Sunday, May 08, 2011

Nanaimo Mine Disaster Memorial

Flowers Pay Tribute
Crowd Honors Miners Lost
A small but somber crowd gathered on Saturday to pay tribute to the 150 men who perished in the Nanaimo Mine Disaster of 1887. A reminder of how hazardous the industry was upon which Nanaimo was built.

There would have been a time that this Memorial ceremony would have seen almost all of Nanaimo in attendance as most residents would have either worked in the mines, known someone who did or whose livelihood depended on the commerce coal mining brought to the community. 

A few long time residents spoke of what Nanaimo was like in times past when miners families were scarely earning enough to keep body and soul together. But in spite of the financial hardships of the day, there was a love and sense of community that has built fond memories which last to the present day. Times when mid-wifes and doctors attended to the birthing of Nanaimo's newest citizens, in most cases not for money, but perhaps a bag of vegetables or fruit if that were in season.

The local store was always open, and those in need of something, simply picked it up and recorded it on a written tablet so their purchase could be added to their accounts. It was said, that when the store tallied up their books, all 'miner's' accounts were paid to the penny, which was not an attribute that could be said of some of those 'higher' in Nanaimo society. Miners were described as true as steel.

Those in attendance were reminded not only of the great loss to the community at the time when suddenly 150 children were left fatherless and nearly 50 women became widows, but it was brought to mind the resolve and love that would have enabled the rescue workers to go into the mine after the fires had burned out to retrieve the remains of those lost. The lost, for the most part were not strangers, and in some cases would have been relatives of those tasked with the difficult job of removing the bodies.

Seeing the final messages to loved ones, written in the coal dust was surely a sight that would have carried with those who witnessed them for the rest of their lives.

The widows of those who perished were given a daily living allowance which barely would have kept food on the table, and certainly would not have allowed for any high fashion. In fact children of the day were reminded to remove their socks and shoes while skipping, so as not to wear them out prematurely!

It was said of Nanaimo in the early days that residents were either related to everyone else, or certainly felt as if they were and it was that bond and sense of family and community, held together by deep bonds of love and caring that enabled earlier residents to live through times and conditions that most today would find unbearable.

In many ways I suspect that despite their lack of material goods, the souls that populated Nanaimo in those days had a greater sense of purpose, of family, of community and of faith in God that is clearly missing from among the much more comfortable generation that lives here today.

The South End Community Association hosted the event and it should be noted that this association provides a shining example of what community, and community involvement should be all about. They seem to have captured some of the charm of community from days gone by, when people actually knew, and spoke to their neighbours and had a genuine care one for the other.


1 comment:

  1. Wow, thanks Jim! What a terrific post! I love hearing the stories...I think we all do.

    I'll post this on the SECA blog.


    Barbara Densmore


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