By : TERRY MALANCHUK
Blakeburn is located 2.5 hours from the central Fraser
Valley, up Hwy.3, 20 minutes north of Princeton and six miles or
20 minutes west of Coalmont. Perched 4000 feet on the top of a
The population varied greatly during her years 1918 to
1940. Peak years saw 400 workers including their spouses and over
a hundred children. Isolated by heavy snows and at that time,
"the most damnable road in B.C.", the Kettle Valley Rail station at
Coalmont was their only reliable outside connection. The town had
to be self-sufficient. The company: Coalmont Collieries, went to
great lengths to provide for the people. Providing everything a
small town required, including recreational needs. They did what
was necessary to attract, and to retain the best coal miners.
At least by the standards of the day, they succeeded.
In 1920 they constructed two churches, a school, a doctors office,
post office, company general store and community hall. There were as
well, two tennis courts, ice rink and sports field. They raised their
|The company boasted that theirs was" the best timbered mine in
North America". Their mine safety record was near to excellent until:
"Black Wednesday"- August 13, 1930. On that hot, muggy summer day,
at 6:30 pm amongst flashes of lightning, an explosion erupted from the No.4 portal. 45 miners died either from the blast itself or the accompanying
"afterdamp" (a highly toxic, often deadly expulsion of gas, in this case
Methane, Carbon Monoxide, Carbon Dioxide and Nitrogen). It was the fifth worst mining disaster in British Columbia history. Besides the impact to
the town, Black Wednesday would have wide-ranging repercussions on the
province which have influenced mining even today.
Though the colliery persevered for ten more years the end
was in sight. The Canadian Pacific Railroad, having taken full
ownership of the Kettle Valley Railroad, choose to replace
Blakeburn's superior, hot burning, thermal coal for the cheaper, yet
poorer quality Vancouver Island coal. With her primary contract
gone, and few remaining markets for their particular type of
thermal coal, an apparently depleting coal seam and the threat of the Second World War absorbing her workers, Coalmont Collieries
ceased operations in 1940.
| Five long time employees were then given 2 weeks to
remove anything salvageable. For civil liability concerns they
sealed the portals and cut the cables to the aerial tram line. Still
much was left behind, and remains there after sixty-four years.
Despite some logging and access roads running through
parts of the town, also nearby surface coal operations in the 1950s
and recently by the Compliance Energy Co., Blakeburn has been
allowed to rest. Once there were hundreds of buildings, now only a
few dozen remain upright. Though evidence of over 300 structures
are to be found, soon they too will disappear. The mountain-side is
still littered with relics and the other remains of a once lively and unique community.
|On that "Black Wednesday" of August 13, 1930 when 45 men died underground. Their deaths made Blakeburn world famous. Then ten years after their deaths, Both they and indeed the town were forgotten. Then the ghost town was left to the whims of nature.
The 45 dead miners stubbornly remain in the hearts of their families.
Blakeburn retains much of her majesty, resting alone atop that forlorn mountain.
When my friend, Lee Kellett, invited me to see this place, it
came with a complaint: "nothing about Blakeburn makes any sense" the trails have no plan, the buildings are haphazard. Why the only map is from 1930, and shows only a few buildings but clearly there are many. Only one published book, Don Blakes "BLAKEBURN-FROM DUST TO DUST", and that is out of
print. There is so much to see on this mountain, and so few answers. For years I have come here to try and solve the mysteries of this place. In my attempt to help and to satiate my own curiosity, I sought out
various museums and archives, but most had never heard of Blakeburn or had very little information to offer. Sometime in the process of this hunt for the full story behind this town, Blakeburn had become my passion. The results of this successful hunt are, in our opinion, so rewarding that this history must now be
passed to you, the reader.
Through the auspicious of the Princeton Museum and Archives; the Blakeburn Reunion Society; Don Blakes book
"Blakeburn-From Dust to Dust", Skookum Publications,1985;
Provincial mining reports; Interviews with former residents and
their decedents plus many additional source materials including
numerous unpublished photographs many answers have been found. Still for every answer two more questions inevitably arose
and it soon became apparent that we would have to seek answers
by other means. Together we instigated a methodical mapping
process of the 12 square mile mountain side. Which encapsulated
Blakeburn, the town, its six suburbs and five mines. As well as the
five mile long aerial tram line, and four mile narrow gauge railway.
This was accomplished by walking the mountain in fifty-foot grids, with the add of compass, surveyor's line and a global positioning
system. The result is the first ever comprehensive map of
Blakeburn and is supported by hundreds of historical and over a
thousand current photographs. Taken by both digital and 35mm
cameras. As a result, Blakeburn began to reveal an astounding
picture of a heritage jewel, too long forgotten.
It is my hope that this project may preserve her story, before she vanishes into dust. That the maps and photographs, both old and new, will provide some posterity. That the stories of the people who lived and died there will be remembered. That tourists may now visit with an understanding of what they can find there.
Possibly steps may be taken to preserve the site. But if nothing else
we will now know what life must have been like, what happened
there and what, if only for today remains of her.
|Photos provided by Terry Malanchuk, Princeton Museum and Archives,
Robert D.S. Murray and Doug Cox.
|A very complete book for $24.95|
|Web site Link|
|Ghost Town Main page...|
|Ghost Town List...|