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. In the background looms the coal plant, with its mixture of cut-stone buildings from the early 1900s right through to the towering 1940s-era metal-clad monoliths. 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 as a result of concessions after a bitter strike, the automobile dealership operated in the former theatre building, the 1904 Coleman Mercantile Building with it’s missing turret – the list just goes on and on.