Canmore History

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Canmore History

For almost a century, Canmore was one of the most important coal mining centres in southern Alberta: our town grew to 3,000 hardy, pioneering miners and their families. When Canmore Mines Ltd. ceased coal production on July 13, 1979, Canmore was the last coal mining centre in the Bow Valley to permanently shut its doors, following closures decades earlier in nearby Georgetown, Anthracite and Bankhead.

Canmore’s name originates from its namesake town Ceannmore on the northwest shore of Scotland. It is a Celtic word meaning “Big Head” and was titled in honor of King Malcolm III of Canmore who, in 1057, killed Macbeth in a fight for the Scottish throne. Check out our namesake sculpture on Main Street that often is seen wearing funky seasonal` hats ‘n glasses.

Canmore was officially named in 1884 by Donald A. Smith, a Canadian Pacific Railway pioneer. At that time, it was only a whistle stop for the new railway, which was fast stretching westward through the Rockies to the Pacific.

Settlers, however, arrived fast. Coal prospecting was also happening at Anthracite, 20 kilometers west in what is now Banff National Park. There was a big copper rush further west at Silver City near the base of Castle Mountain. And in 1886, Queen Victoria granted a coal mining charter for the Canmore area. The No. 1 Mine was opened the following year. Here is a photo of some ruins of our No. 1 mine.

With the growing number of prosperity-seeking pioneers, law and order became a concern. By the early 1890s, a detachment of the North West Mounted Police built its first barracks: a mud, log and straw structure that was constructed at a cost of $450. The barracks was vacated in 1929 and became a private residence near the present location on Main Street for the next 60 years. In 1989, it was purchased by the town and restored as a historical site. A visit to the Barracks is a worthwhile endeavour and is usually open on weekends. It is staffed with local volunteers and RCMP officers who can relay our lively and colourful wild west past. Who can resist a photo-op with a handsome Royal Canadian Mountie!

Canmore’s importance as a community and coal mining centre in the Bow Valley grew in the early years of the 20th century when Anthracite’s mine closed in 1904. Many of the buildings, along with residents were moved to Canmore. Married workers were housed in cute, cozy one and two-bedroom cottages, equipped with electricity and cold-running water. There was a bunkhouse for single men, a combination community hall, a one-room school, mine offices, cookhouse and a fully stocked company store that also housed the town’s post office.

By 1915, Canmore had a well-developed sense of community, even boasting an opera house. During its heydey in the early 1900s, the Canmore Opera House hosted a variety of events including lavish dances, plays and concerts — and was the most popular place for entertainment in the nearby Canadian Rockies. Hollywood entertainers, Jack Benny and Ginger Rogers, drove from Banff to Canmore to see the world’s only log opera house. The original building was eventually moved in 1964 to Calgary’s Heritage Park and was recently renovated. It now hosts theatre productions and catered events and is located on the main street of the Historical Village in Calgary’s Heritage Park. A replica of our opera house has just been built in Canmore’s Spring Creek Mountain Village – worth a look! Or, host an event there!

Residents took advantage of our ideal setting for summer hikes and picnics and in winter, the slopes were great for sleigh riding, skiing and tobogganing. Today, only a few original homes still stand in the older sections of Canmore.

In 1965, Canmore was incorporated as a town and had 2,000 residents. By the 1970s, Canmore’s coal industry, relying too heavily on diminishing Japanese markets, was suffering. And on July 13, 1979, it was all over – Canmore Mines Ltd. ceased coal production, and 120 miners were out of work. It was an end of an era. Within a year, all structures except the lamp house and a few mine entrances were demolished because of provincial government safety and reclamation policies. What saved Canmore from totally succumbing to mountain ghost town status was the announcement in the early 1980s that the mountain village would be the site of Nordic events for the 1988 Winter Olympics. This breathed new economic life into our beleaguered community.

Since the Olympics, Canmore has more than tripled its permanent resident population of 3,000 from the coal mining days. The population of the Town of Canmore according to its 2011 municipal census is 12,317. The 2011 municipal census also reported a non-permanent population of 5,982 for a combined population of 18,299!

The old miner’s Union Hall still hosts many cultural events and activities and a visit to the Canmore Museum and Geoscience Centre located right inside our Town Civic Centre is a great way to learn more about Canmore. Many valuable artifacts and historical photos are on display. In addition, check out the miner’s statue that was placed beside the old Canmore Hotel on Main Street and enjoy the Miners Day parade that takes place every summer in mid-July if you’re here.

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