Coalmont – never reaching the status of “boom” town – was built for a specific purpose: to service coal miners and their families who worked up the mountain behind the village. Coal was first discovered in the area as early as 1858. It was described as a fully exposed vein that could be lit by a match. When the Columbia Coal and Coke Company decided to begin mining “black diamonds” (coal) at what would become Blakeburn, the company realized that a proper town was needed. After purchasing land for a town site from the Rabbitt family in February, 1911 a site east of Coalmont was established. Its original name – Cardiff – soon changed to Upper Town. On June 6, 1911 the “Coalmont, B.C. Plan of Townsite” was registered in Kelowna marking the birth of Coalmont. Coalmont was predicted to be the “city of destiny” with a population of 10,000 in the near future. In 1922, Coalmont’s population peaked at about 400.
Upper Town 1911 (Bailey, Frank. Nicola, Similkameen and Tulameen Valleys The Richest Sections of British Columbia. Vancouver: Ward, Ellwood & Pound Printers, 1919) Upper Town was the location for the mining office, shipping terminal, power plant, company stables, school and workers’ residences. Coalmont was the location for stores, hotels and other businesses, and residences. The lumber to build the necessary buildings came from the saw mill in nearby Tulameen. The original mine site was on the hillside overlooking the south side of the Tulameen River, a bit west of Coalmont. Part of the wooden abutment for the Upper Town bridge still survives on the south shore of the Tulameen River, about a kilometer upstream of the present bridge. Coal was originally mined at Fraser Gulch from underneath, but the ground proved unstable, and the coal seams fractured.
Coalmont Collieries took over the operation in 1913, and began mining higher on the mountain, accessing the coal from above, but production and all development in the town stopped when war broke out in 1914. After the war, owners Blake Wilson and Pat Burns reorganized the company, and resumed operations. When a three mile long aerial tramway was built to carry the coal from the Blakeburn mine site down to Upper Town, production increased from about 10,000 tons a year to over 100,000 and it eventually peaked at approximately 165,000 tons in 1928. The tramway operated by gravity. The full hoppers of coal moving down provided the energy to take the empty buckets back up. The tramway could transport a ton of coal a minute. The Kettle Valley Railway, part of the C.P.R., originally purchased the coal for their steam engines, but quickly discovered that it burned too hot and warped the firebox grates, a similar problem to that experienced by the locals when used in their stoves. Stove lids and grates were big sellers in the local stores! The old KVR railbed (sans rails) is now part of the well maintained Trans Canada Trail. The railway arrived in Coalmont in November 1911, and although it was officially known as the Victoria, Vancouver & Eastern, the line to all practical purposes was a regular Great Northern Railway branch line, as they had purchased the VV&E charter to build through Canadian territory. The KVR took over operation of the line in 1915, and in 1944 the Canadian Pacific Railway purchased the Princeton-Brookmere line outright. The train station and water tower (which were both standard GNR designs) were located to the south side of the KVR tracks, just west of Parrish Ave., in the vacant field to your right as you turn into town from Princeton.
At various times in its heyday Coalmont boasted a hotel, numerous stores, restaurants, a laundry, pool halls, two churches, schools, a bank, liquor store, livery stables, newspaper, doctor’s office, insurance office, police station, barbershops and a brothel. Since Coalmont was a company town, its streets were named after important company men.
In 1940, when Coalmont Collieries closed their operations, the village of Coalmont was abandoned by many of the businesses and the electricity was turned off for 25 years. A few locals stayed and kept the town alive.
In 2012, 101 years later, Coalmont is alive and well. The Coalmont Hotel still operates as a pub. The General Store is a private residence and provides ice cream from a kiosk during the summer months. The architect’s carpentry shop, after numerous lives, has become the office of the Mozey-On-Inn Motel and the tourist information site. One livery stable still stands as does the old Meat Market/Liquor Store (no longer in operation). If one looks carefully they can see a loading ramp where trains were loaded with sheep and marl. The architect’s house has been moved, but is still a residence and can be found on Columbia Street. Upon entering Coalmont the locals’ hillbilly sense of humour is present in the signs welcoming and warning visitors, and the Coalmont tree that changes decorations according to upcoming holidays and celebrations.
Coalmont has always been a quiet and unassuming little village; but it still offers much to see and do. Quaders and dirt bikers revel on the mountain trails. Hikers and cyclists enjoy the old KVR. “Wanna be” prospectors can dip their pans in the free area set aside for tourists on the Tulameen River. Geocachers are in cacher heaven with 80 plus caches hidden within 8 miles of the town. Animal lovers can visit Coalmont’s Goat and Lamb Sanctuary. White Sands beach is a favourite picnic spot and swimming hole. For those with a four wheel drive vehicle, Lodestone Lake is a popular fishing place. Explorers can enjoy a visit to the Granite Creek ghost town (where gold was discovered in 1885) and the Granite Creek cemetery which is lovingly maintained by locals. Even ghost hunters have been known to explore the area looking for spirits from the past.
Coalmont is 19 km. west of Princeton on the Coalmont Road. For more detailed information about Coalmont’s history please visit the website: http://www.coalmont.mozey-on-inn.com/history.html
Coalmont in 1911
Coalmont from above, 2011 (photo: Diane Sterne)