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This page last updated September 27, 2012
© Michael Kluckner
|Note to readers: this has become a very large web page due to the amount of material, correspondence and photographs. The Coalmont material begins immediately below. If you are mainly interested in Blakeburn, click here. If you are interested in the general correspondence on Coalmont and Blakeburn, click here.|
The view coming into Coalmont from Tulameen in 2001 – meat market on the left, hotel on the right
The old boomtown-fronted Coalmont Meat Market building
The Coalmont Hotel's heyday was a lifetime ago, but (due in no small part to its liquor license) it continues in operation into its 10th decade. I first went there in 1974, I think it was, on a camping trip with a girlfriend in a Volkswagen van. The beer parlour in the hotel was a cheery place on that summer evening, presided over by an elderly man whose cap was studded with fishing flies and lures. We struck up a conversation with another old guy, had a few too many beers, and ended up driving him towards his home along a narrow, steep dirt road past the mouth of Granite Creek – in retrospect, I think he lived at the "Masters and Johnson" cabin which I discovered several years later, in another lifetime, as it were.
In the late 1970s I spent a lot of time in the Coalmont area,
camping along the riverbank and sometimes walking into the hotel
along the railway tracks for a beer and a little conversation.
It was always a tough place – Coalmont, that is – populated by
some of BC's home-grown hillbillies. For years there was a sign
on the Coalmont Emporium, perhaps the only commercial building
erected in town since 1912 (now the offices of a placer mining
and surveying company), stating that women ought to beware as
Coalmont was full of bachelors.
The coal bunkers on the outskirts of Coalmont were still very visible in the 1970s but have all but disappeared today. The fields have grassed over and the dry breeze rattles through the cottonwoods and aspens. Gradually, the populace has aged and moved away, with only the original general store (the left-hand one on the filmstrip below), the meat market and the hotel remaining from the early years of the last century.
Photographs I took of the store, hotel and meat market in 1977
After many years of quiet deterioration, the Coalmont Hotel was purchased in 1995 by five people, with Jim McNeney as the majority owner. The hotel is now temporarily closed pending the appointment of a new manager. "Hopefully after a good cleaning, painting, and restocking of supplies the hotel will be up and running and back in business. We are targeting December 1, 2004 to reopen," wrote Robert McNeney.
According to handbills distributed throughout the Similkameen area in 2001, the Coalmont area is the "Snowmachine Capital of Canada," and the hotel has a "historic dining room, heritage rooms, and gold panners pub." The best hope for "civilizing" Coalmont is the bicycle tourists and hikers who come through on the TransCanada Trail--the old railway roadbed, the tracks of which were ripped up several years ago. Note from Bob Sterne, 2003: There is property for sale on our block.... price unknown.... and the General Store is for sale for $180,000...."
Bob and Diane Sterne have renovated "F.R.E.D.," as they call it – another of the old buildings. "Since we last talked, Diane & I have had a long chat with Walt Smart, who used to be the Postmaster in Coalmont, as was his father, James.... His dad ran the P.O. when it was in the old building, which was a TWIN to our cabin, located immediately to the right of where F.R.E.D. stood on Parrish Ave.... They were both built in 1911, and we haven't found what FRED was used for originally, but in the 1930's he was an Ice Cream Parlour.... When Walt became the Postmaster in 1952, he moved the operation into the Coalmont General Store, across the Street, and the old Post Office was burned down some years later.... probably to make way for the Coalmont Emporium, which Walt built.... FRED was the building in the 1970 photo in Bill Barlee's book (and on our website), but by that time, the original Post Office was long gone.... Sometime between 1970 and 1977, FRED was dragged across the street to the corner we now own." Update 2009: the Sternes have built and opened a motel in Coalmont and have put together a great historical website on the town and area: www.coalmont.mozey-on-inn.com
From Diane Sterne, 2011: 2011 will mark Coalmont's 100th birthday. "White Gold and Black Diamonds" has been written in celebration of this auspicious event. Honouring the sister towns of Granite Creek and Coalmont, this book preserves their little-known history. The book recounts stories of oldtimers like Butch and his peg pig; Robert Stevenson, the prospector who buried his friend's wife four times; and Hattie McBride, the woman of 'negotiable affection' whose unsolved murder has left her restless spirit wandering the area.
