There’s more than dinosaur fossils in ‘em hills.
Drumheller’s history is strongly linked to its wealth of natural resources. More than 130 coalmines operated in the valley between 1911 and 1979. Though Drumheller has since become world-renowned for dinosaur fossils, it was the abundant coal deposits within the surrounding badlands that gave life to the community.
Peter Fidler encountered pronounced coal seams by the Red Deer River at Kneehills Creek while surveying the area for the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1793. After Samuel Drumheller bought local land in 1910 and sold it to Canadian National Railway for further development as a townsite, Drumheller’s coal rush began. The community’s first mine, Newcastle, opened in 1911. Several mines were subsequently founded before Drumheller’s incorporation as a village in 1913, as a town in 1916 and as a city in 1930.
At its peak, this “Wonder Town of the West” was a booming coalmining mecca with over 30,000 residents and once among the fastest growing municipalities in Canada. Some of the valley’s mines lasted for decades. When the region’s last closed in 1979 amid oil and natural gas expansion, it marked the end of the valley’s coalmining era. In the vacuum created by a fallen coal industry, plans to construct a world class museum were put into motion. The Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology opened in 1985.
Today, Drumheller celebrates its unique heritage as a modern hub of the Red Deer River badlands. This is the place where many of the world’s most extraordinary dinosaur specimens are excavated and showcased, and where some of Western Canada’s greatest coal production occurred. Drumheller Valley is one of Alberta’s best known tourism destinations. Here, you can explore both ancient and modern landscapes.
Written by: Jeff Sterr, Historical Places Research Assistant.