Hillcrest, also known as Hillcrest Mines , is now a quiet hamlet at the west end of the Crowsnest Pass. Hillcrest was named after coal prospector and entrepreneur Charles Plummer Hill. The Hillcrest Coal and Coke Company, incorporated on January 31, 1905, began constructing the town the same year, and the Canadian Pacific Railway soon built a spur for transporting coal from the Hillcrest Mine, and a station. The town soon grew to a population of about 1,000.
Hillcrest Mine Disaster. Although the mine was successful, and considered one of the safest in the region, disaster was around the corner. On Friday June 19, 1914 an underground pocket of methane gas ignited, which set off a larger coal-dust explosion resulting in the worst mining accident in Canadian history and at the time the world’s third worst mine disaster. The explosion was so violent that it even destroyed part of the surface plant (photo). As well as damaging the mine infrastructure, this had a profound effect on the town of Hillcrest Mines. A total of 189 men were killed, about twenty percent of the town’s population and half of the mine’s total workforce, which left 130 women widowed and about 400 children fatherless. Most of the victims were buried in a mass grave at the Hillcrest Cemetery. Condolences came from across the country, including a message from King George V, but the commencement of World War I soon overshadowed this event.
Another explosion occurred in the Hillcrest Mine on September 19, 1926 when the mine was idle, killing two men. Explosions at other coal mines within the Crowsnest Pass also caused deaths: Coal Creek, 1902 (128 men killed); Michel, 1904 (7); Coleman, 1907 (3); Bellevue , 1910 (30); Michel, 1916 (12); Coal Creek, 1917 (34); Coleman, 1926 (10); Michel, 1938 (3).
After the mine closed in 1939, Hillcrest experienced a period of economic decline. In 1979 Hillcrest joined Bellevue, Frank, Blairmore, and Coleman in forming the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass.
Join us in 2014 for the Hillcrest Mine Disaster Centennial.