Once a bustling mining town operated by the Canadian Pacific Railroad, the crumbling ruins of Bankhead now lie abandoned up in the mountains of Banff National Park. Educational plaques and an interpretive trail tell the tale of what one historian dubbed “the twenty year town.”
Bankhead was established as a company town in 1903 to provide coal to CPR locomotives and Banff Springs Hotel boilers. By 1905 the frontier community was dotted with homes, shops, community buildings, even a school. In its heyday, 300 men worked the mines beneath Bankhead and excavated 200,000 tons of coal per year.
While the supply of coal underneath Bankhead was plentiful, actually getting at it was another matter. Much of the stuff lay in difficult to access folding and faulted seams that forced miners to dig an inefficient 185-mile-plus network of tunnels and ventilation shafts underneath the town.
A historical brochure notes that the unusually brittle coal was far from ideal for the railroad. “As soon as it was exposed to the air, it began to crumble;” and at the end of the production line “nearly half of it was classified as ‘dust.”
Bankhead was ultimately undone not by its coal but by poor relations between the miners and the railroad. In a decade known for its labor strikes, there were several walkouts in Bankhead that won the workers higher wages, but exacerbated the mine’s cashflow problems. An April 1922 strike broke the camel’s back, and CPR simply closed the coal mine. Since Bankhead was a company town all economic activity dried up with the mine, and the residents drifted away.
In 1930 the National Parks Act forbade future logging or mining in Banff, and Bankhead’s fate as a ghost town was locked in place.
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