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British Columbia history that informs readers while entertaining them.

Morden Colliery Park’s New Memorial Crowns 12-Year Campaign

Yesterday’s doubleheader began with 90 minutes of taking over 100 pictures in Nanaimo’s Bowen Road cemetery before the unveiling of Morden Colliery Park’s new memorial. I was waiting to join an hour-long tour of Masonic graves led by fellow Duncanite and Mason historian Mark Anderson.

His tour was part of the day-long 150th anniversary celebration of Nanaimo’s Ashlar Lodge No. 3.

In purely historic (and storytelling) terms, this is a really great cemetery: headstone after headstone bears the sad epitaph, “Killed in the explosion of…” Or: “Killed in Extension Mine…” Or some other industrial tragedy.

This isn’t surprising for a city that was founded on coal mining
What was unexpected was the extent of vandalism as evidenced by broken and missing headstones and columns. A story in itself, I’m sorry to say.

Not all of the markers are for miners, of course. There’s one for a lady who, in the 1880s, served for two years as a county sheriff in the U.S. Her flat, black on white granite headstone catches the eye because of the atypical American sheriff’s star in the centre.

She obviously was a woman ahead of her time. A sheriff!

But it was the coal miners who resonated with me and they were the real reason I was in Nanaimo, Saturday. And what made Saturday a doubleheader.

For July 15th was the day, 12 years in the coming!
This was the unveiling of the coal miners’ memorial at Morden Colliery Provincial Park.

For 12 years the Friends of the Morden Mine (www.mordenmine.com) laboured and lobbied the provincial government, owners of this—so-called—Class A Park to save it from eventual collapse. It’s one of only three concrete headframe/tipples ever built and now one of only two left standing. (The other is in Muddy, Ill.)

But Morden is destined for catastrophic collapse because successive B.C. governments have refused to invest in repairing it. Four engineering studies, one as recently as three years ago—all paid for through the efforts of the FOM and by sympathetic agencies other than the province—have shown that it can be saved.

But that would cost money, of course
And the various Socred, NDP and Liberal governments over the park’s 40-year lifetime have all chosen to ignore it for projects and causes more suited to their political idealogies.

It’s a long, sad story—too long for this blog. And too bad for our history.

But the monument, dedicated to the thousands of Vancouver Island coal miners and their families who, for almost a century, propelled this once mighty industry which was the mainstay of the Island’s economy, is an achievement of its own.

No, we didn’t succeed in getting the goverment to fix the headframe
But we and the Parks branch did come up with the almost $10,000 necessary to create this monument of slate and marble which has been my personal secondary goal from the start.

It looks great and I have the double satisfaction of having authored the brief text that explains its historical significance. I’ve been published in print thousands of times, millions of words—but this is the first time I can say its (I’m) written in stone!

I guess I’ll have to settle for what they say, that half a loaf is better than none.

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Honoring Cowichan’s Mormon Church

Sunday, July 16th, there was another local historic event. This one, in Mill Bay, was the observation of the Mormon Church’s 150 years in the Cowichan Valley.

If you wonder why they held it at the former Mill Bay United Church, that’s because it was originally a Methodist church whose construction was inspired by Clara Coply McKean, a pioneer and Mormon.

She obviously was determined to have a church even if it was one not of her chosen denomination. Another good story for another time!

Alas
Having spent all of Saturday in Nanaimo meant that Sunday was payback. Instead of going to Mill Bay I had to prepare an agenda for the coming week and write a Chronicles for Wednesday’s Cowichan Valley Citizen.

And this blog, of course. I’m sorry I missed it, though.

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Goodbye, E&N Railway?
Returning to what’s happening in the news, it’s reported that Nanaimo City Council has withdrawn its support for the Island Corridor Foundation’s stalled efforts to revive the E&N Railway.

The ICF (www.islandrail.ca), a partnership of 14 municipalities, five regional districts and 12 First Nations, works with Southern Rail of Vancouver Island, part of the humongous Washington companies.

This is no fly-by-night operation
Neverthless, a majority of Nanaimo Council, a gang which can’t even get along with each other, did this by voting to support Friends of the Rails to Trails Vancouver Island. This group is dedicated to tearing up the tracks for hiking trails.

Well, I’m an avid hiker but I’m not in support of this lunacy!

How shortsighted can you get?
When they’re building, not trashing, railways around the world, we’re looking at losing this rail linking Victoria and Courtenay.

All precedent of poor management aside (it’s always been known that the CPR and Via Rail ran the damn train the wrong way, south to north), the E&N’s potential as a freight, passenger and as a tourist line is too great to act prematurely.

Only when it can be shown beyond all doubt that the ICF and its partner can’t return the line to service should there be any consideration of tearing up the tracks.

Here’s hoping that sanity prevails.

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New life for the Empress Hotel
There’s no fear of losing Victoria’s world famous Empress Hotel, obviously; not after a three-year-long reno that cost no less than $60 million!

Hats off to owner Nat Bosa who obviously recognizes its value; in fact, he terms his “grand old lady” a national treasure, as indeed she is. If only we had some visionaries like him in government!

But no more Bengal Lounge!
A casualty, alas, of the rebirthing was the famous Bengal Lounge. Well do I remember a winter’s evening there and my introduction to hot lemon gin. It certainly warmed me up and did the same for my two companions.

But the British raj decor with its stuffed animal heads and—horrors—colonial overtones was too much for the politically correct crusaders who seem to be coming more and more to the fore.

(I can see another blog in the making.)

But, I guess the Bengal Room is a small price to pay for what Mr. Bosa has accomplished. Bless him.

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Sniff, not wanted!

It’s reported that, in spite of all of the forest fires now raging in the province, the B.C. Forest Service thinks the remaining operational Martin Mars water bomber is too old to cut the mustard any more.

“There are more modern and cost-effective available for use in B.C.’s varied terrain,” the Vancouver Island Free Daily reported.

Yes, she’s over 70 years old but, according to owner Wayne Coulson, the Hawaii Mars is undergoing repair and will be ready to return to operation in August.

Anyone who’s ever experienced the joy of watching one of these lumbering ladies in flight will be sorry to hear they might never have the opportuity to do so again.

2 Comments

  1. Wow, I don’t even know where to start with this terrific article, TW! Some good news, some not so good here, but as always we can count on the unvarnished truth in your writing. We, too, have a deep love for this islands storied history and are sad to see many of these landmarks and features being forgotten and left behind in the name of “progress”. I frequently wonder if perhaps that word doesn’t mean what I think it does…

    At any rate, thanks for being such an important voice in maintaining the island’s legacy and history, TW.

    • Thanks for your empathy for our history, Scott. Morden is a particularly sore point for me as its salvation would also work towards promoting safety in the workplace–something I tried to make clear to the union movement on several occasions. The B.C. Government Employees Union, by the way, have taken the ‘canary in a coal mine’ as their logo.
      But, alas, most of today’s union people have no real knowledge nor understanding of their own labour roots, nor do they care. Oh, they pay lip service to the sacrifices of their ‘brothers and sisters’ each Labour day, and place a wreath on Ginger Goodwin’s grave each June, but that’s it. Far too concerned with their own wants to give the effort to understanding where they’ve come from over the past century.
      The irony is that, for many of today’s working people, the workplace is going back in time. Faceless and soulless mega and multinational corporations are in some cases even worse than the robber barons of Vancouver Island’s coal mining days. Ah, progress… TWP

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