A ‘colliery’ is a coal mining and processing plant. All of the major mines in the Crowsnest Pass had surface operations where coal was cleaned and graded prior to loading it onto railway cars for shipping, and some operated coke ovens, where coal was superheated without allowing it to burn, producing coke used in the steel industry. The collieries in the Crowsnest Pass were big operations with large impressive structures of stone, brick and wood, each with their own power-generating stations and even their own towns. Leitch Collieries even had its own sandstone quarry, used in the construction of its facilities.
Leitch Collieries was located at Police Flats, a grassy plain named after the establishment of a North West Mounted Police outpost in 1883 to deter cattle rustling. With the discovery of coal and the development of the colliery in 1905 – 1906, the settlement of Passburg was established and soon grew to about 500 people with a post office, school, hotel and many businesses. Setbacks with labour unrest, slumping market demand for coal and financial difficulties proved to be too much, however, and with the closure of the mine operations in 1915 Passburg began to decline. Only a few people remained by 1940, and in 1956 the last occupied house was moved to a nearby town.
Despite less than ten years of active mining, the facilities at Leitch Collieries were impressive structures built to last. Designated as a Provincial Historic Site, its remaining structures were stablilized, walking trails established and informative displays were installed. Interpretive staff are on site between May 15 and Labour Day. This fascinating site provides a good insight into the large support plant needed for a major coal mining operation a century ago.
Leitch Collieries Provincial Historic Site is located on Highway 3, about 3.5km east of Bellevue. Admission is by donation, and the site is open as soon as the parking lot is snow-free, although the site is unmanned and the washrooms are closed outside of its core season (May 15 through Labour Day). More information can be found on Leitch Collieries’ own website (external site).