Each fall as school gets back in session, Kids Up Front takes a class of elementary school kids to the Atlas Coal Mine National Historical Site for a day of tours in the mine, the old tipple and around the once-booming coal mine just southeast of Drumheller.

At the end of September, a grade three and grade four class from St. Peter School, a tremendous community partner of Kids Up Front, hopped on a bus headed to the mine.

After meeting the two tour guides, Peter and Stuart, the kids’ excitement was off the charts and they were ready for their tours. The group split into two and off they went.

One bunch went up into the Tipple, the last wooden Tipple in all of Canada. It was where the coal was sorted, stored and prepared for shipment.

The others went into the tunnel, where decades ago miners made their way up and into the mountain to retrieve coal. Peter and Stuart shared their stories of the miners who saved time by riding the conveyor belt down, or how new miners were tricked with old-time pranks.

At lunch all the kids gathered together and celebrated Atlas Coal Mine’s special occasions that year. 2017 marked the 100thbirthday of the Coal Mine, 80 years since the Tipple had been built, and 30 since the spot was named a Heritage Site. Cupcakes were passed around and the kids remarked on how old the mine is.

After the desserts disappeared in second, the groups switched spots for a new tour that afternoon.

Throughout the day, they learned of a lot of great tales from the old mining days; some funny and some inspiring.

“One of my favorite stories told by Peter, our tour guide, was the story of Strawberry the pony.  One day a new miner was working with Strawberry down in the mine. Strawberry began to act strangely and sat down in the mine. The new miner got mad and didn’t realize what the pony was doing or why.  Another miner came along and the new miner asked him for help with Strawberry. The second miner asked him which pony is it. The new miner told him it was Strawberry. The other miner yelled, ‘get out of the cave!’ and in about five minutes they got all the miners out and just in time because the mine collapsed. That is how Strawberry the pony became a hero.” – Sophia, grade 4 student

There was plenty of information throughout the day, and the kids definitely learned a ton.

“Do you know what Wild Fire Coal is? When I was on a school field trip I learned that when the people of Alberta were starting to get bored of using coal. One day a worker accidentally dropped a piece of coal in orange paint. When it dried he placed it in the display case and when people saw it they started buying it. They asked what it was called and the worker said it was called Wild Fire Coal.

Men preferred to work down in the mines instead of in the tipple because there was no railing and they had to be extra careful to make sure they didn’t fall in. Only men could work in the coal mines.  Women stayed at home. Boys as young as 12 could go to work with their dads. 

I also learned that there used to be ponies that pulled the carts of coal in the mine.

Even though it was a very hot day we got to wear the safety helmets with the lights. We turned the lamps on in the tunnel. We also got to taste salt crystals which were very salty. 

Peter, our tour guide, was dressed like a miner. He showed us the locker room and told us that the miners used to scrub the coal dust off each other’s back at the end of the day. That was good because they were covered in dust and you could only see their eyes and mouth.”Alyshia, grade four student

Thank you Atlas Coal Mine for welcoming us and providing a fun, informative day at the mine. Thanks to St. Peter for bringing so many eager kids and volunteers as well. Finally, thanks Southland Transportation for getting St. Peter to and from the event safely.

Of the 40 kids that attended, none had ever been to the Atlas Coal Mine, and almost all left in amazement wanting to return.

“It was so much fun that I would like to go again with my family. Maybe we could all go on the train ride,” Alyshia said.

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