter walk, you can drop a car off at the range, and drive another up to the town site, then walk back. The day we went there were two large trees down, requiring a little bit of scrambling, otherwise, it was as easy as a stroll in the park.
In lieu of taking up valuable column inches trying to talk you through how to get to the trailhead, I will take the coward’s way out, shrink from the challenge of giving quality direction and rely on technology. Download the Trail Forks app and the GPS in your phone will do a way better job than I can.
The trail is strewn with the ruins of mining done the old way. Mother Nature has taken her due. She has overgrown and reclaimed much of what was there. Thankfully, there are a series of interpretive signs, as even an expert may need some help identifying what is what. The signs talk about the facts of living and working in Coal Creek. A small selection of the signage reveals history like stopping using electric rail cars after a disaster in 1902, to maps of the old town, with different ethnic quarters. The coal from the area was shipped to Fernie where it was turned to coke, until 1937. Mining continued until market conditions forced the mine to shut in 1958. This is one of the most well-signed trails in the area, offering up historical context, explanations of the current ruins, and a bonus of letting you know how far it is to the end! Along the way, the trail crisscrosses sulphur springs, which seem to draw dogs, at least every one I’ve ever taken along.
This is not the most challenging hike in Fernie, nor will it provide the best views, nor much of any views, as a matter of fact – only a few viewpoints. What this trail does provide is the opportunity to reflect on what our lives might have been like if we had been born a hundred years prior, when mining was dirty, hard and dangerous work, in a way that far exceeds mining’s challenges now. So head out, go for a nice Sunday stroll, it is certainly more exercise than a museum.