Time is running out for the Island’s Morden Colliery Provincial Park

Who knew?

All these years, I thought it was British Columbia Parks’ job to manage and to protect our provincial parks.

Silly me. Ditto my fellow members of the Friends of the Morden Mine Society. For 12 years we have laboured to save the heritage-designated headframe/tipple at South Wellington, one of only two such concrete structures left in North America, and one of the last significant surviving structures of Vancouver Island’s 90-yearlong coal mining heyday, from inevitable collapse.

Now it’s on its last legs. Literally. Engineering studies have confirmed this.

Gazetted a provincial park in 1972 and upgraded to Class-C (fully-funded) heritage status in 1974, it has never had so much as a dime’s worth of maintenance and is enclosed within a wire fence posted with Danger, Keep Out signs.

And now we know why. B.C. Parks has informed the FOMM and stated publicly that it’s not their duty to save Morden Colliery Provincial Park from inevitable collapse, but ours, as members of FOMM and as members of the public-i.e., B.C. citizens. Not with our tax dollars with which we pay Ministry beaurocrats well, but with our cash donations that we’re expected to fundraise ourselves.

Is this the New Age of government stewardship of publicly owned assets and services? If we want new hospitals, highways or schools, the onus is now on us to donate to their implementation and maintenance? What next, Crowdfunding?

But back to Morden: For almost a century, coal mining was the Island’s primary economic driver. At least 10 Island communities, notably Nanaimo, Ladysmith and Cumberland, were founded on coal mining. Thousands of miners and their families, many of them immigrants and mostly unknown and unsung today, laboured underground in mines that were among the most dangerous in the world.

On-the-job disasters, accidents and occupational diseases claimed almost 1000 lives. That we know of.

There’s no record of those who succumbed to work-related illnesses or died years later of their injuries.

These are the men and their families that the FOMM are currently working to honour by erecting a memorial at or adjacent to Morden Colliery Park. The marker, its design and composition as yet undetermined, will be paid for with the last funds in the FOMM’s kitty and without assistance or input from B.C. Parks which recently refused to share, even nominally, the $23,000 cost of an engineering study which was borne by the Nanaimo Regional District, City of Nanaimo and FOMM.

Nothing from Parks which has stated that the estimated cost of $2.8 million to restore the headframe and to build an interpretation centre would consume 10 per cent of the ministry’s total annual budget.

Excuse me: The entire budget for 830 provincial parks in all of B.C. for 2015 is a grand $28 million!? What’s that, $3000 per park!?

For the past several years the precedent of the "rehabilitation" of our own Kinsol Trestle encouraged FOMM to carry on the good fight. But no more. B.C. Parks’ recently avowed wish to divest itself of "heritage parks" (as it has already done elsewhere) and, now, its cop-out for public funding above and beyond our tax dollars that we naively assumed were for these very purposes, has shown us that Morden’s salvation is a lost cause and that further effort on our part is pointless.

After a century of neglect this pioneering concrete structure is rapidly failing. Although the latest engineering study showed that it is yet salvageable, catastrophic failure is inevitable, even accelerating. Its collapse will be not only a loss to our history but the greater Nanaimo area will lose a wonderful tourist draw. All courtesy of the good folks in charge of B.C. Parks and their political masters who have clearly demonstrated their total lack of regard for our heritage. Upon being informed of FOMM’s forthcoming suspension of activities, a Parks spokesperson piously informed the Nanaimo News Bulletin that the Ministry "hopes the [FOMM] or other community partners who have an interest in the repair and preservation of the structure can continue to support the project".

There you have it from the horse’s mouth: B.C. Parks wants FOMM or "other community partners" to do its job!

This hands-off attitude leaves FOMM members and co-president Eric Ricker mystified: "I must say that we remain puzzled as to why a government intent upon promoting mining and determined to open up a dozen new mines would turn its back on the one provincial park that honours the importance of our mining tradition…"

On Father’s Day, Sunday, June 21, I shall lead what likely will be the last of scores of Black Track Tours of South Wellington coal mines for FOMM over the past 10 years. Beginning at Morden Colliery Park, it lasts 3-4 hours. Single tickets are $35, couples $50, the money to go towards a memorial marker for the coal miners. I’m at 250-748-5707 or firgrove@telus.net. Tickets are limited.

Perhaps, while we’re there, we should begin planning for a memorial to Morden itself: 1913 -? R.I.P.

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