Province funding restoration of historic Nanaimo coal mine structure

by Keith Powell
Close-up of concrete headframe and tipple structure at the historic Morden Colliery.

The concrete headframe and tipple structure are all that remain of the historic Morden Colliery, built in the early 1900's by the Pacific Coal Company. — Photo courtesy British Columbia Goverment

A piece of Vancouver Island’s coal mining history will be brought back to life through a $1.4-million contribution from the British Columbia government.

Built in the early 1900s by the Pacific Coal Company, the 22.5-metre (74 foot) concrete headframe and tipple structure is all that remains of the Morden Colliery in South Wellington, near Nanaimo. It’s one of only two structures of its kind left in North America.

“Morden Colliery Historic Provincial Park plays an important role in educating visitors about Vancouver Island communities’ rich coal-mining history,” said George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. “Conserving this site preserves a unique piece of our heritage and reminds us of the people who worked in the mines.”

For the past three years, BC Parks has partnered with the Heritage Branch of the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development and Friends of Morden Mine (FOMM) to conduct conservation work on the aging structure, such as assessing the mine shaft, removing unsecured timbers from the headframe and an engineering analysis.

During the next two months, crews will stabilize the structure before starting repairs, which will take more than a year to complete. The park will be temporarily closed during this time.

“The mine is very close to being destroyed. Most of the posts are not holding it up and we need to stabilize it immediately or it will fall down,” said Sandra Larocque, FOMM president. “I was brought to tears when I heard that the Morden mine will be saved. My father and grandfather were both coal miners and I really appreciate them when I look at the mine. We need to preserve this very important part of our history.”

The Regional District of Nanaimo maintains a trail that runs through the park to the Nanaimo River, along with a historic railway right-of-way. Plans are underway to create a multi-use trail connecting Morden Colliery and Hemer Provincial Park.

“As a long-time advocate of Morden Colliery, I’ve worked very closely with the Friends of Morden Mine over the years to restore this historic site,” said Doug Routley, MLA for Nanaimo-North Cowichan. “This park is a vital reminder of the significant role of coal mining communities on Vancouver Island and is an increasingly valuable asset to the region’s many tourist attractions and educational opportunities.”

The rich coal seams of the Nanaimo region were once dotted with coal mines that dominated life in the mid-Island area for nearly a century. At least eight communities on the Island had coal mines employing thousands of miners. 

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