Coalmont proper is situated on the Coalmont Road between Princeton and Tulameen and consists of nine blocks, although a few more were laid out originally. The area to the south and southwest which includes the now abandoned towns of Blakeburn and Granite Creek is generally included because of the historical connection.
Right in Coalmont there are about 60 houses. Many of them have full time residents. The stable population is approximately 85 which includes around 20 people who live in the periferal area. The current number of children is around 8. On top of that there are about 20 property owners who are weekend and seasonal residents. There is also a handful of regular visitors, some of whom have been coming here for many years.
Although Coalmont is politically associated with the Okanagan it is physically situated in the Outram area of the Northernmost Cascades. It is just east of Manning Park and about an hour’s drive west of the Okanagan. Located on one of the many floodplaines along the Tulameen river, the town is nestled snugly in the mountains. There is a lot of wind whistling down the valley, but not much rain. Despite low average temperatures for all but the summer months, there are a lot of sunny days all year round. The river is usually low in the summer, and sometimes dangerously high in the spring. The last flood was in 1995.
Coalmont is part of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen. The RDOS district covers diverse cultural groups and climatic regions. It is composed of Regional Boards of elected municipal and rural area directors. The governance is centered in Penticton which is located in the far eastern side of the district. Coalmont, being both small and remote, has no representation, although it is part of the smaller electoral division called Area H. Historically the cultural and economic connections tend to be with the lower mainland, and that is still the originating source of many goods, including food and building supplies.
Coalmont has no real industry of it’s own. It was originally set up as a distribution point for the mines and grew to include normal small town businesses and residence but the last store closed 20 years ago. Although tourism has been suggested as a contemporary substitute, there are only three small businesses. The log cabins, a new three unit motel, and the Coalmont Hotel which only operates as a bar. The whole area is much used for hunting, fishing, motorized camping, and off road motorsports. There is a large amount of tourism in the Princeton and Tulameen areas and Coalmont is overrun on summer and long weekends, but apart from the three business mentioned, there is no direct economic benefit to the town.
Mining was the mainstay for many years. The main finds of Gold and platinum are long gone, but some claims continue to be worked and hand mining is still practiced by a few hardy souls. The major coal industry stopped in 1940 but there have been some sizable developments in the intervening years. Compliance Energy Corp. was trucking out coal as recently as 2006 and still holds a licence for many tons. There has also been serious interest in Coalbed Methane and recent explorations claim positive results.
The area has two ranches and there is a small amount of hay grown for local use only. There are free-range cows wandering the whole area and they can occasionally be seen in town.
Logging has been done here since the beginning but has gained momentum. There is regular traffic of logging trucks through Coalmont. Although the only large mill is in Princeton, many logs go in the other direction for processing elsewhere. Coalmont is located in the Cascades Forest District.
Residents work in Princeton or even further away. A number are retired. Some people choose jobs in construction. The surrounding area is being developed at an unprecedented rate but the people moving in are mostly from urban cultures and come with limited skills. This shortage of tradesmen offers an opportunity for some.
The area became well know in the late 19th century because of the gold and platinum finds. The plentiful coal soon became an interest and the town of Coalmont was established in 1911. The town thrived in the 1920’s but the mine closed in 1940 and most people left. Despite having no public utilities and being on the verge of becoming a complete ghost town for many years, Coalmont continued to survive because of it’s location and the tenacity of the unique individuals who chose to stay.
A synopsis of the history can be found on the Coalmont Community HISTORY page.
Probably due to the town being semiabandoned for many years, the lifestyle has embodied values which are perhaps more common to remote settlements. Little is done which does not include motorized vehicles. Mechanical skills are taken for granted, even by young people. Those that are retired, love to spend their time working with engines or old and antique cars. In addition to cars, many residents have a truck, either to get firewood or for recreational persuits. Quads, dirt bikes, and especially snowmobiles, are popular and most people own at least one of those.
Despite the changing times, Coalmontians still show a distinct pioneering independence. Since there is no public water and sewage, people learn to deal with the everyday problems of water pumps and septic fields. Many have gasoline operated emergency generators to cope with power outages, particularly because water pumps are almost all electric. Houses are generally heated with wood, partly for historical reasons, and partly because it is free or almost so. Most do their own building and repairs. People have tools. They hoard building supplies and things that can be used in the future. It is common to fix things if they are broken. This all gives a certain “look” to the town that is familiar and comfortable to locals but may seem unacceptable to outsiders.
The children take the school bus. In the summer they go down to the river to cool off. In those ways the culture is similar to other small Canadian towns. The closest stores are 18 kilometers away and very limited in scope, there being only one major grocery store there. Many items have to be purchased in Penticton or brought up from the coast. Television reception is by satellite only and the telephone is of the old fashioned hard wired type. There is no reliable reception of any commercial radio. Broadband, which is in the form of wireless, has only been here since the end of 2006 and many people don’t have computers.
The environment has much effect on the lifestyle here. In the winter people need to clear snow, mostly in order to maintain access to the road. Houses and vehicles also need extra attention to cope with the long winters. Home heating is an issue during December and January at which time it never get above freezing.
The long winding mountain road to the Princeton shops is sometimes a challenge, although it is usually plowed twice a day in the winter because of the school bus. The many slides in the area also create a hazard with rocks and gravel on the road, but that too is cleared frequently.
The summer, particularly July and August, is quite hot and the lack of water noticeably effects the vegetation. The general dryness is a constant worry for residents who fear the ravages of forest fire. This is particularly problematic with the higher levels of fuel in the woods since the increase of insect attacks on the forest in recent years.
Most of the year there is a significant number of deer in the area which are a serious traffic hazard as well as a deterrent to gardeners. Bears are frequent and will destroy apple trees, but don’t stay long and residents are careful to not tempt them with food or garbage. The abundant wildlife is otherwise not a problem.
The inhabitants are a mixture of people born in the area, others that came to persue a lifestyle not possible where they came from, and those that just have a love of the area. There is a relatively high proportion of part time residents. Colmontians have a marked “live and let live” attitude, and generally respect those that came before. Unlike in many communities, oldtimers and long time residents enjoy some elevated status.
There is a traditional small town sense of responsibility, and people are very helpful to each other. The sharing of resources such as auto parts and building supplies is common. Nevertheless, Coalmontians display a “frontier” independence, lack of interest in institutionalized services, and some antipathy towards middle-class, urban practices.
Recent increases in government legislation and other outside pressures are causing local-translocal tensions. The desire to preserve the friendly atmosphere and free but unconfrontational lifestyle is clashing with the push to update Coalmont to urban and national standards. Oldtimers tend to want things to stay the same, and more recent arrivals wish to sustain the vital aspects of community life and identity that first drew them here.
Copyright (c) 2008 Ole Juul