Blown up in explosions, smothered in collapsing shafts, crushed by heavy carts, the ghosts of coal miners are said to linger at the Atlas Coal Mine Historic Site just outside the tiny town of East Coulee. There, a short 15-minute drive from Drumheller, a tall wooden structure looms against the starkly beautiful backdrop of the Badlands. It is the last wooden coal tipple in Canada, protected, with the outbuildings and tunnels that surround it, as a national historic site and a reminder of the dangerous and dirty days of Canadian coal mining.
Dating back to 1936, the height of the coal-mining boom in Canada, the Atlas Coal Mine saw thousands of men pass through it before it closed. Over 200 perished on the job. Today, the site provides the ideal setting for haunting tales of disappeared miners and lingering spirits every October when it plays host to two Halloween-themed events held over two weekends.
The more docile Little Boo event, which takes place in broad daylight and is designed for children, takes small, costumed participants on a lighthearted stroll through the site. It includes a ride on a battery-powered 1936-era train and a visit to an underground tunnel. The other event, Big Boo, is reserved for more courageous souls over age nine. The events, now in their ninth year, raise funds for the preservation of buildings on the site.
For most of the year, Kelly Eddy is program director at the historic site, but in October she morphs into the “director of misery and woe,” the mastermind behind the annual Haunted Atlas Coal Mine event. “In the fall and winter the site can be a very solitary place,” she says. “We’re far from the city, so there isn’t a lot of light here, and [the setting] has a certain air about it at this time of year. It’s like it was made for this event.” Eddy oversees a contingent of 75 volunteers who delight in turning the site into a live set worthy of a horror film, dressing up as zombie coal miners and hiding in dark corners—all in the name of scaring the bejeezus out of thrill-seekers.
CHECK OUT THE BIG BOO GALLERY!
Just after twilight on the evening of Big Boo, visitors are divided into groups of five to seven people, given a single flashlight and sent off, on foot, to navigate a darkened route. The path leads guests into spooky outbuildings, including the washhouse, where the miners would begin and finish their shifts. Jackets and hats dangle from the rafters on hooks, and here one may find psychic (played by a volunteer) calling on the undead. Bonfires and séances add to the unsettling experience. Continuing through the rough autumn grasses, and along the dusty pathways, guests climb a long wooden ramp into the heights of the coal tipple, where darkly dressed volunteers wait to jump out at them or, perhaps worse, reach for their feet.
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