Located at the end of a narrow dirt road in Morden Colliery Historic Provincial Park lies one of the last concrete coal tipples and head frames in North America.
The seven-storey-high mining structure has stood tall for 102 years. It has survived everything from the Great Depression to the complete evaporation of the coal mining industry in Nanaimo.
Today the structure is just a shadow of its former self. Protected by a chain-link fence, it is weak, old, degraded and fading rapidly.
But it doesn’t have to.
Last week the News Bulletin reported that the Friends of Morden Mine, a group that formed in 2003 and advocates for the restoration and expansion of the site, have decided to call it quits.
“It’s very sad to see all of this tremendous effort come to an end, but at some point you just have to recognize that if the government is totally indifferent to its own park, there’s nothing more you can do,” Eric Ricker, society co-president, told the News Bulletin.
If you ask me, “sad” is not nearly a strong enough word to summarize the group’s announcement. Perhaps “tragic” would be more accurate.
The history of Morden Mine dates back to 1912 when the Pacific Coal Company began constructing the mine. Morden Mine lived a short life. Soon after its completion the Pacific Coal Company went bankrupt and the mine was closed in 1930.
In the mid-1970s, the provincial government created the Morden Colliery Historic Provincial Park.
Today, the Morden Mine structure is the only remaining concrete coal tipple and head frame left in Canada and one of two left in North America, with the other being O’Gara No. 12 Mine located in Muddy, Ill.
The American mine is in much better shape than the Morden Mine. That’s because unlike in British Columbia, Illinois state law mandates that O’Gara No. 12 Mine be maintained.
When the Friends of Morden Mine were founded, their mission was to restore the degraded site and turn it into an educational centre that Nanaimo and B.C. could be proud of.
Although the group made some progress, such as getting an engineering study done last year with money from the City of Nanaimo and the Regional District of Nanaimo, it mostly hit brick wall after brick wall.
I haven’t lived in Nanaimo for very long. Yet in the little time that I have called this beautiful city home, I have come to understand just how important coal was to this community and B.C.
The City of Nanaimo and its residents have a unique opportunity to come together and transform a degraded concrete structure into a beautifully restored space that attracts tourists and serves not just as a monument to the coal industry, but also as an interactive learning centre.
Sure, the costs associated with restoring the Morden Mine structure have been estimated at nearly $3 million, but history is priceless and there are some things worth keeping. Also, any type of restoration project or learning centre would create jobs short- and long-term.
There are plaques erected in around Nanaimo that pay tribute to the coal mines, but it isn’t enough. Last September, the Nanaimo Art Gallery featured an exhibit called Black Diamond Dust on the history of coal. It was interactive, engaging and informative, but now it is gone.
The Friends of Morden Mine had a vision of something much greater than just a restored concrete structure. They envisioned a place where future generations could come and learn about the workers and history of coal.
It seems that all of that will go up in smoke if this group truly decides to hang up its mining hats.
But it doesn’t have to.
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