The Lights on the Tipple Are Going Out
358 pages, 6 x 9
23 b&w photos, 14 tables, 2 maps
Release Date:03 Sep 2024

The Lights on the Tipple Are Going Out

Fighting Economic Ruin in a Canadian Coalfield Community

UBC Press

The Canadian postwar economic boom did not include one western coal-mining region. When the Canadian Pacific Railway switched to diesel-powered locomotives, over 2,000 coal-production jobs were lost in the Crowsnest Pass and Elk Valley. The Lights on the Tipple Are Going Out tells the story of its fight for survival.

Underground mine closures began in 1950, prompting various attempts by coal companies, labour unions, leftist political parties, municipal governments, and business groups to save the local economy. The largest community in the region, Fernie, BC, even made a half-baked application to host the Winter Olympic Games. Efforts to reindustrialize in the mid-1960s brought unregulated, pell-mell growth, unsafe working conditions, and extreme pollution. Starting in 1968, however, the tide turned again as new mountaintop strip mines were built to produce metallurgical coal for Asia-Pacific steelmakers.

Not only is this an interesting regional history, but the consideration of the role of labour unions, local communists, and grassroots environmentalists makes it especially compelling. Today, in the face of the climate crisis, green steel manufacturing is being developed that eliminates the use of CO2-emitting coal. In the coming decades, as this book argues, the Crowsnest Pass and Elk Valley will need to stress ecosystem restoration, sustainable economic activities, and the inclusion of First Nations at the centre of economic decision making in order to embrace a future beyond coal.

Scholars of Canadian labour history, Prairie studies, and BC studies – along with policy specialists, activists, Indigenous leaders and government officials involved in sustainable, anti-colonial regional development – will find this book highly relevant reading. More broadly, it has a place on the bookshelves of those with a general interest in deindustrialization and regional revival.

The Lights on the Tipple Are Going Out is richly, extraordinarily detailed. It is simply excellent. Bryan Palmer, professor emeritus, Canadian Studies, Trent University
A rare Canadian coalfield story. Tom Langford has covered it all, from deindustrialization to environmental justice. Steven High, professor, History, Concordia University

Tom Langford is a professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Calgary. He is the author of Alberta’s Day Care Controversy: From 1908 to 2009 and Beyond and co-editor, with Wayne Norton, of A World Apart: The Crowsnest Communities of Alberta and British Columbia. He has contributed various articles on the Crowsnest Pass and Elk Valley to Prairie Forum, BC Studies, Alberta History, and Labour/Le Travail.

Introduction: Interpretive and Comparative Perspectives on Deindustrialization in the Crowsnest Pass and Elk Valley, 1945–1968

1 Working Class on the Rise, 1945–49: Collective Struggles, Labour Improvements, and Larger Goals

2 A Crisis Begins: Three Days a Week and Mine Closures, 1950–56

3 Ghost Town Future? Searching for Economic Revitalization, 1957–62

4 We Were Continually Losing Membership and Losing Public Support: Tracing the Ruin of the Communist Party, 1945–62

5 Pursuing Alternatives for Growing the Economy, 1963–68: Dead Ends, A Tragic Underground Explosion, and A New Beginning for Coal

6 Growth At What Cost? Community and Political Struggles, 1963–68

Conclusion: Lessons and Opportunities for a Future Beyond Coal

Notes; Bibliography; Index

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