Saturday 19th September 2020

Resource Clips

Threatened B.C. mining heritage site gets a new lease on life

by Greg Klein | October 10, 2017

A structure vital to Vancouver Island mining history might not be doomed for destruction after all. The Morden mine headframe and tipple date to 1913 but remain the last significant signs of the Nanaimo region’s coal industry, where British Columbia’s first successful mining began in 1852. Located on a provincial park in an NDP-voting region, the site had been neglected by B.C.’s previous Liberal government. But on October 6 the new NDP government announced a $25,000 conservation grant.

Threatened B.C. mining heritage site gets a new lease on life

Closed in by encroaching forest and deteriorating seriously, the Morden
headframe and (right) tipple still provide a monument to the past.

While encouraging to the volunteer Friends of Morden Mine Society, the money falls far short of the $2.7 million that a previous engineering study estimated necessary for the structure’s preservation. That amount included $500,000 for emergency repairs.

For years the FMMS website has warned that the structure’s preservation faces “a race against time. The deterioration of concrete components of the headframe and tipple structures is escalating at an alarming rate. Every spring more dislodged chunks of concrete can be found on the ground below the structures and more reinforcing steel becomes exposed to the elements.”

Some 22.5 metres tall and built of concrete-encased steel, the headframe and tipple, which dumped coal into railcars, collectively hold status as one of only three such structures ever built and one of two still standing.

“This work will bring history to life and, at the same time, honour the coal miners who lived, worked and died in Vancouver Island coal mines while building families and creating strong communities,” a government communique quoted forests and lands minister Doug Donaldson.

The statement made no mention of further funding but FMMS representative Sandra Larocque sounded optimistic. The engineering study looked at “quite an elaborate plan,” she told “We’re just looking at saving the mine from falling down, doing some basic stabilization, taking down some timbers that have deteriorated…. $25,000 isn’t going to go very far, no, but it’s a start and the structure’s in dire straits of falling down.”

The money will be used to inspect the shaft, remove loose timbers from the headframe, clean out organic muck in and around the tipple and begin stabilizing the structure.

The perseverance of Helen Tilley, an early FMMS member, proved instrumental in getting the provincial support, Larocque said. She hopes for more money from the province, as well as the Regional District of Nanaimo and private donors.

As daughter of a coal miner who died of black lung, she’s well aware of the industry’s dark side. Calamitous accidents and bitter labour disputes also characterized local mining history. But she emphasizes the structure’s value, especially to young people, as a link to previous generations.

“It’s a tangible thing people can look at…. Just to save it, to make sure it’s still standing, is everything to me.”

Read more about the Morden mine.

Share |

View All: News Stories