To be designated a site of national significance is something rare and special. The Coleman National Historic Site encompasses much of the old town of Coleman – its surface mine plant, the old downtown, some of the older residential neighborhoods, and the railway - which preserves the atmosphere of a western Canadian mining town between 1905 and 1950. But no prettied-up town is this. It’s the real thing, where one can sense the rough edges and hard times experienced by coal miners of a bygone era.
Like Highway 3, time has bypassed the old downtown of Coleman. Its many historic buildings, some dating back to 1904, reflect the boom-and-bust nature of the coal industry – some restored to their former glory, intermixed with others suffering from years of neglect. Across the railway tracks are the remains of the coal plant, with cut-stone buildings from the early 1900s and, until recently (2013), the blue metal monoliths of more recent times (see photo). Nearby are the ruins of Coleman’s coke ovens, a landmark that often burned bright into the night, until 1952.
It seems that every building has its story. The fatal shoot-out in front of the Alberta Provincial Police barracks, the fire station built just after the big fire of 1905, the Miner’s Union Hospital built and operated by the Union, the automobile dealership in the former theatre building, the 1904 Coleman Mercantile Building with it’s missing turret – the list just goes on and on.
New for 2015 is the Coleman National Historic Site booklet, available at the Crowsnest Museum in Coleman. The museum can also provide a guided tour of Coleman by advance arrangement, or you can discover this historic community yourself on your own self-guided walking or driving tour.