Book is $24.95 + HST = $26.20. Available at www.books.mozey-on-inn.com or pick up one in person to save shipping costs at 1841 Main Street, Coalmont.
Photo by an anonymous BC Government employee, 1955
Photos of Blakeburn settlement and people
Blakeburn, in the hills above Coalmont, appears as a ghost town on various websites although there's nowhere even for ghosts to reside...
Map of Blakeburn (this is a pdf, 5.3 mb. that will download or open in a new window, depending on your browser. Bob Murray mailed it to me in 2010; it is a copy of his original, with the type slightly cropped at the top right. You will see the road to "Coalmont & Louis Camp" at the top right)
From Bonnie Dickson, 2013: I found a picture of the former Blakeburn outhouse and thought I would pass it on to you. My mother said the outhouse is from the school in Blakeburn. I contacted my brother Roger who confirmed that the outhouse was given, a few years ago, to the Reicherts in Tulameen. According to my brother, it was placed on a concrete slab in a Memorial Park of some type. Marg Reichert apparently is involved in discovering the history of the area. The Reicherts own the ATV and Snowmobile business in Tulameen.
I’ve attached a picture of the outhouse taken around 1990. John Hudson (deceased) (who along with his father Arthur, transported the outhouse to Keremeos) is pictured with his wife Claribel in front the outhouse where it sat in Keremeos for over 50 years.
From Diane Sterne, 2012: While updating the names of those interred at the Granite Creek Cemetery, I came across the names of some babies that are listed on their death certificates as buried at Blakeburn. As these are all babies, it would seem that perhaps there was a Baby Cemetery at Blakeburn, however, no one I have spoken with, seems to recall this. The babies listed as interred at Blakeburn are:Cunningham, Baby (d. 1924-12-06); Frew, Baby (d. 1929-08-08); White, Ronald (d. 1929-05-19); and Barnes, Corry Anne (d. 1937-12-11). There could be more, these are just ones which I happened to come across. If anyone knows of such a cemetery, please contact me at: email@example.com.
Update, November, 2011: I just heard from Terry Malanchuk via Diane Sterne that Robert Murray has passed away. RIP.
From Lorraine Taylor, 2011: some great photos of Blakeburn....
Walter, Ida, Isobel and Jack Pacey
Mixed hockey team
Note and photo from Robert Murray, Merritt, 2007: I was born in Blakeburn the year before the explosion in # 4 mine and lived there until operations ceased in 1940. My uncle George Murray was the mine manager, my father Robert S. Murray was pitboss from 1925 to 1940, my uncle Dave Murray was a compressor and lamp cabin attendant. Fortunately they were not at work when the explosion occurred and we all left the area in 1940.
I have returned to visit my old home town on several occasions but unfortunately, Mother Nature has now pretty well reclaimed it. The picture below shows the main seam outcrop as it appeared on my last visit in the fall of 2003.
There have been two books written on Blakeburn - the first was by an author named Don Blake and was published by Skookum Publications Ltd. of Penticton B.C. in 1985. The title is "Blakeburn From Dust to Dust", it is now out of print. I was never able to contact this gentleman as it was before the communication revolution. There are still copies available at a fairly high price on the internet. I have two copies and am keeping them for my two sons. This book also had a fold out map of the underground workings of #3, #4 and #5 Pits in the front and a fold out map of #4 Pit after the explosion in 1930. There is also a book by Terry Malanchuk.
Narrative and photos by Bob Murray Merritt B.C. March 2010, on BLAKEBURN BRITISH COLUMBIA
The small company owned coal mining town of Blakeburn B.C. composed of less than 1000 souls, was stuck on the southern slope of Lodestone Mountain above the famed Granite Creek Valley of gold rush fame, about 16 road miles north-west of Princeton B.C. Two business men of the time, Blake Wilson and Pat Burns of the meat packing firm, had invested some money and their names in the coal venture. The placer gold was pretty well cleaned out of Granite Creek by 1912 when some of the gold seekers moved to the coal mining industry. I gleaned this information from my parents - Jessie and Robert Murray and also my sisters, Jessie the eldest then Margaret and Rena ( Bunty). Mom and my three sisters had arrived in Blakeburn in 1926, although my coal-mining father had come a year earlier to join his brother George and make our living in Canada. Another brother Dave and family also located here two years later from their Village of Lemahagow, South Lanarkshire , Scotland.
