Railway museum honours coal industry
Paintearth Mine manager Kyle Hobbs talks about the history of the coal mine and the role it has played in the region during Coal — End of an Era at the Camrose Railway Museum and Park on Saturday. Josh Aldrich/Camrose Canadian
As Canada moves ahead with its push to greener energy sources, there is a past that risks being swept under the rug.
Much of the region and the province was settled and powered on the backs of the coal industry, but as the province moves forward there has been an effort to vilify the resource. On Saturday the Camrose Railway Museum and Park paid homage to the industry and how it laid the ground work for our society in the West with Coal — End of an Era.
To do this they held an art show, brought in story tellers and poets, hosted a coal miner's lunch, a sing along and other demonstrations in a truncated slate of activities due to cold and windy weather.
Key to the day, however, was a presentation by Kyle Hobbs, the general manager at the Paintearth Mine near Forestburg and Sheerness Mine near Hanna, and Travis Culham the station manager at ATCO's Battle River Generating Station.
"Days like this, it's good to see people interested and to [have] that reflection of what we've been through and hopefully there's a future to it too," said Hobbs.
The Paintearth Mine is contracted by ATCO to supply coal for Battle River Generating Station. The 6,226 Ha. surface strip mine employs 70 people directly in the Forestburg and Camrose area and has been in operation since 1956. It's contract with ATCO runs until 2022 and faces an uncertain future with the government's movement to phase out coal plants completely by 2030. In the last years alone, Hobbs says their production has been cut in half.
The mine to this point has been a survivor as other plants have shut down over the last few generations. It has been a big part of the lifeblood of the region for more than 60 years.
"We have fourth generation workers at the mine site and it was their great grandpas were the ones who came out and settled and started some of the mining," said Hobbs. "This whole province is blessed with having coal."
On ATCO's end, they are having to adjust to new government regulations while looking for more efficient, sustainable and cleaner sources of energy to power a growing province. This means their coal-fired plants will be converted to natural gas, in the short term as they continue to develop new technologies.
"It's time to focus on greener and more environmentally friendly technologies, but it is important not to forget the contribution that this industry has made," said Culham.
End of an Era featured many tributes to the coal industry and its importance to the region. Diana Nickel and her sister grew up out on a coal line many years ago, before her family eventually moved to Edmonton. She talked about the community where they grew up, what life was like as the province developed into an energy power but also what it was like as the mine shut down.
Culham has become well aware of the human element involved as he has gone through public consultations as plants transition away from coal. It has brought up a lot of difficult conversations.
"They're looking for the golden days, the days when there was lots of activity at the station," he said.
The day provided that opportunity to wax poetically about those golden days.
While weather did put a damper on the day to a degree, museum manager Norm Prestage was happy with the turnout that brought people of all ages out to the train station. Though Prestage spear-headed the day, it was still an opportunity for him to learn a lot more about the industry's history.
"We've had a lot of people who actually worked for the railroad and coal mines 20-30 years ago have come through and have talked to us and I learn a lot from them," he said.