That Little Mine Down Morden

Contributed by Rick Morgan

On entering Morden Park the first thing you see is the 75 foot headframe built by Pacific Coast Coal Mines a century ago. Limited signage and other ruins around the perimeter provide a visual clue of what the surface site looked like then but what you don't see are the myriad of tunnels spreading out 600 feet below you. Workers once toiled in these and other underground coal mines on Vancouver Island and the BC mainland, extracting the black gold that fueled an industrial revolution which would define Canada as we know it today, a sovereign nation extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

There is nothing at the site to indicate who these workers were or the horrible conditions under which they worked and lived at the whim of coal masters and politicians of the day who in many cases were one and the same. All is peaceful and quiet, that crumbling headframe standing silently like a cenotaph on an historic battlefield.

In such a tranquil setting it is hard to comprehend that Pacific Coast Coal Mines once captured the attention of financial centres around the world. Foremost amongst the financiers was Colonel W. Grant Morden who the short lived mine is named after. It was he who arranged the financing for the merger of Pacific Coast Coal Mines into Pacific Coast Collieries through his connections with investors in Montreal and England. The year was 1912, the same year the shafts at Morden were started and the future for Vancouver Island coal couldn't have looked brighter. The Panama Canal was nearing completion, which would make the Pacific Coast market including the Orient more accessible to eastern industry and England. Vancouver Island had the best thermal coal on the west coast of North America and it was readily accessible so close to tidewater.

The founder of Pacific Coast Coal Mines, former Winnipeg mayor and millionaire timberman, John Arbuthnot, with New York financing headed by Luther Wishart, had secured huge tracts of potential coal measures in the Cedar area and at Suquash further north on the island through various agreements with land holders. Within the E&N Railway belt these land holders were the original preemptors who could finally apply for fee simple title including coal and mineral rights through the passage of the Vancouver Island Settlers Rights Act of 1904. At Suquash, Arbuthnot's own lumber company had secured the coal and mineral rights for much of the coal measures there. When PCCM was formed, they intended to buy out the Dunsmuir coal interests on the Island but this fell through and in 1910 Mackenzie and Mann of Canadian Northern picked up the option. Mackenzie and Mann were heavily financed by Americans J.P. Morgan and J.J. Hill of the Great Northern Railway. The purchase included the docking facilities at Ladysmith and Union Bay. PCCM with all its potential coal measures and its own dock facilities became particularly attractive to eastern investors including the Canadian Pacific Railroad which had purchased the E&N in 1905 from the Dunsmuirs.

And so who was this Grant Morden who arranged for the merger of PCCM into Pacific Coast Collieries in 1912? Walter Grant Peterson Morden was born in Prince Edward County, Ontario, on July 20, 1880, of United Empire Loyalist ancestry. After receiving his education in Toronto, he commenced studying law but soon found financial matters more to his liking and went into the manufacturing business. By the time he was twenty, he was already in business for himself and had started on his career of creating and merging companies. Shortly after 1901, Morden moved where the money was, Montreal, setting up offices in prestigious Beaver Hall Square. The city directories list him as Vice President of the Can Wood Manufacturing Company and the Montreal Bridge & Terminal Company. In 1909 he married Doris Henshaw, daughter of Charles and Julia Henshaw of Vancouver

They were to have three daughters, Patricia, Barbara, Ann, and one son John.

By the time he reached 30 years of age, even Montreal couldn't satisfy Morden's driving ambition and he moved to London, England setting up offices there in addition to his Montreal offices. Already a multi millionaire, by 1913 he was a director of the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company, Vice-President of Canadian Securities Corporation, Montreal, director of Murray-Kay Ltd., Toronto, director, Prudential Trust Company, director Mexican Mahogany and Rubber Corporation Ltd.; director, New Orleans Southern Railway Co.; director New Orleans and Grand Isle Railway Light and Power Co.; director Pacific Coast Coal Mines Ltd; Collingwood Ship Building Co. Ltd, and many other sterling enterprises.

Between 1910 and 1914 Morden embarked on his largest merger to date, the creation of Canada Steamship Lines. The entrepreneurs who formed the quasi monopoly included Canadian promoters through English ship-owners interested in protecting their trans-Atlantic networks. The merger involved eleven shipping companies and would completely dominate Canadian Great Lakes shipping. By 1912, Grant Morden had really arrived. To complement his elevated station in life he purchased Heatherden Hall, a Victorian estate with spectacular grounds, at Ivor Heath, Buckinghamshire,just outside London. He immediately set to transforming the mansion adding a huge ballroom and Turkish bath. He and Doris entertained lavishly, his home becoming a retreat and meeting place for politicians and diplomats. In 1921 the agreement to form the Irish Free State was signed at Heatherden.

During the early months of the war Morden acted as staff officer in England to his close associate, Sam Hughes, the Canadian Minister of Militia, from whom he received the honorary title of Colonel. He soon gave this up and ventured into Switzerland and Germany seeking "dope" for British airplanes. The air machines of that era were covered with a cellulose acetate fabric popularly known as "dope," which made them taut, wind resistant and weatherproof. Entering into an agreement with the Swiss manufacturers he soon became Chairman of the British Cellulose and Chemical Manufacturing Co., a corporation heavily financed by the wartime government. Professing his actions as patriotic, he nevertheless profited greatly resulting in the Dope Scandal enquiry following the war.

He entered British politics in 1918 serving as the Conservative member for Brentford and Chiswick until 1931. He is considered the main driving force behind the creation of a separate Canadian air force, writing a memorandum advocating this in early 1918. A conference was then held with the British Air Board in March of that year and the Canadian Air Force was formally established on November 20, 1918. In 1920 he added newspapers to his list of businesses, buying "The People" and shortly afterwards playing a major part in arranging the financing for Odham's Press Ltd. when it absorbed John Bull.

Also in 1920, Morden, now aged 40, announced his last great venture, the creation of the British Empire Steel Corporation. The colossal undertaking involved industrial and financial combinations for the development of Canada's resources and trade and included the merging of the Nova Scotia and Dominion steel and coal monopoly, Canada Steamship Lines, other shipping ports and steel mills. Backed by some of the largest steel concerns in England it was slated to become the greatest industrial organization in the British Empire. It was coal and iron that made it possible for the ships of Britain to go to the four corners of the earth and bring back the cargoes England needed. Combining English industrial expertise with the resources of the colonies and maintaining a great fleet of ships would assure that the British Empire would maintain its position of pre eminence in world trade. The conglomerate only lasted 8 years, was in constant financial crises and filled with labor strife.

By 1930 Grant Morden, now 50 years of age, was bankrupt and two years later he was dead. His palatial estate, Heatherden was sold at a fraction of what he had paid to satisfy creditors. The purchasers who included J R Rank turned the property into Pinewood Studios and the mansion has been featured as a movie site in numerous films including the James Bond films, the Carry on films and Midsomer Murders. Another legacy of the owners when Coal was King...

And that "cenotaph" at Morden, an ideal centerpiece to honor the mine workers, continues to deteriorate. Pity.