The hamlet of Beaver Mines owes its economic origins to the lumbering, agricultural & coal mining industries. An unique railway feature ensured that this community flourished prior to the First World War.
The first logging operation in the Pincher Creek area was centered at Mountain Mill, some two miles east of Beaver Mines. This started as a Dominion government project back in 1879 & was sold to Senator Peter McLaren several years later. Although most logging was along Mill Creek during the late 1800s, subsequent operations utilized the Beaver Mines area. Homesteaders & ranchers came into this west country as early as the 1890s & early 1900s. A few of these pioneer agriculturalists were the Ballantyne, Biron & McDowall families.
The area’s coal mining potential was recognized by geologists who explored the area back in the 1880s. Their reports noted the quality & quantity of the coal to be sufficient to be harvested commercially. Development started as early as 1907 when the Western Coal & Coke Co. began purchasing local property. Two coal seams near Beaver Creek were selected to be mined & limited production started quickly.
The mines brought much initial success to the new settlement of Beaver Mines. An economic upswing during the spring of 1913 ensured that both mines operated at full capacity, subject to the company hiring more men. Production increased further the following spring to the extent that new coke over technology was installed by Western Coal & Coke. By 1910, there was a monthly mining output of 300 tons. Some three years later, the annual total of coal mined totaled nearly 70,000 tons. During the height of production prior to the First World War, 164 men were employed in the mines.
Initial production was hindered by a lack of accessible markets. This was corrected with the completion in 1912 of the Kootenay & Alberta Railway, the only non-CPR line ever to be completed in southwestern Alberta. This nineteen kilometer railroad linked Beaver Mines with the CPR at Kendary Junction, located one mile west of Pincher City. It featured two notorious wooden railway crossing over Lang’s Coulee & at Mountain Mill.
The settlement of Beaver Mines witnessed much growth during the pre-World War One era. Its business district was noted for its two livery barns owned by Harry Graham & Dominic Cyr, a meat market operated by Harry Drew & Norman Chaput & a well-stocked blacksmith shop. A general store was under the proprietorship of George Ballentyne, & there was a large hotel which opened in March 1914 amidst much fanfare. It featured a large dining room (under the management of Charles W. Heath), well patronized by local miners.
Coal mining slacked off during the First World War, and the much-coveted K&A Railway was dismantled in 1917 with the materials utilized for the war effort. The community returned to its farming & ranching roots.
The Beaver Mines Post Office remained a landmark for many years to come. Established just before Christmas 1911 with Michael F. Torpy as the first Postmaster, it faithfully served the community for over half a century. Ten local pioneers fulfilled the duties of Postmaster.
The community was served by two rural school districts: Coalfields No. 1275 that operated continuously from 1909 to 1962; & Beaver Mines No. 3135 which saw classes taught from 1914 to 1922 & then again for seventeen years prior to its closure in 1955.
Source: Researched & Written by Farley Wuth, Curator, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society.