Rich coal deposits were found at the site of Bellevue in 1903, the same year West Canadian Collieries was incorporated. The mine loaded its first CPR box car on December 2nd of that year. Over 13,000,000 tons of coal were produced from 1903-1961.
Major obstacles the mine encountered in the early years were explosions and strikes. At least 50 men lost their lives due to cave-ins and carbon monoxide poisoning (afterdamp). The miners demand for increased wages was the dominant issue during strikes. A six month strike in 1924 was the most important as it reduced the miners’ wages to a level that remained virtually unchanged until about 1939.
With the beginning of World War II, the demand for coal began to recover and the Bellevue Mine’s production began to increase. In 1941 the mine produced just over 454,000 tons, which was the most it had ever produced in one year. However, the high production figures were not matched by high profits and, in most years, small losses were recorded. The reasons for this were the low coal prices due to an overabundance of coal and government price controls.
By 1945 the use of mechanical mining equipment was well established but due to the steep nature of the Bellevue mine’s coal seam, the use of mechanical mining equipment was difficult if not impossible in some areas.
The late 1940’s and 1950’s were very difficult times for the mine. The CPR’s conversion from coal to diesel was all but complete by the late 1950’s and, thus, the Bellevue Mine’s largest customer no longer required coal. Attempts were made to find new markets for its coal overseas and for steam power plants, but these were unsuccessful.
This period was particularly hard for the miners, many of whom had spent their entire lives working in coal mines. The mine often only worked 10 to 12 days per month compared with 23 to 25 days in the good years, and its total workforce was only half of what it once was. All efforts to persuade the government to give financial assistance failed and, due to a lack of orders, the mine was forced to shut down in January of 1961.