Blakeburn being a small town, any entertainment was mostly organised, arranged and supplied by local residents. The company had a large bunkhouse and cookhouse for the many single men that worked the mines. The cookhouse dining hall was the locale for any large dances, concerts or entertainments that were staged. Local teens did the baby sitting for any children who were bedded in the dining hall tables that were stacked in an ante room off the main hall, the top table upside down making perfect sided cribs for the tads. No one stayed at home, everyone came to entertain or be entertained, dance, swap gossip or in the case of the young ones, sleep the night away.
There was also a small church hall behind the main bunkhouse that every so often would screen excellent 16 millimetre movies that were enjoyed by all. The winters were spent, skating, playing or watching ice hockey, skiing or sleigh riding. If you remember the old style steer able steel runnered one-man sleighs, you can picture the following. We used to form ten or twelve man sleigh teams by hooking the toes of our boots into the front frame of the sleigh behind. Living on the side of a mountain, there was no lack of fast downhill runs. The last few sleighs in the team would be subject to a lot of centrifugal force on tight turns and they would usually end up well of the trail in a snow bank or snarled up in willow bushes. There is no remembrance of cuts or bruises, there must have been a few but only the memory of the days of fun remain. Some friends that attended school in Blakeburn were ; Tom and Dave Barras, Tino Liberatore and his sisters, Gus Malenchuk, Harry Cole, Lloyd Gilmour, The Edwards and Marochi children to name a few, there were many more but space and memory will not allow me to name them all.
A trick that my Dad, our boarder Jim Brown and my Uncle Dave played on me had a large influence on some of the above named school friends. There was a large rock outcrop on the high side of the road to Coalmont just below the schools, and a path down to it. During spring time break-up when the ice was melting, the tricksters would walk with me to what they called the “money rock” and claimed that coins would fall out of the rock when small stones were thrown at it. Sure enough when we all threw stones, money would clink on the gravel below the rock face. Of course the grownups would throw coins at the same time they launched their stones. This would take place sometimes when a few of my school friends were present, so , kids being kids we swallowed the story completely. Many of us would pelt that rock face with stones quite often and in vain when we were out rambling.
The disaster that befell this community should be mentioned here. There were forty six men working underground on the afternoon shift in number four mine on the 13th of August 1930. Without any warning the mine suffered a double explosion, either from an excess of coal dust or more likely methane gas, CH4. Forty five men died that day, one man in the main haulage tunnel survived with serious injuries. When, after many weeks, all the bodies were recovered it was determined that no dynamite shot had been fired at the time.
All the fire bosses’ firing equipment had been found in their normal storage locations. Many of the tunnels and passageways were severely caved in which caused a delay in reaching and recovering the unfortunates. The inquiry that followed came to the conclusion that a lightning strike from a summer storm hit the rails and a spark crossing a loose fish (connector) plate had touched off the explosion. Local squads and special teams from Merritt and Princeton put great rescue efforts forth but to no avail. The miners not caught in actual cave ins were asphyxiated from the carbon dioxide generated by the explosions. This disaster put a damper on a normally happy town but the operation recovered and produced coal for ten more years. A large amount of money was raised from people all over the province and beyond to help the families that had lost their breadwinner. Luckily none of our immediate family was involved, they were either on holiday or days off.
Fishing was available in Blakeburn creek below the town or the more ambitious would go up Granite Creek to several cabins up at the headwaters. Summer holidays were spent mostly at Tulameen (Otter) Lake, camping in tents or sometimes a rented cabin; many happy days and evenings were spent there. Popular, were the evening singsongs around campfires with the Girl Guide and Boy Scout troops from Merritt and Princeton. A hiking trip to Tulameen with some of my buddies left me with a snake phobia for life. A mixed age group took off from Blakeburn to hike to the lake, about seven miles by railway and short cuts. One of the older boys caught a garter snake and as they often did, whip - snapped it, the head flew off and hit me on the side of my nose. The resulting nose bleed and boyhood panic eventually abated and we arrived in Tulameen and luckily found a ride home before dark.
