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For most of the nearly two dozen cottage owners in Mercoal, the coal-mining ghost town will always be their true home.

The 80-year-old community, located just outside the eastern front ranges of the Rocky Mountains near Jasper National Park, was considered one of the industrial jewels of Alberta's historic Coal Branch. But since the mine and town closed in 1959, Mercoal has been a cottage community, comprised mostly of residents or family members of the pioneer coal mining days.

Gary Conger Gary Conger was born in Mercoal more than 62 years ago, and uses his original family residence in the ghost town as a cottage.
Wood remains sketch out Mercoal's name
©Johnnie Bachusky
Mercoal’s name is sketched out with wood remains on a bed of coal dust on the site of the old mine.
© Johnnie Bachusky
“Mercoal to me means home, and has been for over 60 years,” says cottager Gary Conger, who owns a permanent residence in nearby Robb. “We spend July and August up here continually, and in the fall we use it as a hunting cabin while we cross-country ski and snowmobile in the winter.”

When the first mine opened in Mercoal in 1920, its coal was known for its high quality suitable for the railway and industrial operations. The town boomed after a corporate takeover and expansion in 1941 and its population eventually swelled to more than 1,000 residents. The community had all the necessary amenities, including hotel, hospital, stores and many services for residents in Mercoal and throughout the Coal Branch. By 1950, however, many Coal Branch mines and communities, including Cadomin, Mountain Park, Coal Valley and Sterco, began to cease operations and close.

Air shot of townsite and minesite 1940's Scores of miners and their families headed to Mercoal for work, often transporting their houses with them as the town faced a chronic housing crunch. But with diesel fuel quickly entering and taking over the railway market, Mercoal’s days were also numbered and the mine and town closed in 1959.
Photo courtesy of Anne and Bruce Vincent.
Wider aerial shot in 1940's of Mercoal
Mercoal's townsite (left) and minesite (right) taken from the air in the 1940's. Today, the minesite has been almost completely leveled while there are only a few cottages scattered across the townsite.
Mercoal business centre-1940's
Photo courtesy of Anne and Bruce Vincent.
An even wider shot of Mercoal's townsite and minesite taken from the air in the 1940's. Note the large white building in the lower centre-right of picture: the gas station. Today there is only a fading foundation.
Photo courtesy of Anne and Bruce Vincent.
Downtown Mercoal in the 1940's. Today there is nothing left of the town's business centre.
Mine operation from the air-1940's
Photo courtesy of Anne and Bruce Vincent.
Most miners and their families left. The mine and town were quickly dismantled. But a few stubbornly held on, ultimately convincing the provincial government to grant them leases to stay as seasonal residents.
Mercoal 1940: A closer look at the Mercoal Mine operation in the 1940's.
Gary Conger’s cottage is the former town hardware store, originally a three-room shack but now expanded and renovated through years of loving care. Conger and his fellow residents are still proud of their community, and enjoy giving visitors and tourists a tour of Mercoal. With the exception of several pioneer homes, now renovated for seasonal use, little remains to remind visitors of Mercoal’s pioneer coal-mining days.
Pillar from the tipple Another pillar from the mine tipple
©Johnnie Bachusky
©Johnnie Bachusky
A large cement pillar from the mine’s tipple overlooks a now barren field, once the site of Mercoal’s main mine operations.
A pillar from the mine’s tipple is one of the few remaining structures left from Mercoal’s past mining days.
Foundation of demolished gas station Mine building foundation
©Johnnie Bachusky ©Johnnie Bachusky
A foundation from a long forgotten mine building sits forlornly in the bush near the town and mine sites.
The foundation of a long demolished gas station can still be seen by the side of the main road that passes by Mercoal in the Coal Branch.
CN Railway sign for Mercoal
Cellar remains near gas station
©Johnnie Bachusky
The remains of a cellar near the a gas station just outside Mercoal’s town site. ©Johnnie Bachusky