The Vancouver Island city of Nanaimo was not founded on gold as so were many boom towns of the mid-19th century. Its rich coal deposits—the largest deposits first discovered on the west coast of the Americas—brought the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) and the first European settlers there. Coal was mined and sold to major markets of the day, like San Francisco, which was booming from the Gold Rush.
Today, visitors to the harbor city of Nanaimo can trace the region’s history through its early coal-mining landmarks. First stop, on the city’s waterfront, is the city’s famous Bastion, an early HBC outpost. This three-story octagonal structure was an important fortress that guarded the settlement and its coal against any would-be marauders. The structure has been preserved and today is managed by the Nanaimo Museum, the next stop, just across the square.
At the Nanaimo Museum (nanaimomuseum.ca), visitors can learn more about the Bastion, Nanaimo’s coal-mining history and the ship Princess Royal that brought the first miners from England in 1854. The museum also houses a true-to-life replica of an early mine shaft, giving visitors a look at where much of a miner’s life was spent.
About 5 miles south of Nanaimo, Morden Colliery Historic Provincial Park (env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/morden) contains the only remaining coal tipple on the Island. This concrete tipple, built in the early 1900s, is all that remains of the Morden Coal Mine, which once thrived here and produced 76,000 tons of coal in its first year of operation. Entry into the mine is prohibited. Nanaimo is located on Vancouver Island’s east coast about 90 minutes north of Victoria. For more information about a trip to Nanaimo, go to tourismnanaimo.com.