B.C. Industries: Coal Pt. 2

While the first nations groups of the area had been aware of what they described as the ‘stones that burned’ for a significant length of time, the early arrivals who began European settlement along the Pacific Northwest Coast would not become aware of the presence of this energy source until the midpoint of the 1800s.  The earliest mining of this fossil fuel at the Northeastern end of Vancouver Island by Europeans could have begun as early as 1835 where Fort Rupert would later be established but it wasn’t until 1849 that we have definitive historical evidence of this activity.

Miners hard at work. Image from www.empr.gov.bc.ca

Miners hard at work. Image from http://www.empr.gov.bc.ca

Prior to this point, timber had supplied an abundant amount of fuel for many activities of industry, however, blacksmiths required what was known as ‘smithy coal’ for their work which was import from England at a very high level of expense.  An additional demand for a more effective source of energy was also created by the introduction of steam powered boats which replaced the previously used sail method.

The Tariff Mine in 1897. Image from Wikipedia.

The Tariff Mine in 1897. Image from Wikipedia.

Luckily for the European arrivals they were directed to a nearer source of energy by the chief of a Vancouver Island first nations group.  The historical account states that:

“One day in December, 1849, the Snuneymuxw chief Chewichikan was watching an Hbc blacksmith at Fort Victoria repair his gun when he noticed the man toss coal on the fire. When the native asked the blacksmith where he obtained his coal, he was told it was shipped from England. The elderly chief was amused and commented it was silly to bring black stones from so far away when there was plenty where he lived. Company authorities offered Chewichikan free repair of his gun and a bottle of rum if he brought samples of the “stones that burned”. The following spring, Chewichikan returned in a canoe brimming with quality coal. The chief received his reward as well as a new nickname: “Coal Tyee” or “The Coal Chief”.”

This information came at a fortunate moment for the British as it corresponded with the decline of HBC operation on Vancouver Island.  This downward trend was created by a number of factors including the company’s inability to fulfill its colonial obligations, failures at earlier mining efforts, and the increasing threat of American expansion but a successful coal mining endevor would be an effective reversal of the economic fortunes. Therefore, James Douglas immediately ordered Joseph McKay to take a prospecting party and follow up on these claims.  They arrived in the area known as Wentuhysen Inlet which was located on the shore of the Nanaimo harbour where three coal outcroppings were found and which would end up producing millions of tons of coal over the following 28 years.

B.C. Industries: Coal Pt.1

Next week I’m going to get into coal mining within British Columbia specifically but, while trying to write that particular post, I discovered that I know next to nothing about the mining and use of coal and so I thought I would add in a preliminary post going over the basics.

This is what coal looks like when people decide to make Photoshop improvements to rocks... Image from Wikipedia.

This is what coal looks like when people decide to make Photoshop improvements to rocks…
Image from Wikipedia.

Since the 1880’s coal has been valued for its energy content and used to generate electricity, particularly within the steel and cement industries.  While reserves are available in almost every county in the world, it is only mined in slightly over 50 of those although it can probably be expected that those remaining countries will be pressured to start coal mining activities in the near future.

Coal miners from West Virginia in 1908. Image is from Wikipedia.

Coal miners from West Virginia in 1908. Image is from Wikipedia.

Since its discovery as an efficient energy source, coal has been a popular choice in most countries of the world for several reasons:

  1. It is the cheapest known available source of energy
  2. It is an incredibly stable source
  3. It is often seen as benefiting the economy due to job creation

If the current levels of production are maintained, the planet’s coal reserves could be expected to last as long as another 150 years.  However, these production levels have never been especially stable and it is predicted that countries in Asia and North America could run out as soon as 2030. This is unlikely to be alarming to any of the world’s other miners of this fossil fuel as the vast majority mined is used within its country of origin with only an average of 16% being exported.  As of 2010, Canada was ranked as the 15th coal producing country of the world while ranking 12th in regards to the level of its reserves.

Despite the popularity of coal, and the benefits and convenience of its use for many countries, there are many dangers connected to it particularly when it comes to the mining process.

Mining dangers:

  • Firedamp explosions – there are several flammable gasses found in coal mines, the gas accumulates in pockets with in the coal and when penetrated the release of these gases can trigger explosions.
  • Coal dust explosions – the fine powdered form of coal which is created by the crushing and grinding of coal can become explosive when suspended in the air (it is susceptible to spontaneous combustion due to a higher surface area per unit of weight).
  • Chronic lung diseases – these are caused by inhaling coal dust and the most common of these are coal worker’s pneumoconiosis or  black lung disease.
Additionally, this image makes me claustrophobic just looking at it. Picture from www.kshs.org.

