Mine History in the Area

SE Saskatchewan, Canada

Coal Mine History in SE Saskatchewan

 First Shovel in the area of our Farm house located 1 mile south of Bienfait.
Picture dated Jan 27, 1953

Below is my compilation of various history books, census forms, Canadian and British, Birth & Death Records, UK and Saskatchewan, Cemetery Records of Rosemary Mack, Canadian Archives material, and various family histories, from many books, plus my Mom's old scrapbooks, with Estevan Mercury articles, pictures, Leader Post articles and pictures.

I do not take credit for any of this material, other than the compiling of it here. Being old history, most over 100 years, I doubt if it is copyright any more, but if any of the info below is copyright, and you want to see it removed, please feel free to contact me. But I hope for the sake of preserving history, this will not happen. I am not selling this info, I am not profiting in any way on publishing it here. I am only trying to show all this information in one place, it took me many hours to accumulate the story for printing here. I hope you all enjoy it. It is as accurate as I can get it at the moment. I am sure like everything else I do, there is errors. I am not perfect. If there is an error, please let me know, and I will recheck my info, and we will sort it all out. I've seen lots of so called well researched books, and have found many errors in them, so I may or may not be wrong. I've noticed the family histories are the most prone for errors. Usually written by a granddaughter or grandson, the dates and info passed on, can be fuzzy at best. I do appreciate their effort to document their family, as an amateur genealogist, I know what it's like. We all try our best. If I was paid for this, I would travel the world, to gather the documents, but for free, this is what you get.

I have found some new newspaper clippings, which have revised the order and dates quite a bit, on the mines and work in this area. I have added new pages, with links from this page or the town index pages.


First to see the coal in this area, would have been the Natives in the area. I don't know if there is any written record of them using the coal though. Assiniboine, Chippewas, Sioux, and Cree, all were here, as early as the 1700's.

Geological terms, this area is part of the Paleocene Ravenscrag formation.

Prior to coal being reported in the area, the First White Men had a few expeditions into this area. Most if not all were Fur Traders.


Two Sons of Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye (1685-1749) or Pierre La Verendrye (Sr.) for short, in 1742, were at least close to this area, on their way west in search of a western sea, or river that flowed west.. They named the Souris River, the St. Pierre River, after their father. Earlier in 1731, La Vérendrye left Montreal with three of his four sons, Jean-Baptiste, Pierre, and François, and made it as far as Winnipeg, before turning south to the Missouri river. In 1742 Pierre La Verendrye (Jr.) and one of his other brothers, came exploring and possibly came into this area. Again nothing documented that I know of.

Rock engravings at Roche Percee show early dates of 1773, to 1810. Possibly Hudson Bay Company fur traders who came through the area. Again not much recorded, in the way of coal deposits.

ca. 1806

The Native Indian legend below, written about here in 1906, says a century earlier this story happened, so it seems ca 1806, the coal was seen by this lone fur trapper. Are those his initials scratched on the walls of the stone described above? Too bad there is no name here. Wonder what happened to the carving?


In 1849 Captain John Palliser was near this area, but not known if he actually made it to see the coal deposits. It is speculated he did, and the reason he returned in 1857.


The first “official” written record of the coal deposits came in 1853.
I am wondering now after further research, if 1858 was the date of this record?, and the 8 became a 3 over time? Easy to confuse the two in old documents. See 1858 entry below, which I know is accurate and documented.

Four United States Railroad surveyors were mapping a route to the Pacific for a railroad from the Mississippi river, and discovered lignite coal in 1853 (1858?) along the Souris Valley. There was nothing done then about the discovery, and their writings. (I have since found a map and documents on the 1858 expedition.


In 1857 the Palliser Expedition was sent out by the Canadian Government to explore that portion of British North America. They had heard of the Sandstone structure at Roche Percee, and went 60-70 miles southward from Fort Ellice to see it for themselves. They reached the Souris Valley on August 21, 1857, a short distance east of Roche Percee. a Doctor James Hector (Naturalist) and Captain John Palliser were involved. On the sides of the valley, a thin seam of lignite coal was exposed. It was written about, but nothing was ever done.