The town supported a good number of dogs, we always had a cocker spaniel. The men at the bunkhouse cured the loose dogs that would urinate on a post at the top of the stairs. Two metal plates were installed, one flat on the floor and the other wrapped on the post. A suitable electric current was applied to the plates (not lethal). No dog was ever known to come back to the bunkhouse for “seconds”.
Transporting the coal from the mines to a railhead in earlier times seemed almost insurmountable. Some was trucked to the nearest railway at Merritt B.C. but this proved to be very unprofitable. 1914 brought the railhead to Coalmont B.C. under the Canadian Pacific Railway after much dealing with the various railroads involved. This high quality, marketable, bituminous low ash, steam coal was in great demand. Coal was moved down Lodestone Mountain by any means possible, even horses and sleighs in the winter months.
Coalmont Collieries came into being with the new owners in 1918. The transport problem was well on the way to solution by 1920. A crew of very talented workmen on the company’s payroll constructed an aerial tramline over three miles long.
They used the timber that was available in the area and much ingenuity to build the towers required. This unique, to a coal mine, feature went into operation and began delivering coal to the Coalmont tipple in November of 1920. Blakeburn became official in 1922 when it received it’s post office. Several years later, my Uncle George Murray became Overman and upon the retirement of Mr. McLean became Mine Superintendent.
Finally a direct line through the Coquihalla Pass connected the line to the seacoast and the Vancouver market.
The tram was used to bring supplies into town from Coalmont when winter snows made the truck road impassable. This was fine transport for the goods and coal but very scary for anyone riding the empties. The teenagers from town had a number of exciting trips it was disclosed in later years. There was even a story about a salesman who missed the truck and rode an empty to Blakeburn only once. He made the mistake of standing and looking down into a canyon at the highest point above ground the line attained.
Markets for this good quality coal were disappearing. Most of the main customers, the railways, hotels and commercial buildings were turning to cleaner and more automatically controlled types of fuel. The decision to close the mines was dictated by economic conditions and spelled the death of Blakeburn. My Dad was one of the few who remained to lift rails and salvage any thing useable or saleable for the company. Finally in mid summer of 1940 I lifted my foot from the earth of my beloved home town and began my life in Vancouver. I remember that last summer as clearly as yesterday, working with Dad and Wilf Valentine removing the mainline rails between town and the mines. A ten year old boy probably had play in mind more than work but it still remains with me as a kind of sad never to be repeated magical time.
The main road out of town passed between the bunkhouse and cookhouse, past the company store and horse barns and thence onto the Coalmont Road. This was the route our family travelled together for the final time in August of 1940; Blakeburn and Lodestone Mountain were turned back to Mother Nature and the ghosts of the past.
Blakeburn 3-room school
Photos of the tram and the mine
From Robin Tivy, 2012: I founded and have run the Canadian Mountain Encyclopedia website for past 15 years. Yesterday we climbed Coquihalla Mountain and found records on the summit of two ascents of the mountain from Coalmont:
August 13, 1933 at 10:30 AM.
E.G. Lucas - Coalmont
R.G. McEachern - Coalmont
F.R. Healey - Coalmont
August 21, 1936 at 1:30 PM:
Helen McEachern (Coalmont)
Margaret Clarke (Vancouver)
Ronald G McEachern (Coalmont)
Do you have any records of these residents of Coalmont? Note that Aug 13 is 3 years to the day from the mine disaster. I would also be interested in getting more details of the various mountaineering activities of people living in Coalmont. Long before people roared around on snow machines, there apparently was quite a group of people in Coalmont who explored these areas on their own power.
From Glen Ferguson, The Canadian Paranormal Society, 2011: Maggie asked us up to take a quick look at the Coalmont hotel, We found it Interesting enough to return the 26th of August, Will be interesting to see if Hattie is still hanging around the old buildings. Don and Mary-Ann know we are coming in to do a scientific 4-5 hours with IR Cams , and a lot of equipment, and they are interested in knowing something material would be nice to have J, If that date sounds like an interesting video, let me know.From Ole Juul, 2011: I live in Coalmont. I've been here almost 6 years now. One of the main reasons I ended up here is because of your book. I was looking for interesting places using the internet, and your book was posted there. It was my main inspiration for this move. Shortly after I bought the General Store, your book became available and I got my own copy.
