Bellevue Underground Coal Mine
Ghosts of Coal and Communism
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You may suddenly realize that this is your first experience of absolute darkness. A few minutes walk inside the mine, the guide instructs you and your companions to switch off the lamp attached to your miner's helmets. The blackness is overwhelming.
The final wagonload of coal emerged from the Bellvue pit in 1961, just weeks after Canadian Pacific retired the last of its steam locomotives, which had consumed 90 percent of the mine's production since it opened in 1903. Coal mining was a mean business: 31 miners died in an explosion in 1910 and continuous labour strife pitted a sometimes-ruthless management against a union that did not hide its hatred of capitalism.
Crowsnest Pass became known as "the Communist Capital of Canada". In 1933, the mining families of Blairmore elected Canada's first Communist town council. The council dismissed Remembrance Day as a celebration of imperialism and instead officially celebrated May Day to commemorate the Russian Revolution. Blairmore's main street was renamed from Victoria Avenue to "Tim Buck Boulevard" to honour the imprisoned leader of the Communist Party of Canada.
The first 300 metres of the mine's level main tunnel have been reinforced and restored to give visitors a safe hint of life below ground. Retired miners guide the tours which are offered from mid-May to Labour Day.
A note of caution: The mine is reputed to be haunted, with inexplicable auras of light sometimes interrupting the blackness.