Additionally, this image makes me claustrophobic just looking at it. Picture from http://www.kshs.org.

There are also a number of environmental concerns involved in coal mining including:

  • Water pollution – water that comes into contact with the coal mining process (particularly during extraction) often demonstrates high levels of heavy metals such as lead and arsenic.
  • Air pollution – the process of burning coal for energy produces greenhouse gasses and other pollutants including carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, mercury compounds, and nitrogen oxides.
  • It also significantly alters the local ecosystem and the connected wildlife habitats of the area where the mine is built with the introduction of road and clearing of trees.
A look at what the building of a mine can do to the local environment. Picture from appvoices.org.

A look at what the building of a mine can do to the local environment. Picture from appvoices.org.

All in all, I’d probably say that coal was an excellent source of energy historically but, with the knowledge we have developed and the technological capabilities we have access to today, its probably long past time an effective alternative was found.


The Early Establishment of Mining

As has been established in depth and, some might feel, repeatedly, the early population and development of the province of British Columbia was significantly impacted by the discovery of natural resources in the area and the swiftly following emergence of a mining industry.  This particular industry dates back into the 1800’s which, while it isn’t that long ago in the span of human history, is quite a chunk out of North America’s non-indigenous past. From this point, and continuing forward into today, B.C. has established itself and maintained its position as one of the world’s major mining powers.

The Tariff Mine in 1897. Image from Wikipedia.

The Tariff Mine in 1897. Image from Wikipedia.

The high concentration of mine-able materials in this region is due to the good luck of having the largest part of the Canadian Cordillera (a fancy name for the mountain belt rich in minerals and coal that runs through B.C., the southern Yukon, and western Alberta) being placed withing a large part of the eastern and northern parts of the province.  This geographical feature benefits the areas it occurs in by being rich in a number of things including copper, gold, silver, lead, zinc, molybdenum (this is not a made up word I promise- it’s a mineral which is used in things such as certain fertilizers and power plant analyzers used in pollution control), coal, and industrial minerals which are classified as ‘minerals which are mined for commercial value but are not used as a fuel’ such as clay and limestone.

As previously mentioned, to the point where I’m thinking I’m going to have to specifically look for topics that don’t touch on this, the presence of these minerals has been a key player in the growth of the province as has been touched on when discussing a number of topics including the gold rushes, the establishment of a large percentage of the province’s early town-sites (100 Mile House, Cascade City. and New Westminster among many others), and finally the establishment of British Columbia as a British Colony.

Coal miners reemerging into the daylight. Image from www.trcr.bc.ca

Coal miners reemerging into the daylight. Image from http://www.trcr.bc.ca

The two most significant items to be mined early on were gold, which brought a huge increase of people to the area and resulted in a large amount of the province’s early settlement, and coal, which was first produced on Vancouver Island in the 1840’s and greatly assisted the establishment of railroads, opening up the region even further.  As the population increased the infrastructure improved which had the circular effect of opening up the province for additional exploration and allowed for the discovery of still more resources.

For the first century of mining in B.C., from the 1850’s to the 1960’s, mining was an entirely underground endeavor but through the early 1960’s open-pit production saw vast improvements which had the direct result of several copper mines being oldest including one which is still one of the largest in the world today.


10 Facts – Cascade City

The town of Cascade City was constructed as a Canadian Pacific Railway boom town located in the Boundary Country which was alternatively known as the ‘Gateway to the Boundary Country’ due to its close proximity to the Canada-U.S. border in the West Kootenay region.

The original site of the town of Cascade City.

The original site of the town of Cascade City.

On this day, in 1899, a fire swept through the area, destroying a large percentage of the town and so here are ten facts about Cascade City:

  1. It was founded in 1896 and named after the nearby Cascade Falls which occurred on the Kettle River.
  2. The property in this area was originally owned by Aaron Chandler, an American from North Dakota who, on seeing financial possibility in the area, began to divide the land and sell it off to businessmen.

    The tents used by inhabitants in the early years of the town.

    The tents used by inhabitants in the early years of the town. Image from Wikipedia.