When I came here I started the Coalmont Community page and then the New Coalmont Courier. Both are easy to find with Google. You might like them. The page on history has a link to your book. It is still one of the best history books in this province - certainly on this area. http://coalmont.net/history
This year I put up the Coalmont Centennial page, because I knew that we would likely get nothing happening otherwise. I also made t-shirts and buttons. The Centennial pages include a guestbook, and I was hoping that it might bring some people out of the woodwork, and perhaps generate some talk about a celebration. Actually, it did - when the new mining company contacted me and offered some money for a party. So... of course I added the party page. :) http://coalmontcentennial.comNote from Pat Dolden, 2005: My mother, still living, was born in Coalmont July 11,1924. I would think that there are not many alive today that can say they were actually born there. My grandfather's brother, Frank Dollemore was the original owner of the Similkameen Hotel. Frank sold the hotel and he and my grandfather Dan Dollemore joined what I believe was the second C.M.R's (Canadian Mounted Rifles). A Mr. Ben Barlow was married to my great grandmother, her daughter Kathlene married Dan Dollemore. Ben Barlow actually opened one of the very first fruit stands in Kereomeos. Frank's hotel was in Hedley.
I'd appreciate any information you can give me on these people.
Note from Mary McKinnon, 2010: I was pleased to find your website on Blakeburn. I have so little information on my husband's family. Only that he was raised in Blakeburn and that his father was the manager of the mine. Bill Jr. had memories of going to a one room school which had to be placed at least 1 mile from the mine site.
G.Murray, N.Caulfield, John Biggs, W.Brydon, J.Strang, W.McKinnon, S.Freeman, J.Markle, J.Webster
Outside machine shop at Blakeburn
Submitted by Mary McKinnon
From Pat Johnston, 2011: The person identified second from the right on the photo as J.Markle is my grandfather. His name was Wilbert Harry Markle. He was a stationary steam engineer as well as a millwright or master mechanic. I believe that he probably ran the machine shop at Blakeburn.
His wife was Lillie May Taggart.My mother was Maxine Anna Markle and she had a sister Hazel Markle and a brother Jack Markle. My mother and her siblings spent many childhood years in Blakeburn before moving to Allenby near Princeton to work at the copper mine there.
Note from Ray Wanless, 2008: Foxcrowle Percival Cook was my grandfather, Jack Rhodes was my Uncle, he lubricated the tramline bucket sheaves, had a garage in Princeton. My Grandmother operated what I think was the hotel building, was used as a grocery store in Coalmont. Am confused re: this building.
I can remember her pumping water into a cistern which was located on the second floor,I assume the well was in the basement of the building. My mother was Eda Elisabeth Cook. I can remember my Grandmother selling gasolene from 45 gal. drums.
Note from Bonnie Dickson, 2006: my grandfather puchased the Blakeburn buildings in the 40's. My father and grandfather dismantled the buildings and moved them to Keremeos. Although any remaining lumber or portions of the buildings have disapeared, we are in posession of a double-ended outhouse, the only remaining building that we know of from Blakeburn. We have attempted to locate a museum interested in the building. Although my father, who is now deceased, said someone was interested he was never contacted. If you are ever in contact with anyone interested in the knowing more about the building please let me know. [Ed. let me know and I'll pass it on]
Note from Peter Smith, 2006: My Grandfather and two of his brothers were killed at Blakeburn August 1930 and are buried in Princeton cemetery. My Grandmother returned to Scotland with her children. I am now the oldest surviving Smith. [My grandmother] was a tough lady, just imagine travelling back to the Eastern side of Canada with four children, the oldest was 8 years (My Father) the youngest was a babe in arms. Then the boat trip back to Scotland. Hard life. [Note from Lynne Maxwell, née Smith, 2009: I have just been looking at your page and was surprised to see a note from distant member of my family Peter. A. Smith. His account of what happened is slightly wrong. There were only two Smith brothers killed in the Blakeburn disaster: they were Peter (my great grandfather) and William. They were survived by two brothers and a sister who stayed in Canada after the disaster. The wives and children of the two men killed both returned to Scotland. One of the daughters of the late Peter Smith is still alive.] [Note from Joyce Ackroyd, 2010: My grandfather, Peter Smith, was killed in the explosion in Blakeburn 1930 and his widow returned to Scotland with her four children, one of whom, Isabella Smith, is my mother, aged 83, who is living in Ayr, Scotland. I was very interested to read the note from Lynne Maxwell, nee Smith, as she will probably be a descendant of one of my grandfather's brothers. Would you be able to advise how I might proceed to find out more regarding Lynne Maxwell or other family descended from the two brothers of Peter Smith, who remained in Canada after the explosion - I think they were called George Smith and Thomas Smith?]
