Island’s Granby was ‘the best company town in Canada’

"When jobs went a-begging elsewhere, there was always a waiting list at Granby."

Old photos confirm that Granby lived up to its billing as the finest mining community in Canada. This is important to remember: Granby, as a shortly-afterthe-turn-of-the-last-century company town, was unique. No thrown-together or cookie-cutter

shacks were these! No dust-in-summer, mud-in-winter dirt lanes here! Rather, Granby, on a gravelly bench between Haslam Creek and the Nanaimo River, offered state-of-the-art amenities. For that matter, No. 1 Mine, its reason for being, was the last word in coal mining during its few years of operation – and that’s saying a lot, in view of this industry’s "black" history on Vancouver Island. Development of the site was begun by the Granby Consolidated Mining, Smelting & Power Co. in 1917. No expense appears to have been spared in building a model community. A Vancouver engineering firm was commissioned to design a picture-book townsite of pretty bungalows, complete with electricity, proper sewage disposal and a pressure water system (one that’s still working, almost a century later).

Most imposing was the 76-room "California-style" two-storey rooming house for single men: every suite had hot and cold running water and steam heat.

Soon Granby townsite and mine workings covered almost 100 acres and could boast of a church (non-denominational and used on demand), post office, school, department store (small), theatre (socalled) and paved and lit streets. Lawn boulevards were neatly trimmed. Even the mine buildings were better than the usual unpainted frame construction; if not built to last of concrete, they were grey-stuccoed. Neatness counted at Granby.

"Why, they [management] were so fussy," a former resident recalled, "if a man spat on the floor he’d get warned. If he did it again, he’d get his walking ticket. It was a nice place. They kept it right up to mark."

By 1928, Granby Colliery was producing 1,000 tons of the black fuel in every eight-hour shift; coke for the company’s hungry smelter at Anyox, on the Portland Canal. Of a population of 500 souls, 200 laboured underground.

Granby was a "coal miner’s Mecca," drawing employees with its high wages and modern, comfortable accommodations for single and married men. These factors overcame its "dangerous reputation [for] ‘blowouts’ and gas ‘bumps’… When jobs went a-begging elsewhere, there was always a waiting list at Granby." It was also wet. Gas was so bad that miners would work until they felt ill, come up for air and to vomit, then go back down.

Peak production years were 1921 and 1922. In 1931 the Great Depression brought the end. Granby Co.’s closure of its Anyox copper smelting operation meant death for both communities. The miners moved away in search of new employment, their prized cottages being left in the care of a watchman. In 1936, the "best company town in Canada" went on the auction block.

Granby Co. had built its structures so solidly that the major buildings had to be dismantled for their materials and fittings. Only the five-, six-and seven-room bungalows could be salvaged intact and it’s believed that several survive in the greater Nanaimo area today.

Even the sewer and water pipes were unearthed, to be used at Zeballos. During the Second World War, the last of the mining machinery vanished in the smelter pots. By 1951, only concrete and rubble marked the townsite, the tall, arched walls of the gutted boarding house resembling a Roman ruin; a single wall of the 100-foot-long mess hall stood into the ’70s.

But that was then. Today, modern homes on treed acreages again line both sides of Granby Road, known locally as Stupichville for the Stupich brothers, Roy and Dave, who bought the townsite for a poultry farm in 1946 and whose descendants live there today.

Almost a century after, Granby is again a nice place to live.

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