Crowsnest Pass, AB
Demographic Factsheet:
Population (2011): 5,565
Population change since 2006: -3.2%
Age groups:(5)
0-14: 12.3 %
15-64: 66.1 %
65 and over: 21.5 %
Pop density / sq. km: 14.9 people / km^2
Land area: 373.07 km^2
Average family income (all census families): NA
Visible minority: NA
Employment rate: NA
Participation rate: NA
Average price for SDH:
Housing starts (2011): NA
Average rental rate: NA
Homeownership rate: NA
Number of households: 2,585
Median age of the population: 50.8
The Specialized Municipality of Crowsnest Pass is a 32 km tract of land that is located 269 km’s south east of Calgary and 144 km’s west of Lethbridge. The region is composed of several small towns and districts that in 1979 consolidated into one municipal government in order to cut back on expenditures. Further expansion of the Region in 1996 as Crowsnest Pass swallowed whole the Improvement District No. 6. Although this process has eliminated the duplication of services and cut expenditures across the board, the amalgamation appears mostly political, and the settlements seem to maintain some degree of autonomy. Many of these small towns were strongly impacted by the mines closures in the 1950s, causing a reduction in their tax bases, and amalgamation helped them stave off financial ruin. The chief proponents of this major governmental shift were the towns of Blairmore, Bellevue, and Coleman, who to this day continue to house the bulk of Crowsnest Pass’ population.
Though the Canadian-American Crown Coal and Coke Company first began to mine the region near where the town of Frank still resides to today, the first settlement to be developed was Blairmore, which received its post office in 1898 despite a land dispute between McKenzie and Lyon. With a population of 2,088, Blairmore is not only the largest town in the Crowsnest region today, but has continually served as the Pass’ economic powerhouse since the early 20th century, relying on mining and several smaller industries for its key sources of employment. For nearly half a century, Blairmore’s Greenhill mine was the region's crown jewel, and in its peak year of 1946, pushed some 759,000 tons of coal through its tipple. As the economy slowly began to transition from coal to oil after World War I, the Greenhill mine remained successful until 1957 when it shuttered its doors forever. The mines owner, Western Colliers Canada (WWC), insisted that coal might recover, however, and continued to maintain the plant until 1963 when its lower levels eventually flooded over, forcing WWC to salvage what they could.
At times, life in Crowsnest Pass has been arduous, as the region has been anything but exempt from catastrophic disasters throughout its history. The most famous example of calamity occurred in the town of Frank in 1903, which saw a 90 million tons of limestone fall from Turtle Mountain’s exterior, shatter, and cover the eastern slope of the town as those who chose to call it home lay in slumber at 4.10 am. The slope enveloped the town in just over one minute, claiming the lives of an estimated 81 locals, and an untold number of visitors. Local Aboriginal tribes in the area had long told legend of the mountains instability, and the hole opened up by H.L. Frank’s mining operation did nothing but further this issue. A report from the Geological Survey of Canada placed the blame on the developers unsafe mining practices. Regardless, the mouth of the mine was soon reopened, and coal operations began to function again as soon as one month later, despite the mines eventual flooding brought on by the mountain slide damming the Crowsnest River. Beyond the mining disasters that are to be expected of this era, flooding and forest fires have also plagued the area, with the most recent fire wreaking havoc in 2003.
With a weak economy, Crowsnest Pass has been shrinking in population. The municipality sustains itself with both logging and tourism, the latter focused on tours of historical mining sites. For instance, the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre portrays one of the largest landslides in Canadian history, and is labeled as a Provincial Historic Site of Alberta. Perhaps out of necessity rather than a wanton desire to maintain their heritage, nary a street in the region is without century-old housing stock.
Concerns about the municipal management led Crowsnest Pass population to request to the Minister of Municipal Affairs an intervention. In 2013, following the section 571 of the Municipal Government Act, Russell Farmer & Associates Consulting Ltd. was hired to inspect the operations, management and administration of the municipality.The participation of the population in public affairs and the response of the Province for the Crowsnest Pass community’s concerns demonstrate that the region still has a political voice despite its waning population.
The amalgamation of these towns was an important administrative policy to extend the life of those communities, and even though coal mining has stayed back in history, a coal renaissance is expected to occur in the next few years with the help of Australian investment in the area. In August 2013, Riversdale Resources had completed the acquisition of Crowsnest Pass coal properties, and the company estimates a potential of production of two to four million tons of coal per year over a forecast of 28 years. The industry would employ 1,000 workers for its construction and 200 to operate it, and would bring tremendous economic activity for the aging population of the municipality, however, the revival of the coal mining industry is also raising environmental worries. Regardless, Riversdale Resources expects to begin its coal mining operations in late 2018. 

Dr. Leith Deacon PhD