An 1858 map shows American Engineers / Surveyors, were in Roche Percee area, June 28, 29, 30 and Aug 1,1858, looking for route to Pacific for the Railroad.
Frederick W. Lander was one of the Engineers, He was a Cadet and Civil Engineer, trained at Norwich University at Vermont.
Lander Wyoming, and Lander County in Nevada, named after him.
He married Margaret Davenport, a famous English actress at that time. Settled in California.
Coal was known there at that time and shown on the map.
He passed a huge tribe of Assiniboia Indians on this trip. 150 huts he wrote.


The Boundary Commission went through this area just before the NWMP in 1874.

Excerpt from Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Volume 0022, Issue 129 (published February 1861) Chapter Title: Red River And Beyond, Page 309, Author: Marble, Manton states this:

“We had been repeatedly informed by half-breeds (Metis) of the existence of coal or lignite in strata in the banks of Mouse (Souris) River, and Saskatchewan. Governor McTavish showed us pieces of lignite from that river- the first that we had seen- and confirmed the fact of its existence on the upper waters of the Mouse (Souris) River. He added that it was used habitually during the winter at Fort Pitt, and a retired chief factor, whom we afterward visited, told us that at his former station, at the Carlton House, it had supplied their blacksmith's forge.”

Chief Factor of Fort Garry, and Governor of the Colony of Assiniboia, appointed in 1858, was William McTavish, Scotch birth or descent, per this book. He came to the Bay in 1833, becoming Chief factor at York Factory at one point. He moved to Red River from York Factory in 1857. b-1815 in Edinburgh Scotland, died July 1870, in Liverpool England of TB.

Manton Marble (1834-1917) was a New York journalist. He was the proprietor and editor of the New York World from 1860 to 1876. In 1859, he went to the Red River Valley as The Evening Post's correspondent, contributed 3 articles to Harper's magazine, one of which is above.


On July 24, 1874, the North-West Mounted Police, on their march west, camped at Short Creek, and burned Lignite coal in their campfires, and forges. Still nothing was done about these discoveries and records. Lots written about the coal, but still no real mines.

Major James Morrow Walsh was in charge of D Troop, and he later returned to the area, setting up the Dominion Coal Company, the first Big Company Coal Mine at Estevan.

Dr. George Mercer Dawson in a 1875 published report commented on the rocks at Roche Percee. He said “they owe their curious forms to the weathering away of soft sand from the bed of hard rocks, which is rendered durable by an abundant calcareous cement.”

Dr. G. M. Dawson was born Aug 1, 1849, in Pictou, NS. In 1873 he was appointed geologist and botanist to her Majesty's North American Boundary Commission. He mapped the Tertiary Lignite Coal which was originally noted by James Hector during the Palliser Survey of the 1850s. Dr. Dawson died Mar. 2, 1901, after becoming sick in his Ottawa office 2 days earlier. He was the son of Sir John William Dawson. He attended the Royal School of mines in London for his training.


Sept 28, 1876, Here we see in writing that the coal in the area was well known.


Nov 27, 1879, Mr. G. S. McKay reports on the coal at Roche Percee Township 1, range 40?, west. He was a bit off on the range? Seems like a few buffalo still around at that time. been able to pin down this fellow's history.

Mr. Hugh McKay Sutherland, President of the Winnipeg and Hudson Bay Railway and Steamship Company, from Winnipeg, came west, with several men to see what all the excitement was about for himself. He actually started to ship coal to Winnipeg in the Spring of 1880, barging the coal to Winnipeg.


Jan 27, 1880, The Murdock Party left Winnipeg to explore the route for the proposed Government Railway to the Souris Coalfields. Actually left with Dog Trains on this day. Haven't been able to find more info on this Murdock

May 27, 1880, Thursday Morning, June 10, 1880, Victoria Daily Colonist printed the story: Prof. Selwyn of the Geological Survey, has arrived at Winnipeg en route to study the geological formation of the Souris Coal Field

Aug 28, 1880, Now we see some serious drilling being done. Mr. William Henry McGarve was hired by the Dominion Government, and did testing 10 miles east of Roche Percee. They drilled to 362 feet, and struck a seam of coal 6 1/2 feet thick. Which they claimed was better quality than at Sutherland's mine, upstream at the sandstone outcropping. see my Coal Mines in the Area page for Mr. McGarvey's bio, Shortly after this he became probably the world's richest man.

