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Past and present clash in B.C. coal conflict

by Greg Klein | September 8, 2014

A company that hopes to revive coal mining in Vancouver Island’s Nanaimo region has met a somewhat ironic foe—an organization that wants to preserve the region’s coal mining history. According to a September 8 Nanaimo Daily News story, Skyland Resources Group has filed coal licence applications for 21,150 hectares that include the site of the former Morden mine, now a provincial park. The News quoted a spokesperson for British Columbia’s Ministry of the Environment saying the province plans to “divest itself of parks whose principal focus is the preservation of historical structures.”

Past and present clash in B.C. coal conflict

Little remains of the 101-year-old Morden mine
besides the steel/concrete headframe and tipple.
(Photo: Greg Klein)

That worries a group that wants to save what’s left of the mine. Eric Ricker, co-president of the Friends of the Morden Mine Society, “said it seems more than coincidental that the Ministry of Environment suddenly decided to take a hands-off approach to the Morden mine at the same time that Skyland was filing its application for the property,” the News reported.

“We have no idea or any proof that Skyland’s applications are connected to the ministry’s position on Morden mine, but it certainly changed its message to us out of the blue,” Ricker was quoted.

Ministry officials declined comment, the paper stated. As for Skyland, info’s “not currently available online and there are no telephone listings for the company.”

The site, which saw production between 1913 and 1921, is unique in B.C., the News added. “The mine’s tipple is one of only two reinforced concrete tipples that remain in North America and the mine is one of the last remaining visible structures of any consequence of the old Vancouver Island coal mining industry left in the area.”

B.C.’s mining industry really began in Nanaimo, after a few unsuccessful efforts elsewhere. Historian Patricia Johnson has stated the Hudson’s Bay Company laid claim to the region’s coal deposits in 1852 and began mining almost immediately. She dates the first shipment leaving the new settlement, then part of the Colony of Vancouver Island, on September 10 of that year. The town, harbour, nearby islands and surrounding region were the site of extensive underground operations. A network of small-gauge lines comprised western North America’s first railways. Some Nanaimo streets are now threatened with subsidence from the historic workings below.

The region’s mining lasted just over a century. In the meantime, the Fraser and Barkerville gold discoveries of 1856 and 1862 stole the bustling little town’s thunder. As mining spread to other parts of B.C., additional coal camps were established in the Crowsnest and Peace River regions.

Read more about the Morden mine.

Read more about B.C. mining history.

Update: B.C.’s environment ministry says it was unaware of a mining application that includes Morden Mine Park, according to a September 9 News report. The government added that mining “is not a permittable activity” at the location and that its parks division intends to work with FMMS on plans to restore the site. The News quoted a ministry statement saying, “B.C. Parks would be interested in considering divesting Morden Mine Park if an agency or organization that is more appropriate to manage the historic attributes was able to take on this site.”

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