The Creation of Morden Colliery Historic Provincial Park

compiled by Helen Tilley
Excerpts from correspondence, 1969-1971, between George A. Wilkinson, R.G. Williston, Minister of Lands and Forests, Ken Kiernan, Minister of Recreation and Conservation, and other officials concerning preservation of Morden Colliery's remaining structures. Researched by Helen Tilley from BC Archives File GR-1991 -- BC Parks and Outdoor Recreation Division, 1912-1979, Reel B01769. Courtesy of Royal BC Museum, BC Archives.

On October 3, 1969, George A. Wilkinson, president of Interprovincial Construction Ltd. Of Vancouver, wrote a letter to R.G. Williston, Minister of Lands and Forests:

Dear Ray,

On several occasions, over the past three years, we have discussed the possibility of having your government acquire the old Morden Colliery at South Wellington with a view to making it a memorial park in honour of Vancouver Island’s, now defunct, coal mining industry.

This is the last standing tipple on the island and unless steps are taken quickly to stop the dumping of logs, rock, sawdust and other assorted junk, it will be too late. With Morden gone, the last visible remains of the great industry that was in effect, the largest industry on Vancouver Island, will disappear.

To me this is a shameful thing. Morden is less than two minutes off the Island Highway and would be a major attraction to residents and tourists alike.

I am enclosing three slides taken by Alan Macdonald of the B.C. Hydro and Power Authority, who I talked into visiting the area a couple of weeks ago. Personally, I think Alan was surprised to find the tipple and bunkers still standing and certainly he found the visit a most interesting one.

Unfortunately, rubble dumped on the property in the past year has already collapsed the hoist house and a small concrete building, but with the tipple and bunkers still standing, the site can still be salvaged.

During one of our previous conversations, you said you might be able to swap with Mayo for other property suitable for dumping refuse. If you can still do this, and get this acreage transferred back to your department, I am prepared to buy it providing the price is fair and I will immediately start cleaning it up and getting a good road into the property, in an effort to open it up for the public to visit. I am enclosing herewith some data on the property, picked up a couple of years ago, when you were discussing the matter with Ken. I know you are awfully busy, Ray, and I hate to bother you, but honestly, I think this property in worth saving for future generations to see.

I had been hoping to get you out of the office for 4 hours to visit the property, once you’ve seen it you will know why I am enthusiastic about Morden, and depressed about what’s happening to it. Please let me know if you think something can be arranged.

Many thanks in advance, for your help.

Kindest personal regards,
George. (G.A. Wilkinson, President, Interprovincial Construction Ltd.)

George Wilkinson also wrote to Ken Kiernan, then the Minister of Recreation and Conservation, on the same date:

Dear Ken,

Enclosed please find a self-explanatory letter that I have sent, this day, to the Honourable Ray Williston, together with a description of the property involved.

You would hardly recognize the property since your last visit. The rubble and junk is piling higher and higher, and unless something is done quickly, the tipple and bunkers will be gone. I can do no more than to say that this is shameful, and as I outlined in my letter to Ray, I shall, if I can acquire the property at a price I can afford to pay, at least fix it up so that people can get in to see it, and ensure that it will still be standing for future generations to see.

I realize that your Government is free from criticism for a further four years, just as I realize that you personally have done a tremendous job in creating parks throughout British Columbia, but by heavens, if Barkerville is worth spending the amount of money that has been expended, then surely coal, which brought far more fame and dollars to this province than Barkerville, deserves some minor consideration, such as this.

October 8, 1969, Ken Kiernan wrote to George Wilkinson:

Dear George,

Many thanks for your letter of the 3rd of October with copy of yours of the same date to Ray Williston in connection with the old Morden Colliery at South Wellington.

I agree, that if it is Possible, this site is work saving, and will make my point of view in this regard made known to others concerned with such preservation.

On October 14, 1969, T. R. Broadland, of the Historic Parks and Sites Division of the Provincial Government sent the following letter to Mr. R. H. Ahrens, Director of the Provincial Parks Branch:

With reference to the recent exchange of correspondence between G.A. Wilkinson of Vancouver and the Honourable W. K. Kiernan we must add our voice to the need for preserving some historic evidence of Vancouver Island’s coal industry. There are simply too few remnants left. Some of the last colourful vestiges to disappear were the coke ovens at Union Bay which were physically eliminated, brick by brick during the past two years.

As you know, we are quite aware that we can’t save everything. Furthermore we are not familiar with the old Morden Colliery at South Wellington. However we believe it deserves some consideration for preservation as it may well be the last identifiable coal mining structure on the Island.

We would be pleased to examine this site in due course to report on the feasibility of a preservation project.

October 21, 1969, Ray Williston replied to George Wilkinson:

Dear Mr. Wilkinson,

Thank you for your letter of October3, 1969 regarding the possibility of the Crown Provincial acquiring the old Morden Colliery site at South Wellington for an historic park.

I understand that land in question is owned by Mayo Lumber Company and I have asked the Director of Lands to contact Company Officials with a view to effecting an exchange in order to acquire this property.

Your suggestion certainly had interesting possibilities and I wish to express my appreciation to you for writing me on this subject.

On November 6, 1969, Mr. Gordon McGavin, Land Manager, Mayo Lumber Co., was interviewed in his office and was quite receptive to a proposal of a land exchange and said that his company, in addition to the Morden Mine property, would also be interested in disposing of parts of the old Pacific Coast Coal Mines Co. Railway right of way which was about 3.8 miles more or less and extended from the Morden Mine almost to Boat Harbour. The last piece of this right of way, from the south east end of Holden Lake to Boat Harbour, went through land owned by Mayo that he did not wish to see divided by a Crown owned right of way. His company would also be even more interested in an exchange of the subject properties for cutting rights to timber rather than an exchange of land or money.