Sept 22, 1880, Hugh Sutherland's Company “The Souris Coal and Fuel Company” was the big player in the game.

Dec 10, 1880


1881, First Coal brought to Winnipeg by Hugh Sutherland


Mar 13, 1882 Government Report Minister of the Interior on Roche Percee Souris Coal discussed. Report is actually for year ending June 20, 1881

The June 1882 discovery, is the story of the two Pocock brothers, who came to the Souris (Mouse, St. Pierre) River to shoot non-existent buffalo. Coming from England, they were told buffalo were everywhere on the plains. During their “hunt”, they encountered some of the main coal seams.

The big problem, even though they all knew the coal was here, was the way to get it out. Wagons were used locally, but not good enough for major mines. River was not high enough at all times, so water transport was ruled out by Mr. Hugh Sutherland's attempt. that left the railroad, and until the Manitoba South-Western Railroad extended to here, nothing was to happen, other than local farmer sales. When this railroad was sold to the CPR, the extension was made, and the rest is history. Now they had a relatively cheap way to transport the coal to Winnipeg, and points east. Strange as it sounds, but most of this early coal for years went east, virtually none was used in Saskatchewan. Regina being closer, did not get a lump of this coal. Seems strange to me, how about you. these mines were controlled from Brandon and Winnipeg, and that is where the coal went.


Oct 22, 1883, Souris River Coal District is outlined.


May 19, 1889, It was reported that the Canadian Pacific Railway Company has agreed with the Canadian Government to build a branch line from Brandon southwest 100 miles to the Souris coal district, and also an extension of twenty-five miles from the present terminus of the Manitoba and Southwestern Railway to a junction with the projected Souris branch. The company gets the usual grant of 6,400 acres to the mile.


Sept 29, 1891, Major Walsh announced the Souris Coal Mines will be producing Coal shortly

The First Real Productive “Commercial” Coal Mine in this area was east of Roche Percee in 1888.
Shafts as deep as 90 feet down were dug in that area.
“The Hassard Mine” was its name, was owned by Hugh Hassard
I created the separate web page for this mine, as it is so important to the history of the area.

Shown on this portion of the 1888 NWMP map from the Estevan NWMP Museum.

His mine was later to become the Souris Valley Coal Co. mine in 1895, with a 8 ft coal seam. Located on SE 1/4 of Sec 4. TP2, Range 6, W 2nd, east of Roche Percee.

An article I have, states there was 2 mines, the Hassard mine, down below the old stone house, and Daddy Gow's mine, 1 and 1/2 miles east of that. The author says both of these mines were working in 1890-1891. Alex Dunbar was a miner in the Gow mine. This article also states the first crossing was a bridge 1/4 mile east of the present Taylorton bridge. it was built they claim in 1892. This would have been the bridge that washed away in 1904, from another book. It was built while the Soo Line trestle just south of there was being built. “The Price Mine” is also mentioned next to the Hassard mine. The Bio for Mr. Hiiliard Edwin Price is on my Coal Mines in the Area page

Souris Valley Coal Mine was sold to the Taylor family of Winnipeg and renamed Western Dominion Collieries ltd. This is the name that Taylorton comes from. One source on the Pocock story, says it was Jim and Tom Taylorton that started a mine in 1887. This I have not found anywhere else.

Another version said The John Taylor Family who came from Winnipeg Manitoba, but John was only one of seven sons of Richard, and he was appointed to manage the mine only. Another of Richard's sons was R.R. Taylor Jr. All of this info comes from a family source, Kaye Taylor, wife of Delbert G. Taylor, who is the Great-Grandson of Richard Radcliffe Taylor. Also adding info was Rhonda, Kaye and Delbert's daughter. I thank them all very much for this update on history. Now we know it was named after Richard Ratcliffe Taylor Sr.


