The Atlas Coal Mine Investigation, Drumheller, Alberta

Coal Mining in the Drumheller Valley

Coal was not hard to discover in the area that is now Drumheller, Alberta, Canada. Seams of coal show up as black stripes in the badlands of the Red Deer River Valley. 

The Blackfoot and Cree knew about the black rock that burned, but they didn't like to use it. Later, three white explorers reported coal in the area: Peter Fidler in 1792, Dr. James Hector of the Palliser Expedition in 1857, and Joseph Tyrrell in 1884. 

In the years that followed, a handful of ranchers and homesteaders dug coal out of river banks and coulees to heat their homes. However, the first commercial coal mine did not open until Sam Drumheller started the coal rush in the area that now bears his name. 

The rush started when Sam bought land off a local rancher named Thomas Greentree. Sam turned around and sold this land to Canadian National Railway, to develop a townsite. Sam also registered a coal mine. Before his mine opened, however, Jesse Gouge and Garnet Coyle beat him to it, and opened the Newcastle Mine. CN laid tracks into town, and the first load of coal was shipped out of Drumheller in 1911. 

Once the railway was built, people poured in. Hundreds, then thousands, of people came to dig coal. The greatest numbers came from Eastern Europe, Britain, and Nova Scotia. More mines opened. By the end of 1912, there were 9 working coal mines, each with its own camp of workers: Newcastle, Drumheller, Midland, Rosedale, and Wayne. In the years that followed, more mines and camps sprang up: Nacmine, Cambria, Willow Creek, Lehigh, and East Coulee. 

Coal mining was hard, dirty, dangerous work. Mining in the Drumheller Valley, however, was less hard, dirty, and dangerous than it was in many other coal mining regions in Canada. This was due to both lucky geology and lucky timing.

The geology of the Drumheller coal field results in flat lying seams, which are much safer to mine than the steeply pitching seams of the mountain mines. In addition, the coal produced in Drumheller is sub-bituminous. This grade of coal is "immature" which means it hasn't had time to build up a strong concentration of gas. Methane gas is the biggest killer in coal mines around the world. 

The timing of the Drumheller mine industry was lucky, too. By the time the Newcastle opened in 1911, the right to better working conditions had been fought for and won by miners' unions in North America. As a result, miners were provided with wash houses, better underground ventilation, and higher safety standards. When the Newcastle opened, there were laws in place to prohibit child labour, so boys under 14 were no longer allowed underground. The worst of the worst coal mining days were over, at least in North America.

Nevertheless, early mine camps around Drumheller were called "hell's hole" because miners lived in tents, or shacks, with little sanitation and little comfort. It was a man's world, with drinking, gambling, and watching fistfights common forms of recreation. As shacks gave way to little houses, and women joined the men and started families, life improved. Hockey, baseball, music, theatre, and visiting friends enriched peoples' lives. Going downtown Saturday night was a huge event, with every language in Europe spoken by the crowds spilling off the sidewalks. No longer "hell's hole," Drumheller became "the wonder town of the west!" and "the fastest growing town in Canada, if not in North America!" 

Sub bituminous coal is ideal for heating homes and cooking food. People all over western Canada heated their homes, schools, and offices with Drumheller coal. Long, cold winters were good for Drumheller, because everyone needed lots of coal. In these years, miners had of money in their pockets. Short, mild winters were difficult. A miner might only work one day a week, and get laid off in early spring. He got through the summer by growing a big garden, catching fish, and working for farmers. 

Between 1911 and 1979, 139 mines were registered in the Drumheller valley. Some mines didn't last long, but 34 were productive for many years. Between 1912 and 1966, Drumheller produced 56,864,808 tons of coal, making it one of the major coal producing regions in Canada. 

The beginning of the end for Drumheller's mining industry was the Leduc Oil Strike of 1948. After this, natural gas became the fuel of choice for home heating in western Canada. To the mine operators, it seemed that people switched from messy coal stoves to clean gas furnaces as fast as they could. As the demand for coal dropped, mines closed. As mines closed, people moved away and communities suffered. 

