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Monument to Island Coal Miners Unveiled at Morden

By Eric W. Ricker

On a recent sunny Saturday afternoon members of the Friends of the Morden Mine Society gathered at Morden Colliery Historic Provincial Park for the official unveiling of a monument dedicated to the memory of those who worked in the old coal mines of Vancouver Island.

Approximately one thousand miners lost their lives in these mines and countless others succumbed to workplace injuries and mining-related diseases. Morden is the appropriate location for such a memorial because it contains the last remaining sizable structures of the old Vancouver Island coal mining industry and it is a provincial historic park, the only such park dedicated to our mining heritage.

The monument itself consists of a large slab of metamorphic slate (mined near Port Renfrew by local company K2 Stone) and sits on a pedestal constructed by Nanaimo Precast. It was installed by contractor Sheldon Scheller near the Morden Tipple in a natural garden setting designed by local landscape architect Jessica Gemella and the students of her VIU horticulture class.

Text for a plaque commemorating the miners, which is affixed to the stone slab, was prepared by Tom Paterson, the well-known heritage journalist and former FOMM vice-president. Our society is grateful to all who supplied services and/or materials, either voluntarily or at substantial discounts, including the above mentioned, as well as B.C. Parks, West Coast Monuments, NALT, MacNutt Enterprises and several longstanding members of FOMM.

One of the interesting facts about the monument is that it cost about $10,000 to construct, which is almost exactly the same amount that it cost to build the still impressive 75-foot high head frame at Morden a little over a century ago. Coincidentally, $10,000 is the amount the Province paid the Mayo Lumber Company back in the early 1970s to acquire the Morden site and most of the railway grade (now RDN regional trail) extending four miles to tidewater at Boat Harbour.

Over the years nearly $100,000 has been committed to a number of engineering and other studies at Morden, including a site plan for the park developed by Jessica Gemella in 2010. In 2014, the cost to repair Morden was estimated at $2.8 million by national engineering company Read Jones Christoffersen. That’s expensive, but less than half the cost of the greatly successful Kinsol Trestle heritage restoration project completed a few years ago in the Cowichan Valley.

Hopefully, the new memorial at Morden will send a signal to the new provincial government that honouring our mining tradition is important and that restoring and further developing Morden Colliery Historic Provincial Park should be made a priority. After all, the significant heritage structures at Morden are the very raison d’être for the park’s existence.

As well as the monument site that it now is, Morden should become a prominent heritage site and even recreational site as the future anchor of an important regional trail that, in accordance with RDN plans, will soon extend from Morden through to Hemer Provincial Park and perhaps, eventually, to tidewater.

Let the restoration order for Morden be given! It’s long past due.

Eric Ricker is a retired Dalhousie University professor, a Nanaimo resident and a past co-president of the Friends of the Morden Mine society.

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