By Reg Spencer
Ever heard of Anthracite? Its a part of Banff National Park I bet youve never heard of. And I built a brothel there.
With well over 300 residents, my town of Anthracite grew almost overnight and quickly earned a reputation of being wild and unruly. Most of the town folk had come from the eastern United States to seek their fortunes with hopes of earning enough money to purchase their own homesteads.
For a lady, jobs in the late 1800s were few and far between. Those days our choices were limited to seamstress, waitress, teacher, milliner or laundress. In a small western town like Anthracite, those jobs filled up mighty fast. To add insult to injury, wages were so low to begin with that I had to find other ways to put food on the table.
The town already had a hotel, a pool hall, a restaurant, a barbershop, a hardware store and a general store. Being a coal-mining town, two-thirds of the population were men and three quarters of those men were single. So I opened up what it did not have – Blanche Maloneys Brothel. As I recall, the JP was not as pleased about my new venture as the miners were.
Maloneys became known as the most popular place in town. Although prostitution and the sale of alcohol were illegal, my business managed to flourish. While the respectable women about town refused to acknowledge my house of ill repute, Ill have you know that I added to Anthracites economy by attracting new inhabitants, businessmen and speculators.
By 1890 the town was already hitting hard times. The Canadian Anthracite Coal Company, which ran our mine, had determined that the coal seams were too steep and narrow to mine effectively. Worse, when the coal was finally extracted, half of it was being discarded as inferior quality.
Four years later the Cascade River flooded, destroying bridges and several buildings. But this was nothing compared to the flood of 1897. The river rose over six feet that summer, flooding the mine and killing the entire horse and mule population that were kept underground. Almost all of our homes by the river were completely destroyed in the flood and the majority of the remaining population, including me, abandoned the town.
The mine finally closed in 1904. By that time, most of the miners of Anthracite had already moved to Bankhead, which had opened that very same year.
You can still visit some of the ruins at Anthracite. Theres not much left of it now but for its legends and a few crumbling foundations.
From Boomtown to Ghost Town
Anthracite (1886 to 1904) was a coal mining community located in Banff National Park, four miles northeast of the Town of Banff. In 1887, Anthracites population matched that of Banff. The Justice of the Peace that Maloney refers to was George A. Stewart, Superintendent of Rocky Mountains Park. Stewart brought Maloney before the court and had her fined $200 for liquor sale violations. This was an extraordinary amount of money at the time and it effectively shut her down. Miners and labourers at the time worked 12-hour shifts for wages as low as a dollar a day.
Photo of anthracite coal courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
For some archival photos of Anthracite, click here.