Some communities, like Willow Creek, completely vanished. Others, like East Coulee, went from a boomtown of 3800 to a ghost town of 180. When the Atlas #4 Mine shipped its last load of coal in 1979, the coal years of Drumheller were over. 

The Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site preserves the last of the Drumheller mines. The Atlas recalls the time when Coal was King, and "mining the black" brought thousands of people to this lonely valley. The nearby East Coulee School Museuminterprets the life of children and families in a bustling mine town. 

The Investigation

We started our investigation with the row of mine houses and buildings that are situated near the main parking area. As we gathered our equipment we were greeted by Carla, The Atlas Coal Mine Museum Curator, who took us into the Gift Shop and main building. She was eager to see what we may capture and proceeded to gather a notepad and paper. I explained to Carla to not let on about any history or known haunting, but to allow us to explore and investigate unmolested. Carla agreed and said she would take notes that we could compare to later to see if anything we capture or feel matches to their previous experiences and histories.

Our group was immediately succumb to a shortness of breathe and coughing fits. This feeling would be a trend throughout our investigation. As we explored the giftshop area and its museum artifacts our EVP machine picked up laboured breathing as if it was through a machine or a breathing mask. At this same instance JJ noticed a difference in the quality of air and he noted that it “...isn't exactly fresh and inviting.”

We continued to investigate the next house, noted as the “White House” or “Grey House” where upon entering Cher noted: “It's like we are disturbing someone's peace. I can see someone back here smoking a cigarette. Right back here by the window, as soon as I walked in through the door I felt like I was disturbing someone.”

Shortly after making this statement we recorded an EVP that sounds like ““They don't like us. They don't like to touch.”

The Washhouse

JJ then commented that “...It feels very heavy in here and I don't know if it is just from the dust and the artifacts that are in here, but it feels very heavy.”

Our entire group felt constricted and short of breathe upon entering each building but the next house we encountered a totally opposite effect. The air quality was different and there wasn't a heaviness to the air.

Cher said she smelled lavender, but none of the other team could pick up this smell, but we agreed that the air was different and that there wasn't such a feeling to whereas we wanted to cough or breathe heavily.

We focused in on one particular room and recorded an EVP which says: “Please listen.” and shortly after another that is unidentifiable, but ends with “...yah.” as if answering another spirits question or affirming a comment.

“I feel a sense of familiarity. Like I know these people and places for a long time,” said Ray, who described this feeling throughout the investigation.

We then proceeded to the last house in the row where Angela immediately felt sick upon entering. I felt a strange feeling of forbodding as soon as I crossed the threshold and as Cher entered she immediately commented: “It feels like there is a very upset man here.”

Following he comment we recorded an EVP that states: “He's mad.”

We proceeded into each room on the first floor but as we ascended the stairs we were immediately drawn to the room on the right where each of our group felt nauseous and dizzy. Upon exiting the room the feeling had gone away. Entering again, and the same feeling came over each and everyone of us. I started writing in my notes and wrote down that someone, a male, had a severe head injury and somehow was connected to this room, or this house. As I concentrated on this feeling the back of my head began to ache, as did my neck.


Angela said that her face was “insanely itchy” while within the room and JJ commented that the hairs on his arms and neck were standing up and he was experiencing a chilling sensation that ran down his back. Cher remained quiet in this room and then as we exited she announced to me while the others investigated the basement area that “That room back there where we were. I think the rafter was exposed and someone hung themselves there. I could be wrong, but I know someone was behind me and my hands went cold. Her name was Sarah Anna or Hanna or something like that. I think she killed herself.”

At this time I reveal to Cher my closed notepad with the words “Room upstairs on right: Suicide, female.”

I ask Cher to see if she can get a name and she comes up with a name of Sarah Anna or Hanna. At this moment we capture an EVP that sounds like “Lionel.”

