This photo is of Michel Natal, given to me by my grandfather. As you can see on the top of the picture, he has pointed out where each little town is located.
Michel Natal is a particularly interesting topic, simply because it’s quite unknown. At age nine, I prided myself on the fact that I had a Heritage Fair topic that was different than anyone else’s, and now I’ve decided to remember what I learned (and to research some more) in order to write this blog post.
Michel Natal was a coal mining town that was located near Nelson in British Columbia. To be exact, it was three small towns, but they were so close to each other that it was really only one town.
Though Michel Natal is what it is mostly called, the three towns were Michel, Middletown, and Natal, with Middletown obviously being located in the middle of the other two. Michel was not even a kilometre away from Natal, hence why they were commonly referred to as simply, Michel Natal.
In 1899, when Crow’s Nest Coal Company opened a mine, they established the small town of Michel. Michel had a small population to start off, and consisted of a small hospital and a few houses.
With the success of the mines (there were now three mines around Michel), the population became larger and larger, and in 1907, they established the town of Natal. Until 1910, this town was referred to as “Newtown” or “New Michel”. When Natal was founded, workers from the mines were finally given the chance to own their own property instead of staying in the homes provided for them from the company.
Natal was much more lively than Michel; it had three of the four hotels, an opera house, a cinema, and basketball courts.
Later, the small community of Middletown was established, right in the middle of Michel and Natal. Between Michel and Middletown were different mine buildings. Separating Middletown from Natal was a ball field, the school, and a few churches.
Michel Natal was a popular destination for many immigrants, and this particular town had a lot of Italian immigrants. It was there that my great-grandfather came, there where my grandfather grew up.
This photo given to me by my grandfather. This is my Nono and Nona (my grandfather’s parents), in front of their store (I believe it was located in Natal). Nona ran the store and Nono worked in the mines.
Seeing as it was a coal-mining town, the air was terrible (much like some of us are experiencing from the current forest fires).
As the years went on, the mine suffered from a few different disasters; in 1904, 1916, 1938, and the final straw, in 1967. These disasters were caused by multiple explosions and cost a few lives. Even without the disasters, there was usually a death per year due to the mines. The men went into the mines, not sure if they were ever going to come out again.
In the 1950s, the demand for coal had significantly decreased, so there wasn’t much need for the town of Michel Natal. Plus, tourism had gone up in BC, and unfortunately, Michel Natal was not an appealing sight, with all the houses and outhouses stained from coal dust. In 1964, the government decided it was a disaster for tourism, and had all the residents relocated to the nearby town of Sparwood, but many of them were uneager to leave. It makes sense why they would be so unwilling, as the government paid them terribly for their property; only a little of what they would have sold for. That is why so many people stayed in their homes, but were eventually forced out.
In 1967, a blast killed fifteen miners and injured ten (the largest amount of deaths in the mine). Prior to that, the most that had been killed in a disaster had been thirteen miners, in 1916.
After that tragedy, the government decided that keeping Michel Natal wasn’t worth it. They dealt first with the relocation and the protesting from some of the residents, but by 1978, they tore down every single building, except the Michel Hotel.
The Michel Hotel remained abandoned on the side of the highway, like some kind of marking to show what once was there. In 2010, they tore down the building. Now, the only thing standing is a sign; the only proof that there ever was something in this area.
Photo taken by my parents. This is the sign for Michel Natal (about ten years ago – featuring my brother and myself).
It seems like just another ghost town story, and for the longest time, that’s all it was to me. Until I came to realize that the people who lived there, they’re still alive today. My grandfather grew up there; all his childhood memories are from there.
It’s one thing to move out of your childhood home, but it’s another thing to stand on the side of the highway and remember what once was. To close your eyes and picture everything as if it was still there.
My grandfather still remembers where everything was. He can picture the whole town. Standing on the side of the road, he can point out exactly where he lived as a kid and where their family store was located. It’s somewhat heartbreaking.
I am glad I had the opportunity to learn about this little town. It may be forgotten to most, but it lives on in the pictures, the books that the inhabitants made, and the newspaper articles.