This small park hidden in south Nanaimo is full of history and gives you access to the only remaining coal tipple on Vancouver Island. Morden Colliery Historic Provincial Park is a great place for a quick stop, especially for those eager to learn more about the history of Nanaimo.
- Features: Historic site and artifacts; access to the Nanaimo River
- Park Size: 4 hectares
- Trails: 1.2 km of developed trails
- Suitability: Accessible by all
- Hazards: None (although mosquitos are really bad in this particular area)
- Bike Trails: no designated biking trails
- Camping: none
- Washrooms: none
- Pets: As this is a Provincial Park, dogs must remain on a leash at all times
A Bit of History
Between 1852-1938, coal mining was the main economic driver for many small towns on Vancouver Island. Most notably so for Nanaimo, Ladysmith and Cumberland, which were literally built because of it. The exporting of bituminous coal from underground is one of the most dangerous extractions in the world. And an estimated 1000 miners were killed on the job, with 600 of those in the Greater Nanaimo area and 3, in particular, at the Morden mine.
These unfortunate workplace deaths do not include those who died of industry-related illnesses, such as black lung, of which there were many.
So while the last remaining coal tipple is a wonder to view, please know that the area is also a Miners’ Memorial site and should be respected as such.
The Last Remaining Coal Tipple
A tipple is a structure used for loading coal into rail cars, much like a grain elevator unloads grain. Up until the construction of the concrete Morden-Mine tipple in 1913, tipples were usually made of wood. So while it was the first of its kind in North America, ironically, it’s also one of only two left standing. (The other is in Illinois).
In its first year of operation, the Morden-Mine produced 76,000 tonnes of coal. However, the mine was not as successful as investors had hoped. Between union strikes and unfavourable economic conditions, production came to a halt in 1921. Consequently, this closure caused the Pacific Coast Coal Mining Co (PCCM) to go bankrupt the following year.
In 1930, the Canadian Coal and Iron Co. rehabilitated the mine, but production didn’t even last a full year, and the mine officially closed in 1931.
The tipple, coal deposits and other concrete structures were left behind and consequently degraded over time.
Morden Colliery Historic Provincial Park
In 1972, the area was turned into a Provincial Park and recognized as a National Historic Site of Canada. The primary role of the park is to protect and preserve remnants of the Nanaimo region’s coal mining history. The remains provide us with a rare surviving monument to the natural resource, which gave life to the region for nearly a century.
Despite the designation, not much was done with the remaining structures as far as preservation was concerned. In 2003, a group of concerned citizens, calling themselves ‘Friends of Morden Mine,’ got together to try and save the remains.
Finally, in 2019, the Government committed $1.4 million to restore the concrete headframe and tipple structure at Morden Colliery Historic Provincial Park. Park improvements were made at the same time.
The RDN Trail
A 1.2 km trail, developed by the RDN, leads from Morden Colliery Historic Provincial Park to the Nanaimo River. This trail follows the old rail grade that was used to move coal at the mine. While walking this wide, fully accessible gravel path, keep on the lookout for historical remains. There are also plenty of signs to guide you.
Eventually, the RDN plans to build a bridge connecting the Morden Colliery Historic Provincial Park with Hemer Provincial Park in Cedar. Currently, one has to cross the river on foot (getting wet in the process) to do so.
However, the trail that leads from both parks heads down to a quiet and tame section of the Nanaimo River. This spot is one locals love to park their chairs and cool off in.
Morden Colliery Historic Provincial Park is located 7 km south of Nanaimo. Access to the park is off Hwy 1 on Morden Road.
Other Coal Mining Remains
If viewing other Vancouver Island coal structures and remains is of interest to you, check out the following hidden gems. (Please note, these articles are part of our membership area and only accessible to paying members).
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