Upon speaking to Carla after our investigation she revealed that she is unaware of the any suicide within the house, however, says that she can connect the head injury to the back of the head to an accident they had at the mine in which a miner backed into an exposed power line with the back of his head electrocuting himself instantly. She also commented that the house was the electrical engineers house.

Our group then proceeded to the yard were we drawn into different locations. Ray was especially interested in taking a path down and past a wire fence around a corner of the main hill where he felt he needed to go. He could not proceed further due to safety concerns but later Carla revealed that Ray was onto something as the largest mine disaster in Drumheller history occurred just around the corner at the Monarch Mine where several men were killed and injured in a blast and cave in. The Atlas Coal Mine's manager attempted to rescue injured men, but was asphyxiated and died in the mine shaft.

Angela was interested in a train car that later Carla said she wished we would have spent more time on as it was related to a death and many injuries.

As we inspected the artifacts and equipment we made our way into the main tipple, the largest and only still standing coal tipple in North America. Entering this location one really starts to understand the hard work and life the miners endured. Everyone felt short of breathe and started to cough as we climbed the tipple.

We stopped near the top to take pictures and video. The air quality was affecting us more.

“It feels so bad in here like it is so hard to breathe, so hot and dry,” said JJ.

“Holy hell,” replied Angela to the sudden change in air quality.

“It's just hard to breathe, my mouth is so dry. What the hell?”

Both Angela and JJ heard a loud sighing sound to which the EVP recorder verified.
Angela feels as if the sound came from where JJ was standing, but JJ said he did not make the sound.

“I heard it. It was a like a sigh of frustration,” JJ said and notes that his telephoto lens on his camera zoomed in and out at the same time without pressing the button.

JJ and Angela question if I had heard it and I reply that I did not. I was standing about 8 to 10 feet away. Angela said it was “ a sound of desperation – like why me?”

Cher was further up the tipple near the very top where she said she did not hear any sounds, but said she felt as if someone had jumped from the top, was pushed off, or simply fell. Later Carla revealed that no such incident nor accident had occurred.

JJ and Angela were intrigued with hearing an audible sound and tried to capture more sounds on the EVP recorder. I proceeded down to join them and guide them if needed.

“Do you want us to leave? Do you want to say Hi?” asked JJ to which a response was recorded on EVP: “You need to get a doctor.”

“Did you die up here or in the house?” I asked.

An EVP recorded reveals: “The house. I died.”

“Did you die in the mine?” I asked and got a response: “Yes.”

“Was it an instant death?” I ask and again “Yes” is recorded.

Not knowing that we were in direct contact and getting immediate replies I comment to JJ that :“This is not a good feeling.” The air seamed hot, stale and there was a feeling of dread.

“No its not a good feeling,” responds JJ. We both felt strange being there asking questions to seemingly nothing. Our EVP recorder, however, verified that we were not alone.

We exited the tipple and made our way to the Wash House where we experienced the majority of activity. Immediately Cher and I were drawn to the attic or upstairs area. Cher climbed to take a look and asked Carla “What's up here?” to which Carla replied: “Nothing its an attic.”

I was satisfied that Carla did not reveal until later what was in the attic. I wrote down on my pad that I felt there was a secret in the attic, that something in the attic was hidden from others. Cher and I did not pursue the attic further as we were drawn into the main room. Carla later revealed that in fact a secret had been in the attic – the miners had confessed many years later that a prostitute named Alice had entertained men in the room above. Curators found a small brass bed as proof that someone had in fact slept in the room many years ago.

Boots in The Wash House

Our group felt different in the Wash House. We all felt as though someone or something was there with us. Something we could not see, but we could sense. Several members of our group felt as though a fight had occurred and that it was a busy place at one time. We decided to split up and sit alone, each in a section of the Wash House.

