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BC Archives image of Morden Mine workers

Morden Mine tipple
Morden Mine tipple
Morden Mine train tracks
Morden Mine tipple
Morden Mine tipple detail
Morden Mine tipple - present day

Morden Mine

Nanaimo area

After the Douglas coal seam was discovered in 1852, many mineshafts were sunk into the Nanaimo area in an attempt to capitalize on the rich bed of coal lying beneath. The Morden Mine, located in between Nanaimo and the Nanaimo Airport, was one of these, and though not particularly successful, incorporated many state-of-the-art mining technologies, including an all concrete tipple, that made it one of the most advanced coal mines in Canada. The mine was plagued with worker’s strikes and patchy coal deposits, and although there likely remains over 5 million tons of coal on the site, the Morden Mine was shut down in 1930.



Settlement

Coordinates: 49°05’41”N 123°52’22”W

The Morden Mine area had been inhabited since the 1850’s due to the original coal seam discovery in the Nanaimo area in 1851. The development by Robert Dunsmuir at those sites began in 1852. As more claims were staked, the prospectors begun to look further and further afield. The Pacific Coast Collieries Company, looking for their own share of the profits, made the decision to sink a mineshaft at Morden in 1912. A state of the art concrete tipple incorporating many modern safety features was installed, and the first 600 foot mineshaft was sunk to the coal level. However, by the time enough tunneling was done to reach the first promising coal seam, the mineworkers union declared a strike, effectively ending development underground.

Middle History

By the time that construction was complete, tunneling was done, the strike was over, and the mine was pumped free of water, it was 1916. The original modest eight foot wide coal seam was followed until it was 30 feet wide, and for a period, the mine was operating 50 man shifts, producing over 400 tons of coal per day. Though the original goal was over 1500 tons a day, the mine was found to have too many hard rock (non-coal) deposits mixed in to make this level of extraction possible.

As production continued, a small town was forming between the Morden mine and the nearby Fiddick mine, and 14 houses, miner’s dormitories, a store, and a seven mile long railway down to the ocean where the coal was loaded onto barges were built to support what the Pacific Coast Collieries Co. still thought would be a large scale operation. A full 15,000 feet of exploration had occurred by 1920, but the cost of extraction was continuing to climb, and labour stoppages and strikes were ongoing problems for the company running the mine. In 1921 the mining was once again halted, and the Morden mine allowed to flood. In 1930 it was pumped out one final time, but the cave-ins and instabilities in the rock were so great that the Morden mine was abandoned for good.

Present Day

Though the mine was abandoned in 1930, the townsite remained occupied, as continuing growth in nearby Nanaimo fuelled the need for settled areas. The site is now just on the outskirts of Nanaimo, and the Island Highway passes right by the old mine site. Though the mine was considered a failure in the long run, it remains one of Vancouver Island’s most important mines due to the preservation of its equipment.

The original concrete tipple and assorted machinery are now part of a Provincial Historic Park in Nanaimo, and are available for public viewing and exploration. The non-profit society Friends of Morden Mine is responsible for the preservation of the site, as well as for the education of the public on its historical significance on Vancouver Island. They are currently seeking donations and help in order to restore some of the eroding concrete sections of the tipple, which are in danger of collapsing. The site is accessible just off of Highway 1 on Morden Rd.

 

Web site ©: The Institute for Coastal and Oceans Research (ICOR) at the University of Victoria, British Columbia Canada.