The Crow’s Nest Pass Coal Company established the Michel mine in 1899 and was the last underground mines to close in the Elk Valley in 1964. The towns of Michel, Natal and Middletown grew up around the mine. After the mines closed, these were demolished, forcing residents to relocate to Sparwood or Fernie. Some residents left and never came back. This bus tour explores where the three towns and mine operations once existed and includes a visit to both the Fernie Museum and the new Sparwood Museum.
Tickets are $30 per person and include transportation, admission to the Fernie Museum and the Sparwood Museum, and light refreshments. Tickets are available at the Fernie Museum or online.
Michel was the first, established after the Crow’s Nest Coal Company opened a mine site in 1899. The town, which had almost 500 residents by 1901, was considered the commercial centre in the valley. It was here miners and their families were offered company homes to live. It was also the location for the last hospital, a 19-bed, three-story structure located across Michel Creek from the Michel Hotel. With the Canadian Pacific Railway eager to transport coal, the Michel mine was producing 11,000 tons by 1901. Three years later, Michel’s trio of mines was producing 235,250 tons of coal. With the growing success at the Michel mines, the town’s population mushroomed to 1,200 by 1907.
The community of Natal was established in 1907, and until 1910 was known as Newtown or New Michel. When a town site was laid out that year workers were given the chance to own their homes. Natal was considered the cultural centre in the valley, housing three of the four hotels in the valley, a movie theatre, an opera house and later a basketball hall.
In later years, the tiny community of Middletown, which had about 40 homes, sprang up between Michel and Natal. Between Middletown and Michel were the mine buildings, structures and entrances, including the tipple, coke ovens, wash house, power plant and offices, and between Middletown and Natal were the school, ball field, United Church, Catholic Church, convent and the parish hall.