A brick cottage at the edge of Buttertubs Marsh stands as an above-ground reminder of Nanaimo’s coal-mining history.
A miner’s cottage at 1904 Jingle Pot Road “is the only such early brick house known to have survived,” notes a 1998 heritage investigation and phased restoration plan commissioned by the City of Nanaimo.
The building was relocated across the street and preserved thanks to efforts in the late 1990s by the city and the community.
“I think there was an inherent charm to that building. It’s cute. It’s pretty. People like that,” said Christine Meutzner, manager of the Nanaimo Community Archives.
The cottage was built sometime around 1910-1912. According to If More Walls Could Talk by Valerie Green, it was constructed as an office for the Jingle Pot Mining Company, though there isn’t a lot of hard evidence of that; the city report notes “virtually no primary documentation has been identified for this building.”
Meutzner said since the land used to be outside Nanaimo city limits, record-keeping was sketchy. The building’s brick construction, she said, could be an indicator that it was a mining office because brick was rarely used for homes in the area at that time. There is a small concrete room in one corner which the restoration plan suggests “may originally have been dynamite storage for the mine.”
By the 1920s, the building was owned and occupied by the Specogna family and surrounding acreage was used as hobby farmland. The original 360-square-foot building was expanded with a two-room wood-frame addition.
In 1998, the city purchased the property as part of the Third Street connector road construction project.
“The miner’s cottage had been identified by city staff as a heritage building…” noted an article in the Nanaimo Daily News. “But the only way to save the building was move it.”
The Miner’s Cottage Restoration Project community effort was able to raise $120,000 plus in-kind donations, the B.C. Heritage Trust supplied $50,000 and the city contributed $32,250. It was enough to move the cottage, spruce it up and convert it into usable space and a nature interpretive centre.
“It was a manageable project. The scale of it, people said, ‘we can do this…’” Meutzner said. “It’s always a feel-good story. People like the idea of saving something.”
Though the cottage’s brick construction is atypical, its small size is representative of how many families in the area lived in the first half of the last century, Meutzner said.
Green observed that the building’s transition from mining office to home to wildlife sanctuary is symbolic of Nanaimo’s history.
“It is particularly rewarding to note the rather paradoxical evolution of this little brick house…” she wrote. “Past and present have been united in a unique and rewarding way.”