Atlas Coal Mine: Digging Deeper Into Drumheller’s Mining History

If you’ve been following my journey to Drumheller, you should know that dinosaur fossils are what made it famous. The rich deposits of dinosaur remains continue to attract hundreds of visitors each year. However, Drumheller also possesses a remarkable history in relation to coal which gave life to the surrounding communities. At the heights of coal boom, as many as 139 mines were operating in the valley! Today, only one remains to preserve the last of the Drumheller mines: The Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site.

Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site, Drumheller, Alberta, Canada

Strap on the miner’s lamp and let’s tour the Atlas Coal Mine in the Canadian Badlands! You can go underground, jump aboard the 1936 mine locomotive, and even hear ghost stories and mysterious sightings around the abandoned mine. Atlas Coal Mine is a great lot of fun for both adults and children to see and experience the daily life of coal miners in a uniquely authentic way.

Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site, Drumheller, Alberta, Canada

A Journey into the Past at Atlas Coal Mine

How exactly did Atlas Coal Mine come into existence? The history of coal mining in the Drumheller Valley stretches back to 1884, when Joseph Burr Tyrrell discovered the largest coal deposit in North America. But the first commercial coal mine did not open until 1911 with only about 50 residents in the entire district. Soon after, the Canadian National Railway constructed tracks through the district, attracting thousands of people to migrate from Eastern Canada and Europe to come dig coal. More mines opened. Communities sprang up in response of these mining operations.

Between 1911 and 1979, a total of 139 mines were registered in the Drumheller valley. Isn’t that crazy?

When oil was discovered nearby in 1948, people started switching from coal to natural gas as a heating fuel. As a result, demand for coal suffered a steep decline. Mines closed down one after another and the number of towns shrunk drastically. Atlas Coal Mine, which is built in 1917, finally stopped production in 1979, marking the end of the coal mining era in Drumheller.

Today, the Atlas Coal Mine stands as the most complete historic coal mine in Canada, as well as home to the nation’s last wooden tipple.

Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site, Drumheller, Alberta, Canada

Digging Deeper by Joining the Specialty Tours

 

Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site, Drumheller, Alberta, Canada

Learning what life was like for miners @AtlasCoalMine! #explorealberta #travel #ttot Click To Tweet

Consisting of 9 original buildings to explore, including the miner’s shacks, mining office and wash house, Atlas Coal Mine has so much to offer that you will definitely wish you’d stay longer. If you have a few hours to spare, I strongly recommended joining one of the following specialty tours with the knowledgeable guides who will bring the past to life and reveal true tales of mines and men:

  • Tunnel Tour (75 mins, $25): Put on a cap lamp and climb up an 210 foot inclined conveyer tunnel. Follow the path of miners to the mine entry set high in the badlands. Expect a gradual uphill hike to where coal deposits are. At the end of the shaft, you’ll find yourself at the height of Atlas Coal Mine #3, with breathtaking views of the valley below. The tour will complete with a walk around the blacksmith’s shop near the mine entrance.
    Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site, Drumheller, Alberta, Canada
  • Tipple Tour (45 mins, $20): hike up the narrow wooden shaft of the last standing wooden coal tipple in Canada and see the inner workings of this nationally designated historic icon. You will walk along a thick rubber conveyor belt, learn how it is used to prepare and load coal for transportation to market, and hear anecdotes about the men who worked here.
  • Unmentionables Tour (60 mins, $20): Designed for ages 14 and up, this tour walks you through Drumheller’s wild and untamed past which includes tales about brothels, bootlegging, gambling, strikes, gruesome accidents and other “PG 14” subjects.

Other popular tours include train rides, a Photography Tour and a Walking Life of a Miner Tour with a fifth generation coal miner, Bob Moffatt!

Pro tip: Plan to go early in the morning to avoid the crowd. If you’re joining more than one guided tour, purchase a day pass for the best value ($40 per person, $95 per family).

Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site, Drumheller, Alberta, Canada

Summary

There’s no better way to learn what life was like for miners than visiting the Atlas Coal Mine. The guides were enthusiastic and told amazing stories of the miners who worked in the Valley. Even if you don’t have enough time to participate in a specialty tour, a quick walk around the site will take you back in time with a glimpse into life as a coal miner in Alberta.

About Atlas Coal Mine

Website: http://www.atlascoalmine.ab.ca/
Address: 110 Century Dr W, East Coulee, AB
Months of Operation: May-October
General Admission: $10 per person, $30 per family

 

Curious about what life was like for miners? Then you must visit the Atlas Coal Mine. It will take you back in time with a glimpse into life as a coal miner in Drumheller, Alberta.

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21 Comments Leave a Comment »

  1. This looks like you literally stepped back in time. I bet this was so interesting to see and hear about. We visit Alberta about once a year, so we will have to check this out next time.

  2. I’ve never wanted to go into a coalmine…until now. It looks super interesting!

  3. Very interesting post, I like it because it is somehow quite untypical compared to the usual beach and fun travel recommendations. Nevertheless, very well written and some nice impressive pictures, thank you for sharing! 🙂

  4. So if you get the day pass can you do all 3 tours? Cause the tunnel tour and the Unmentionables Tour sound like fun. The Tipple may be neat too.

    Or is this one of those do the Tunnel or Tipple and then maybe the unmentionalbles cause each seems over an hour.

    • Hi Eric, if you get a day pass, you can join whichever tour you like! The schedule of the tours usually don’t coincide, so when you finish one tour, you’re ready to join the other one. That’s how we did the tunnel and tipple tour!

  5. I never would have thought to take a visit to a coal mine, but you made it sound so interesting and an important part of history. I think it would be fascinating to spend a day following the steps of the coal miners.

  6. It seems to be a great way to learn about the history of the place. Thank you for detailed description and nice photos.

  7. It seems to be a great way to learn about the history of the place. Thank you about detailed description and nice photos.

  8. Very interesting post. I like this kind of visits too. It’s such a great way to learn how things were in the past.

  9. Wow! I’d love to do one or all of these tours! My family has a deep Appalachian coal-mining history and I’ve always wanted to explore what that life was like. I’d love to be toured around with a former miner. This spot is moving up on my list of places to go.

  10. Ironically, one of my earliest tourist activities was the coal mine exhibit in Columbus Ohio’s Center of Science and Industry (COSI). Back in the day, it was the sort of place all of the school kids would be bused of to a couple of times a year. The over nights were the best. If you were really lucky you could get some astronaut ice cream or a hermit crab. You also would stop by the world’s first Wendy’s too, which was right next door. Anyway, in the basement of COSI was a coal mine exhibit that showed just how interesting (and dangerous) coal mining is.

    A few years (decades, who knows) back COSI moved across the river to the old Central High School building (you might have seen it in the film Teachers). Anyway, long story short, the coal mine exhibit didn’t make the crossing and now only lives in my memory.

  11. I’ve found the mining history in Colorado and Arizona fascinating, so I’m definitely interested in your journey into the Atlas mine. Going into the mine on the old train sounds wonderful — a great way to step back in time.

  12. I recognize this place! I remember seeing Atlas Coal Mine on The Amazing Race! It’s amazing and scary what miners had to go through back in the days. Would love to visit one day!

  13. Mining history is so fascinating! The tour looks fun and interactive, you must have learnt a lot from this tour.

  14. This is really cool! I love how you managed to make the hard hat look cute, something I’ve never managed to do haha. I’d definitely want to go on the unmentionables tour! 

  15. This is definitely interesting! Would you suggest it if you’re claustrophobic?

  16. So interesting. I did a mining tour in Guanajuato and it was so interesting. Also a bit creepy and intimidating wandering through the dark tunnels underground, but an experience for sure!

  17. I love visiting old abandoned towns and mines. There is an amazing one in Northern California in a spot called Bodie. I love walking through and imagining the history!

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