Extension Mini-Memorial Park is a Gem

by T.W. Paterson

I can hardly believe it. Somebody has finally done something right. And they've done it well!

I'm referring to Extension's new mini-park which is dedicated to the memory of that small mid-Island community's coal miners, particularly the 32 men killed in a devastating explosion in October 1909.

Should you stroll through the Ladysmith Cemetery, you're sure to notice a sorrowful repetition amongst the headstones—inscription after inscription to the effect of, "In loving memory of…killed in the Extension Mine explosion of Oct. 5, 1909." Thirty-two good men died in that single disaster alone although this wasn't the only tragedy in this colliery's 40-year history.

These are the men, including those who are interred in Ladysmith Cemetery, who were finally honoured three years ago by the establishment of this small memorial park in Extension, at the very entrance to the No. 1, 2 and 3 Mines. I can't imagine anything more appropriate.

For some years now, I and others have been laboring to save Morden Colliery Provincial Park's concrete pithead-tipple as a memorial to all Vancouver Island coal miners of whom more than a 1000 were killed on the job, below and above ground, from Granby to Cumberland.

Morden is the last real relic of the Island's coal mining industry, one of only two such structures in North America. Whereas the good folks in Muddy, Ill. Have looked after their headframe, Morden is in a state of near-collapse despite the fact it's been a heritage provincial park, so-called, for 40 years.

We also have a privately-funded signboard honouring the lost legion--148-men!- -of the Nanaimo No. 1 Esplanade Mine disaster, an excellent underground coal mine exhibit in the Nanaimo Museum, a chunk of coal commemorating "100 Years of Coal" in the city's downtown Dallas Square, and another signboard at Diver Lake marking the site of the Dunsmuirs' famous No. 4 Wellington Mine.

And now we have this gem of a memorial park in Extension that I revisited this past weekend for the first time since attending its formal opening in October 2009. They've done more work, with a handsome sign and a black marble marker and historic photos since then. The most eye-catching feature is a park bench in the form of half-an-ore-car. Complete with authentic wheels, it was donated by the Mayovsky family and is dedicated to the memory of Michael Mayovsky "and all the miners that lost their lives from working inside and outside the mine".

Another bench invites you to "Sit, rest and remember the lives lost and families shattered by the mine disaster of October 5, 1909". A third bench is in memory of Alfred and Lydia Corsini (nee Arman), life long Extension residents and Extension General Store owners.

Check out the photo gallery in the lean-to structure. Look closely at these men of the deep, just some of the unsung thousands who, for 90 years, risked their lives to fuel Vancouver Island's economy, to produce an estimated 15 million tons of the so-called black gold that propelled ships, powered factories and heated buildings and homes before petroleum took its place. These anonymous miners of many nations raised their families and built their-- our- -communities- -at the cost of hundreds of lives lost to explosions, cave-ins, floods, lethal gases and other perils. For some, death came later, from Black Lung and the like.

Spare a thought, too, for the hapless pit ponies and mules who shared the same risks, the same hardships, as well as the risk of going blind if they were worked too long underground without access to natural daylight. Theirs wasn't a happy lot either.

I would make at least one suggestion for the Extension memorial and that is to name the lost miners individually rather than mention them collectively in a single sentence as is the case at present. It's a fine park for all that, and a fine tribute. It prompts me to suggest that the folks of South Wellington, just north of Ladysmith and home of the South Wellington No. 5 and 10, the Alexandra, Richardson, Fiddick and Pacific Coast Coal Mines, create their own memorial. There's the perfect spot for it on a grassy flat beside Scotchtown Road where the E&N Railway track passed right by the former No. 5 Mine.

I'd be pleased to provide them with a list of the miners killed at each of the mines in this immediate area. Mind you, South Wellington historian Helen Tilley could, too. None of this conflicts with the efforts of the Friends of the Morden Mine to make Morden Provincial Park, just across the Island Highway, a memorial to all Vancouver Island coal miners.

An old Russian proverb says that people live as long as they are remembered. Let us remember our coal miners.

To access Extension Community Park: Driving south on Highway 19A from downtown Nanaimo, turn right onto Cranberry Avenue (Co-op gas bar/Moose Hall) When the road forks (1/4 of a mile) keep right on Extension Road until you reach the park, about a 10 minute drive from the intersection of Highway 19A and Cranberry Avenue. You'll pass Chase River School on your left, go over railroad tracks, see a left turn off for Cinnabar Drive, pass through a forested area, then come to a ½ mile steep hill leading to Extension Village. When you reach the community park, Extension School will be on your left. Parking is on the right next to the fire hydrant. For further information contact Gary Britt: gbritt@shaw.ca or 250-753-4689.