Description of Historic Place
The Nordegg / Brazeau Collieries Minesite is a collection of industrial structures, support buildings and related machinery all associated with the coal-mining operations of the Brazeau Collieries. The buildings, which are situated on a hillside, are constructed of a variety of materials. Most of the support buildings are constructed of wood and brick while the coal processing structures - the tipple, boiler house, briquette plant - are clad in metal sheets. The site encompasses approximately thirty-one hectares of land in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The minesite is located south of Highway 11, approximately 80 kilometers west of Rocky Mountain House and 60 kilometres northeast of Banff National Park.
The heritage value of the Nordegg / Brazeau Collieries Minesite lies in its association with the development of Alberta's coal-mining industry. It is also an excellent example of coal-mining and coal-processing industrial architecture.
By 1906, significant Alberta coal fields were already being exploited around Lethbridge, Canmore and the Crowsnest Pass. In 1907, reports of potential coal deposits in the foothills of Central Alberta attracted interest from investors, such as Martin Nordegg, who, acting as a representative of German business interests, staked a claim on some potential coal fields in this area. With further assistance from British and Belgian investors, Nordegg's German investment group entered a partnership with the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR), which resulted in the formation of Brazeau Collieries Ltd. In 1911, construction began on a processing plant, ancillary structures and a nearby town site. Two slope mines were sunk soon after. By 1914, more than 100,000 tons of coal had been extracted and the mine was processing 1,000 tons per day. By 1923, it was the most productive mine in Alberta. The railway consumed most of the mine's produce. Although the partnership with the CNoR promoted the mine's rapid growth, dependence on the railway meant that the mine was beholden to the railway's fuel needs and also had to deal with rapidly changing railroad technology. During the Great Depression, the mine was severely hurt by a sharp drop in the railway's demand for coal, due to the lack of agricultural rail traffic. Production rebounded in the 1940s when the Second World War prompted a surge in demand for coal from both the railroad and from commercial markets. Demand was so high that when the mine's processing facility was destroyed by fire in 1950, the company went heavily into debt replacing it with a larger, more modern, fireproof facility. However, in 1948, Canada's railways began converting to diesel-powered locomotives. Also, in the early 1950s, the high cost of transporting coal and the increasing availability of fuel oil made coal uncompetitive in most commercial markets. The loss of both the railways and eastern Canadian markets meant the end of the Brazeau mines. Production dropped off dramatically after 1950 and the site was officially closed in January 1955.
The Nordegg / Brazeau Collieries Mine site is an excellent collection of early to mid twentieth century structures necessary for coal extraction and processing. The oldest structures on the site, built between 1913 and 1923, are all support buildings, such as warehouses, small dwellings, a carpenter/blacksmith shop and a lamp house. Their frame construction, brick clad exterior walls design and layout is typical of coal mine structures of that period. Other structures, such as a garage built in 1932 and the boiler, hoists, pump houses, wash house, coal chutes and storage bins built in 1946 demonstrate the evolution of the site as the coal processing technology developed. The site is dominated by the processing plant, which includes coal storage bins, the elevator, conveyor ramps, crushers, and the briquette plants. These structures, all built in 1950/51, were constructed to be purely functional and were adapted to the demands of the coal-mining industry. Their steel-frame construction and sheet metal-clad exterior walls are fireproof and give the structure a striking industrial appearance. The overall layout of the site and the placement of the structures on a hillside show the path taken by the mined coal from the extraction point above the site, through mine portals via the narrow-gauge rail system to the processing plant and, ultimately, to the rail siding and rail car loading facilities at the foot of the hill. A number of large refuse piles and slack heaps also serve to demonstrate the production capacity of the facility.
Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 1429)
Key elements that define the heritage value of the Nordegg / Brazeau Collieries Minesite include such elements as:
- the situation of the site in an artificial clearing in a heavily forested area of the foothills within site of the Rocky Mountains;
- the arrangement of the mine structures on a hillside, which is conducive to the efficient movement of coal from the extraction point, through the processing plant and ultimately to the rail yard and rail car loading facilities at the foot of the hill;
- the association of the mine portals and the processing plant with various ancillary and support buildings situated around them;
- the narrow-gauge track used for transporting extracted coal from the mine to the processing plant;
- presence of numerous pieces of abandoned mining equipment such as small rail loading cars, bulldozers, tractors, cars, trucks and other machinery around the site;
- the presence of refuse piles and slack heaps.
- large, multi-storey mass and form and general vertical orientation of the individual plant elements;
- enclosed steel gantries and conveyor belts connecting the elements of the plant, giving the facility an overall linear orientation;
- presence of the essential coal-processing elements including the snow-shed, tipple, crusher house, washery and dryer building, dust bin, briquette plant and briquette storage bins;
- steel structural framework of all elements except for the briquette storage bins which exhibits a laminated wood structural frame;
- exterior walls of all elements clad in corrugated metal sheeting;
- presence of most original machinery.
- location high on the hillside overlooking the rest of the mine site;
- concrete construction of the retaining walls and ceilings;
- entablatures bearing the words "BRAZEAU COLLIERIES LTD NORDEGG No.2" and "BRAZEAU COLLIERIES LTD NORDEGG No.3";
Support and Ancillary Buildings
- smaller size and form of the support buildings, which include the 1914 mine office, carpenter and blacksmith shop and a warehouse, the 1923 lamp house and timekeeper's office, the 1930 power house and machine shop, 1932 garage, 1946 boiler house, 1948 wash house and a number of small residences and other ancillary structures and equipment of various pre-1950 construction;
- concentration of many of these buildings around Portal No. 2, with others, notably the Hoist House and the Fan House, dispersed around the mine site;
- mainly frame construction of the support buildings;
- variety of exterior wall finishes including horizontally-oriented wood siding, brick, concrete and metal sheeting.