1904 Government Report by Donaldson Bogart (Donald) Dowling, B, Ap. Sc. (b- Nov 5,1858 in Ontario - May 26, 1925)

Dec 1904

There were 8 coal mines operating near Estevan. At Bienfait the CPR mines had an 11 ft seam with Mr. Brown as the manager.
Souris Coal Mining Co at coalfields had 300 men working. It was the oldest and largest mine in the district, and most of it's output was from the old Hazzard mine.
Hugh Sutherland's mine and the Griffith Mine were in development stages.
The Eureka mine, south of Estevan, was one of the best in the district, and they had the brickyard in connection with it.

A mine could not open without the proper permits. Mine Inspectors from the government were constantly looking for mines operating without the proper paper work. They also did safety inspections of the working mines.

First an owner or operator had to obtain mineral rights for the land. Owning the surface land was not enough. They had to have a pit boss that would constantly survey the area, to ensure they were mining on their own property. He was also responsible for the safety of the mine, width of the pillars left, and properly timbered as they went deeper.

The best grade of Lignite coal in this area was about 100 feet below the surface. They dug an entry from a hillside, on the bank of the Souris River, at a slope, or an angle, down to reach this seam. Thickness of the seam was up to 14 feet (4.27 mtrs), but averaging 6-7 ft.. the entry was 8 ft (2.4 mtrs) wide, down to the vein, then 2 entries were driven into the vein, with 24 ft (8 yds) (7.3 mtrs) wide rooms at right angles on either side of these. Pillars of coal, 6 ft (1.8 mtrs) wide were left between these rooms to support the roof, and then cross cuts were made for air circulation. This form of mining was called the Conventional Room-and-Pillar Method, also known as Bord and Pillar method in England, was used in many parts of the world, prior to this area. It is one of the oldest forms of underground mining known. It creates a grid like pattern underground. They did not do retreat mining, as was used in some mines later on. Bord (also spelled board) is another term for a coal roadway, or side gallery, or room, It was probably a system invented in England.

As they dug deeper, air shafts were dug to the surface to supply air to the mine deep underground. They used a fan at the bottom of the slope to circulate the air. They used these fans at noon and evening after they used black powder shot to extract the coal, to evacuate the thick smoke it generated. Some mines used children to open and close big doors in a rapid manner, to create air movement. They used electric cutting and shearing machines later on, which made it a little safer.

All work was done by the light of the carbide lamp, worn on a cloth hat by the underground miner. No breathing apparatus, no air quality testing stations. No real safety equipment of any kind.

Light rails were laid, and coal was loaded into mini coal cars, then towed by horses to the bottom of the slope. My dad's job underground was looking after horses that did this job. The larger mines used vertical shafts to raise the coal to the surface on a hoist. They only used the slope for the men to enter and exit the mine. They also used electric trolleys, rather than horses to tow the cars, which were also larger than the first mines in the area.

There you have it in a nut shell, the abbreviated version of how the Coal Mines were developed in SE Saskatchewan, and a very basic description of their operation method.

Types of Coal

Type Carbon Content% BTU
ANTHRACITE 86-98% 15,000 BTU's/LB
BITUMINOUS 45-86% 10,500 - 15,500 BTU's/LB
SUB-BITUMINOUS 35-45% 8,300 - 13,000 BTU's/LB
LIGNITE1 25-35% 4,000 - 8,300 BTU's/LB

1 Also known as Brown Coal. This is the type of Coal in SE SASK.

The bad side is Lignite is the lowest grade,the good side, there seems to be lots of it here.

Saskatchewan Coalfields Map

Bienfait/Estevan are part of the Ravenscrag formation the dotted area in map above

map courtesy Mr. Grant Walker, CA, USA

Coal is a BIG Part of the Early History of SE Saskatchewan.

  • No Coal= No Railroad,
  • No Coal= No Power Plants.
  • No Railroad= No Farms, and No Business.

Remember, Oil didn't come until the 1950's! And there would be No Oil today, without the Power Plants!

  • Last modified: 2018/12/16 20:36
  • by dlgent