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Morden Mine: A Remarkable Grass Roots Achievement


By Eric Ricker

As supporters of Morden Mine gradually digest the news that, all going well for an admittedly risky undertaking, this uniquely significant heritage site will finally be rescued from oblivion, it’s time to give thanks to all those who made it possible. I’ll start at the very beginning:

Without the interest and persistence of the very well-connected Vancouver businessman George Wilkinson, a provincial park would not have been established at Morden. Mr. Wilkinson, himself the son of an inspector of mines for B. C., visited Morden one day in the late 1960s and realized that it was the most complete set of coal mine structures still standing on Vancouver Island. He offered to purchase the colliery site and the adjoining four-mile railway bed extending through to Boat Harbour and donate both to the Province. Instead, the government proceeded on its own, establishing Morden as a Class ‘A’ provincial historic park in 1972 and subsequently leasing the railway bed to the Regional District of Nanaimo, which made it into the still incomplete Morden Regional Trail. The purchase price for these properties was $10,000, almost the same amount that it cost to construct the Morden tipple back in 1913.

Without heritage journalist and author Tom Paterson, who began publishing information about Morden in the 1970s and continued his enthusiasm by conducting regular tours of Morden and other South Wellington coal mine sites on behalf of the Friends of Morden Mine (FOMM) — while also serving on its board of directors for several years — few people outside the local South Wellington area would ever have heard of Morden Mine.

Without Judy Burgess, a one-time South Wellington resident who had a passion for making Morden Mine better known to the public, the Friends of the Morden Mine society wouldn’t have been formed back in 2003 to take on the advocacy role that proved so necessary for Morden’s eventual rehabilitation.

Without long-time FOMM member and South Wellington historian Helen Tilley’s singular initiative in the dying days of the Christy Clark government – a government, by the way, that up to that point had shunned FOMM after earlier administrations had become gradually accustomed to providing support for FOMM projects – the Heritage Branch would not likely have become involved at Morden. The Heritage Branch donated the bulk of the funds necessary for some preliminary work on the site last year, and the government chose to build upon that work by putting the branch in charge of the restoration project this spring.

Without David Gogo, John Hofman, Ingrid Greenwell and Charles and Francis Christopherson, plus several other long-term and dedicated directors acting on several fronts over many years, FOMM would not have achieved the degree of community support necessary to impress upon politicians and officials alike the importance of Morden as an historic site.

Without the behind-the-scenes efforts, as well as speeches to the legislature by MLAs’ Ron Cantelon, Leonard Krog and Doug Routley, Morden’s significance would not have been impressed upon their legislative colleagues and some important members of various cabinets, including Terry Lake and Bill Bennett of former Liberal administrations and, more recently, Premier John Horgan and the current minister of the environment, George Heyman.

Without the very active support and enthusiasm of local area BC Parks supervisors over a number of years — most notably among them Drew Chapman and Dave Foreman — it’s extremely unlikely that the senior managers at BC Parks would have maintained even a modicum of interest in helping out FOMM with engineering studies and other park development costs.

Without the financial support of the Nanaimo City Council and the Regional District of Nanaimo, a number of the needed engineering and planning studies could not have been undertaken. (Study and park planning costs to date exceed $100,000 and would be much higher had a number of local businesses not offered discounted or even free services for various park projects.)

Without the active support of a number of editors at the Nanaimo Daily News (most notably among them Mark MacDonald), the News Bulletin and TAKE 5, as well as Island Radio’s Ian Holmes, Jim Hume of the Times Colonist and many other reporters, FOMM’s message would not have been effectively conveyed and reinforced. And finally, without the support of the English coal mining heritage scholar Dr. Margaret Faull, the importance of Morden as a potential world-class heritage site would have remained unknown to a much larger audience. After consulting with her European colleagues, it was Dr. Faull who produced the significant finding that Morden was the third reinforced concrete coal mine tipple ever constructed and remains the second oldest still standing. (FOMM had already determined that Morden was only one of two — and the oldest such structure — remaining in North America.)

Thanks are due to all of the above parties for their contributions in the long campaign to save Morden Mine.

Eric Ricker author was a (member of the Board of Directors of Friends of the Morden Mine Society, 2005–2015, and co-president, along with John Hofman, 2012–2015)

“Without the dedication, knowledge and determination of Eric W. Ricker as co-president, there would have been no successful outcome,” said Frances Christopherson.

Saving Morden Mine

On April 11, 2019, Friends of Morden Mine President Sandra Larouque shared the good news that members of the society have been waiting for a long time to hear — the mine site will be saved thanks to a provincial government grant of $1.4 million.

“We are very excited that after years of hard work, the Morden Mine will be saved thanks to all the FOMM members and to Helen Tilley, for her efforts to contact Roger Tinney at BC Heritage and get the ball rolling with the initial donation of $20,000 in 2017.

It’s very important to our history,” says Larouque who’s father and grandfather worked in mines in Nanaimo.

An innovative scaffolding using containers will be put in place and restoration will begin over the next month. Park closures will be kept to a minimum as work progresses.

It’s an exciting time for FOMM who know that this unique monument from our mining past will have a future.

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