During an inspection of the property on November 6, 1969, it was noted the property had been used for the last several years as storage for sawdust and mill waste from the Mayo Company’s Nanaimo mill during times when delivery of this waste to local pulp mills was not possible because of strikes. A good gravel road through the property also serves as access to the property of a neighbour to the east who runs a gravel and topsoil business.

A valuation was done on the Morden Mine and Pacific Coast Coal Mines railway right of way in October 1970, comparing information gathered on similar land which had sold recently in the general area. An estimated value for the land at the current market price of $550 per acre came to $7,045.50, rounded to an even $7,045.

Letters during November 1970 between the Department of Recreation and Conservation and the Historic Parks and Sites branch of the government concluded the price of the land to be “quite small” and the feeling was it would be a useful addition to the Historic Parks list and the railway right of way “would be very worthwhile as a future recreational trail”.

On December 22, 1970, an offer was made to Mayo Holdings Ltd. of $7045 for the combined Morden Mine and railway right of way properties.

Mayo Holding believed the land to be worth $10,000 and was still interested in trading the land for timber cutting rights. Mr. Esler, who had done the original valuation of the land for the government, considered this $10,000 price to be very reasonable and in February 1971 recommended the purchase of the land.

August 5, 1971, an offer of $10,000 was made to Mayo Holdings and accepted by them for the purchase of the Morden Mine property and part of the railroad right of way.

September 15, 1971, approval from the Minister of Recreation and Conservation, the Honourable Ken Kiernan to proceed was sought in this letter from R. H. Ahrens, director of the Provincial Parks Branch:

We have been offered several parcels of land in the vicinity of South Wellington by Mayo Holdings Ltd. These adjacent properties are at the site of the old Morden Coal tipple and contain a total of 37.66 acres. A tentative agreement of $10,000 for this land has been made between this branch and Mayo Holdings Ltd. which we considered to be a very reasonable price.

Our interest in the site of this old coal tipple is primarily its historic value because there is no land within the park system of this province that includes a representative portion of the former coal mining area in and around Nanaimo. We feel that this land with the remaining concrete coal tipple could eventually be developed so as to make people aware of the extensive coal mining operations that took place on Vancouver Island. Another interesting feature included in the property for sale is a three mile long right of way which leads from the coal tipple almost to the seashore at Boat Harbour. Although overgrown and lacking a bridge crossing, this right of way could be used for hiking and riding and thus provide an additional attraction for the public.

Before proceeding further in our negotiations with Mayo Holdings Ltd., we would appreciate your approval in principal with this land purchase.

On September 29, 1971 the following memorandum was sent to the Honourable Ken Kiernan, Minister of Recreation and Conservation by R. H. Ahrens, director of the Provincial Parks Branch:

Subject: Morden Pit Head and associated right of way proposed for acquisition from Mayo Lumber Company for historic and other park purposes.

Remarks: The Parks Branch, with encouragement of representatives of the Mining Industry, has recommended acquisition of the one remaining pit head works at Morden, near Nanaimo. This structure is a historic link with the development of the Vancouver Island coal fields around Nanaimo and Wellington, and can serve as the focal point of a Historic Park. Associated with the property is a right of way about three miles long which one may readily visualize as a green belt, walking/cycling path whose usefulness will be realized as the Cedar District develops.

Yesterday we received your go-ahead to draft an Order in Council which would authorize this purchase and to work out conveyance of the property with the Mayo Company.

Scrutiny of the Certificates of Encumbrances reveals that part of the property, the right of way portion, has reservation of all minerals other than coal against it, so that the Mayo Company cannot give us absolutely clear title. The right to minerals under the right of way is held as undivided 1/6 interests by a number of parties.

The attached map shows the situation clearly. The 6.2 and 4.25 acre areas contain the pit head works and can be given Class A, Category 1, park Status. The right of way being encumbered as to minerals should presumably not be accorded this status.

As one tries to visualize the development of mineral entitlement to a strip 66 feet wide and 3 miles long, one became less concerned about the significance of the mineral encumbrance.

We recommend the property be secured for public recreation, the Historic Class A Park be established on 10.45 acres and the remaining 27 acres be retained in public ownership in some other status: Crown land reserved for public recreational use, or a Class B portion of the Historic Park.

We did want you to be aware of the situation just described before you take the Order in Council for purchase authorization to Executive Council.

On September 30th, 1971 the deed was signed between Mayo Holdings Ltd. and the Province of British Columbia, turning the Morden Mine property and railway right of way, over to the Province for $10,000.

On January 10, 1972 an Order in Council established Morden Colliery Historic Park and this Order in Council was approved by the Lieutenant Governor on January 11, 1972:

Report: That the following lands have been acquired by the Crown Provincial for park purposes: Parcel No. 1 (DD 6974-N) and Parcel No. 2 (DD 6974-N) of Section 11, Range 8, Cranberry District containing 6.2 acres more or less and 4.25 acres more or less respectively, for a combined total of 10.45 acres more or less.

And that the above described lands have been examined and found to be suitable and needed for park purposes.

And to recommend that under the authority of the Park Act (1965, C.31 S.6) the above described lands be designated a Provincial park of Class A, Category 2, to be known as Morden Colliery Historic Park.

Dated this 10th day of January, 1972, A. D. Signed: W. K. Kiernan, Minister of Recreation and Conservation and L. R. Peterson, Presiding Member of the Executive Council.