Note from Alaini Vlassopoulos, 2006: I am the great-granddaughter of Thomas Gibson, one of the miners that died in the mine at Coalmont Collieries. My grandfather worked there with his father but didn't go to work that day of the explosion. His father died and he was left to take care of his mother and sisters. He was about 16 years old at the time and he had to go back into the mine and work after his father died in it. I know it bothered him to go back to work there. I remember he showed me a book that showed where his father was found dead inside the mine. I don't remember must else as I was pretty young at the time. Do you know the placement of the bodies at the cemetery--I wanted to know what spot my great-grandfather was in. I was just at the cemetery this past weekend. I wrote a note and I left flowers. Could you tell me if you know anything else about it?
If you have any information about the victims or the gravesite please contact Alaini directly.
Note from Carole Hurst née Upton, 2007: I am the granddaughter of Cornelius Hupton who died in the pit disaster in 1930. I never met my granddad as he died when my dad was only 3 yrs old and his sister only 1, he himself was only 27. I have recently been tracing my family tree and believe me, even though he is only two generations away it has been very hard to find information about him as all the people involved with my granddad are now dead and because his wife married again he seems to have been forgotten (until now). I have since found that his wife and young children were to have joined her husband just before she found he had died and that her two brothers-in-law were also at the mine but survived. I literally have nothing at all about him except a long forgotten story about him dying in a mine in Canada and I knew it must have been in the 30's. Therefore I have been trawling the Canadian websites. I am now trying to trace his life and death but I am not having much luck as I am in England, but I will keep trying. That is why, when I came across your web site with the photograph of the headstone I could not believe it!
Shannon Bradley is also a descendant of Cornelius Upton, and is seeking family information -- please contact her through me.
Note from Lori Weissbach, 2007: I live in Princeton and have always been interested in the local history. My grandfather was a photographer here in the late 20's, early 30's. I recently discovered your website and yesterday when I went to the Coalmont Blakeburn page I found a couple of messages from relatives of those men in the Blakeburn disaster of 1930.
The message from Carole Hurst née Upton and also from Shannon Bradley say to contact you for them. They are looking for information on Cornelius Hupton. First of all, on the BC Archives Vital Statistics, the data for the death certificate must be spelled wrong. It is Cornelius Hufton and not Hupton. And secondly, I do have a small amount of information for Carole Hurst, so please get in touch through this website.
Photo by Alaini Vlassopoulos
Note from Terry Malanchuk, Author and historian for Blakeburn, 2010:
It has been a few years since I last wrote you and, for that I apologize. At last months Blakeburn-Coalmont Reunion I was informed that your site has been added to since the last time that I checked it. Robert S. Murray has been a good supporter of material for you I see. Most of Robert's pictures were supplied by either myself or the Princeton Museum for his personal use in exchange for his considerable contribution to the documentation of Blakeburn. Personally I have little problem with your use of them on your site, if it helps with the documentation of the history then good.
I have read the list of correspondence on your site and am pleased to report to you that I have heard from each of those people, except Dickson and Wanless. Each of the inquires that I have received have been fullfilled successfully. The Smith file has been closed, the extended family, both in Canada and Scotland, have since been reunited. I published the story in "It Was A Good Blakeburn".
As to the two people that I have not heard from, Dickson and Wanless. I personally know many members of both the Cook and Rhodes families and could pass Ray Wanless onto them. As for the Blakeburn outhouse in Keremeos, I located several other structures currently relocated in Hedley, Princeton and Tulameen. I would like to photograph Bonnie's outhouse and attempt to identify its original owners. I have been successful in identifing most every other structure. As to giving it to a Museum, as you know Nick Mills has left the Princeton Museum and a new Director is currently being chosen. Also, Blakeburn is currently wading through the process for Historic Protected Status. I would like to evaluate Bonnie's item and if appropriate find a good home for it.