  3. The original industries of the town were mining and the construction of rail in the region but the prosperity of the town was further elevated in 1897 when the Cascade Water and Power Company formed an electric dam on the Kettle River in 1897; this supplied electricity to Grand Forks, Phoenix, and Greenwood.
  4. In its early days, the town only had two buildings which were a general store and a restaurant while its inhabitants stayed in tents.
  5. However, by 1898, there were 15 hotels along with numerous brothels which were worked by women with remarkable names including ‘Scrap Iron Minnie’ and ‘Rough Lock Nell’.

    The Cascade Hotel; one of many that sprung up in the town. Image from wikipedia.

    The Cascade Hotel; one of many that sprung up in the town. Image from Wikipedia.

  6. It wasn’t until the Doon Gang Tobacco Robbery in 1897, when the gang broke into the general store and made off with 150 pounds of tobacco, that the need for a police force and a jail became evident. In this case, the shop book-keeper had to make the arrest himself and detain the leader in a local carpenter’s home.
  7. August 12, 1899; the CPR arrived in the town from the Kettle River Bridge to a town-wide celebration complete with $25 worth of refreshments for the railway laborours.
  8. Unfortunately, only 6 weeks after the arrival of the CPR, a fire swept through the town burning down 6 hotels and several other structures in under an hour.  At this time, the town had no fire department and so a firebreak was created by using dynamite on some of the threatened buildings.
  9. This bad luck continued in 1901 when the rebuilding of the town was disrupted by the outbreak of a second fire.
  10. After this, all but 75 inhabitants of the town moved on to other locations and the town quickly faded into obscurity.

    The town of Cascade at the height of its occupation before it was destroyed by fires. Image from Wikipedia.

    The town of Cascade at the height of its occupation before it was destroyed by fires. Image from Wikipedia.

The town , surprisingly, continued in its reduced capacity for a number of years where it was used as a customs port where, in 1920, it was inhabited by somewhere around 150 residents and consisted of one public building in the form of a store.  Today, much of the original town-site is covered by the Christina Lake Gold Club’s course and the only remaining memento of the town itself is the cemetery located on the opposite bank of the river.


10 Facts – 100 Mile House

Established in the 1800’s as a rest stop and supply station for miners heading to the Fraser Canyon gold rush, 100 Mile House obtained its name due to its distance from the town of Lillooet which was considered to be mile zero by the gold rushers. Here are ten additional facts about the town:


Map of the region. Image from cbc.ca

Map of the region. Image from cbc.ca

  1. It was originally named ‘Bridge Creek House’ after the creek which runs through the area.
  2. Its name changed to 100 Mile House during the Cariboo Gold rush during which time (in 1862) a roadhouse was built in the area to mark 100 miles up the Old Cariboo Road.

    100 Mile House during the Gold Rush. Image from bcheritage.ca

    100 Mile House during the Gold Rush. Image from bcheritage.ca

  3. During its original function at the time of the gold rush, it was really just a collection of buildings owned by a man named Thomas Miller rather than an actual town.
  4. In the 1900’s logging was introduced to the area which provided a more stable industry, allowing the town to begin taking form.
  5. Shortly after this, during the 1930’s, Lord Martin Cecil left England and arrived in 100 Mile House to manage the estate there which was owned by his father, the 5th Marquees of  Exter.

    Lord Martin in the 1930's. Image from www.bridgecreek.ca

    Lord Martin in the 1930’s. Image from http://www.bridgecreek.ca

  6. This estate was actually a short distance outside of the town itself and had its own train stop on the Pacific Great Eastern Railway which ran through the area.
  7. Even at this time, the ‘town’ as it was consisted of only 5 public buildings; a road house, a post office, a general store, a telegraph office, and a power plant with a total population of 12 people
  8. Reducing this even further, the original road house burnt down in 1937.
  9. Over time ranches were established on the plateau near the town center.
  10. One of these ranches, the Gang Ranch, is one of the largest ranches in the world.

Today, 100 Mile House has a population of approximately 2,000 people and is a retail and service center for the Southern Cariboo area.  In addition to the services this town provides to the surrounding area, it is also a popular tourist destination with people who enjoy the outdoors with swimming, fishing, horseback riding, bird watching skiing, and golfing all being available in the surrounding area.

The welcome sign today. Image from www.campscout.com

The welcome sign today. Image from http://www.campscout.com

For more information check out the official website of 100 Mile House or the Destination B.C. site for the town.