Upon sitting in one area, I concentrated my vision on one particular area where in front of me manifested small feel splashing across and through flowing water. They were children's feet, which struck me odd. Angela noted that she had seen movement but could not make it out from her vantage point. Children's feet in a miner's wash house? It didn't make sense to me, but I revealed my sighting to Carla after our investigation to which she said the woman and children of the miners did use the wash house on Sundays confirming my vision.

Our group assembled into the main wash area where we tried to make communication with the spirit or spirits who we all felt were present. We made several attempts to communicate with whatever was present but we did not get an audible answer nor one that was recorded on the EVP machine until Carla started asking questions herself. On her third or fourth question we started picking up answers on the EVP recorder.

Carla asked: “Do you know about Alice?” to which we record a reply “Yes.”

I then ask: “Can you tell us about a secret?” but do not get an answer.

Cher then asked “Is it about them?” I am not sure what exactly Cher meant by this, but we do get a recorded reply: “Yes.”

“Did they die here?” Carla asked and gets another reply. “Yes” is recorded on EVP.

“Can you tell us the year?” Carla continues and the year (or age) of “29” is recorded.

I then press on to see if we can make physical contact: “If there is someone with us here now, can you touch one of us?” and an EVP is recorded: “Sorry.”

Cher then said she is picking up on name of spirit with us Joseph Lazar to which Carla is curious about.

“I feel alright,” is recorded right after Cher says the name.

“Does this man know me?” asked Carla.

Cher answers that he does and that he is present with us in spirit form. I ask Carla if anything is making sense to her and she indicates that it does.

“One of the last men working here was Joseph and he did know me. He wasn't directly related to me but he was sort of like my grandpa.”

Immediately as Carla talks about the Joseph person she knows both Angela and myself see some movement in the dark corner. We proceed to ask more questions but reveal no answers and record no further EVPs.

We then made our way to other out buildings which gave us no indication of a haunting but meet up with a maintainance worker who is finishing up putting wooden steps at the top of the mine hill. He is intrigued by our presence and indicates he has had experiences of his own at the property. He said he feels comfortable with the ghosts and knows that some of them come around to visit.

Our next stop, we entered the Supply House and Infirmary. My video camera batteries were near exhausted and I jogged back to the vehicle parking lot to retrieve another battery. The team continued to investigate noting that the upstairs of the infirmary had various cold spots.

Both Cher and Angela feel cold alongside their backs and legs. Cher feels ice cold in one location and cannot get her camera to turn on even though the batteries remain charged. The cold spots are felt by JJ, Angela and Ray confirming location and temperature change.

At one point, Cher feels as though someone is standing in front of her and then feels as though someone had walked by and brushed her bangs.

As I arrive with my fresh battery we enter the basement infirmary where we see an old bed and several historical items. Cher picks up on leg amputations and injuries, however, the rest of the group do not pick up on any unusual feelings.

As we proceed out of the building JJ says that there is definite cold spots in the upstairs and that it felt “weird.”

Carla explains later that the cold spots may be that of a ghost that had been seen in the building by several witnesses including a child. The describe the ghost as a plain-jane looking older woman. Delving into the archives, Carla found out that the building was used by a female doctor making the previous claims of eye-witnesses more valid.

We then proceeded to the mine managers office where no one had picked up anything unusual. I was drawn to a timepiece, however, and when I questioned Carla about the artifact, she smiled and indicated it was once owned and used by Joseph. This further shows us that this spirit was present and guided us along.

The team reassembled in the gift shop to discuss with Carla what we had found where she discusses our investigation and she reveals the history of The Atlas Coal Mine.

Special Thanks To The Atlas Coal Mine. Historical information provided by The Atlas Coal Mine.

The Atlas Coal Mine features a haunted attraction every year at the end of October:


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About This Blog

Out of the Dark: The Ghost Hunting Chronicles is a blog providing detailed investigations of the Out of the Dark team, paranormal news and editorial.

It will also feature the past investigations of paranormal investigator and author John Savoie.