Winter whips up the valley and gets caught in the coulees. Drawing the company issued coat closer does nothing to stop the bitter cold and driving winds from penetrating  as he trudges up the escarpment to the wash house.

Changing quickly he pulls his clothes high up in the rafters to keep them from the unavoidable the coal dust that permeates everything.


Although he has hurried he’s last in line at the lamp house. His light and helmet are duly noted in the ledger; a cost that will be marked against his daily wage tallying upwards everyday so that, some weeks, he owes more than he has earned and cannot send anything back to his family in Hungary. He is grateful, though, that there is work for him as he knows that many are turned away everyday.


‘Brassing in’ so that company officials know he is inside, he climbs up through the tipple along side the conveyor belt to the entrance of the mine.



Today is his lucky day as he’s assigned to the pony team meaning he’ll be able to stand during his shift rather than work doubled over in a cramped tunnel next to the smallest of coal seams. Gulch, his horse for the shift, was born in the underground stable and has never seen the light of day.


Calm, despite the darkness and noise, he spends the shift pulling the several ton coal carts through the shafts to the railway carts that will deliver it to the weigh station and, ultimately, down to the tipple. Time after time after time.


Twelve long hours later horse and miner finish up for the day. Battling the snow drifts that have built up during the day he makes his way to the Rosedeer Hotel at the edge of town.


Pushing past the ‘ladies’ at the entrance he enjoys a quick beer before heading up to his basic room and falling, exhausted, into bed for the night. Tomorrow is another day.


The Atlas Coal Mine is located in East Coulee just 15 minutes from Drumheller, Alberta. At $15, the tour was a great value really giving us a sense of what life must have been like for miners back in the early 1900’s.

You can still book a room at the Rosedeer hotel; $60 for a regular room or $65 for the ‘Honeymoon Suite’. At the very least you should stop in for a beer at the Last Chance Saloon. It’s much more sedate now than it was 100 years ago but you can check out the memorabilia and the bullet holes in the wall that tell the stories of a much different time.

This is NOT a sponsored post; we visited on our own dime and really did enjoy it enough to recommend that you visit too.