One hundred years ago in March 1912, the Pacific Coast Coal Mining Company began drilling two shafts at its new mine, Morden Colliery, located above a one-and-a-half-mile-wide portion of the Douglas coal seam.
And this Saturday, the Friends of the Morden Mine Society (FOMM) is hosting a celebration of the 100th anniversary of this start-up work at Morden Colliery at the Nanaimo Museum.
The concrete remains of the 75-foot-tall headframe and tipple are located in Morden Colliery Historic Provincial Park in South Wellington, just south of Nanaimo.
“The existing structure was built in 1913, and mining began at that site at Morden in 1921,” explained accomplished author and historian Tom Paterson of Duncan. “The headframe/tipple is the last surviving of its kind on Vancouver Island of the entire coal mining history. We are trying to save it as a historical structure, an interpretation station and a memorial to miners. Mining on Vancouver Island lasted 80 years, founded 10 communities — including Nanaimo and Ladysmith — and was the biggest employer — as big as logging in its day — yet we have lost sight of that. The headframe has been a provincial park since 1972, but there has been no funding for maintenance, so it’s crumbling.”
Paterson says the Morden Colliery headframe was one-of-a-kind at the time it was built because it was made of concrete, while the others were made of timber.
The Morden Mine was started by Pacific Coast Coal Mining Company.
“They began at the opposite side of the highway north of South Wellington village and operated there from 1907 to 1912 or so,” said Paterson. “They had to build a seven-, eight-mile railway all the way to Boat Harbour. Over the course of building that railway, they hit evidence of coal at Morden.”
Morden Mine did not operate very long.
“It never made a dollar of profit,” said Paterson. “It was only operational in 1921 and for a second attempt in 1931. The mine has a very short and insignificant production history compared to mines that made people like Robert Dunsmuir rich, but it’s still an iconic structure.”
While excavation work began in 1912, work was cut short by the miners’ strike of 1913, and the mine was allowed to flood, explained Paterson. Once the strike was over, the First World war began in 1918, so the mine didn’t get up and running until 1921, he noted.
“It was only operational that year of any consequence,” he said. “In 1931, they tried again, but by then, it was the Great Depression.”
During Saturday’s 100th anniversary celebrations, FOMM will host a buffet-style, complimentary light lunch at 1:30 p.m. at the Nanaimo Museum, and a toast to Morden honouring the miners is proposed.
A ceremony is planned to recognize dignitaries and corporate sponsors who have assisted the FOMM.
Memberships, memorabilia and FOMM’s specially-crafted geocache coins commemorating Morden’s 100th anniversary will be available for purchase.
FOMM is inviting descendants of Morden Colliery and South Wellington miners to pay homage to their ancestors, provide information and add to a compiled list of miners. The names of miners who worked at Morden Mine or any other South Wellington mines are being collected. Photographs of Morden miners will be on display, and FOMM is seeking identification of the miners.
During the celebration, Paterson of Duncan will deliver a talk entitled Coal Was Not Always a Dirty Word.
Paterson says he will speak briefly about the coal mining industry on Vancouver Island and its impact.
“More than 600 men were killed on the job in the Nanaimo area alone,” he noted.
Paterson will talk about how the FOMM believes the Morden headframe needs to be saved and how it would make a wonderful memorial to coal mining.
“Today, coal is a dirty word,” he said. “Our history is 10 communities were built on coal, and there are thousands upon thousands of descendants of coal miners on Vancouver Island. I absolutely passionately believe in this, that we should recognize our past and promote it.”
All those who plan to attend the 100th anniversary celebration are encouraged to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org under the subject heading Celebration.