Harsh times in Vancouver Island’s coal mining past
The Times Colonist has a look at the history of coal mining on Vancouver Island starting in 1912 and writing that the troubles started in Extension, a small mining community a few kilometres south of Nanaimo (pictured).
Two coal miners were fired when they complained to management that unacceptable levels of explosive gas existed at the coal face. One of the workers headed north seeking a job in the mines of Cumberland only to find he had been blacklisted – not just in Cumberland but throughout Vancouver Island.
Their memories of a seemingly endless stream of disasters, from single deaths to the 150 dead in the Nanaimo No.1 mine explosion and fire in 1887, kept them implacable in their demands for greater safety.
The Times Colonist reports it was a time when coal mining was the main industry on the Island with large and small operations digging for the vital fuel from Ladysmith to Fort Rupert (Port Hardy). For months, mine owners were content to leave their mines silent but by August 1913, with stock piles depleted and demand from ships, railways and steam driven heavy industry growing, they needed to get back into production. But their miners, concerned for decades about safety on the job as well as poor pay, were in no mood to compromise.