[Nanaimo] City’s south is steeped in history – by Lynne Bowen (Nanaimo Daily News – September 11, 2014)


Mining families lived in small houses and grew their own food, single men found in boarding houses

Excerpt From Lynne Bowen’s essay: Thinking Back, from the forthcoming publication for Black Diamond Dust.

Lynne Bowen is an award winning Nanaimo-based historian and author known for her landmark 1982 book ‘Boss Whistle: The Coal Miners of Vancouver Island Remember,’ and six other important books about British Columbia history.

Haliburton Street was the most important thoroughfare in the South End. Mining families lived there or on the streets above and below it; single men lived in the boarding houses that clustered around the corner nearest the pub where the day shift miners, except those who were teetotal, drank beer after work.

In a town where all the important streets and avenues were named after English coal company directors, it was fitting that the main thoroughfare of the South End, where the biggest mine in British Columbia drew coal from under the harbour, was named after the best known among the directors.

Thomas Chandler Haliburton had lived most of his life in Nova Scotia, but had moved to Britain when he retired. Although he had been a judge and a politician on both sides of the Atlantic, posterity knows him best as the creator of the Sam Slick satirical sketches, which made him a bestselling author in Nova Scotia, Great Britain and the United States.

The street had a famous name, but the miners on Haliburton lived in humble houses surrounded by gardens that grew fruit and vegetables for their own use. The South End men worked in Number One mine extracting coal from the Newcastle and Douglas seams. Just four years after the shaft first reached the coal, Number One mine took the lives of at least one hundred forty-eight men in a gigantic explosion caused by a risky standing hole shot that sent a tongue of flame outward through air saturated with volatile coal dust suspended by a ventilation fan that did its job too well.

On the third day of May, 1887, at six o’clock in the evening, South End streets were filled with people streaming toward the mine: boys too young to work as miners, women in white aprons freshly donned to serve supper, girls who would marry the next generation of miners and become the wives for whom the mines were a source of constant worry.

Or on other days, the streets would be filled with angry South Enders when a strike brought union men and scabs, special policemen and soldiers, wives and children to the pithead waiting for news or demanding action. For those reasons and for the fact that Haliburton Street also led to the mines and camps south of the city and brought the coal from those mines to the loading wharfs in the harbour, the street was also called the Black Track.

When “shank’s mare” was the most common method of travel, the people who lived and worked in Chase River, Morden, South Wellington, Extension, Granby, and Ladysmith knew the Black Track well. A walk kilometers long was child’s play when it was the only alternative most people could afford.

And on the day in August 1913, when the people rushing on foot in a southerly direction on the Black Track were angry strikers who had just heard a rumour that six men had been shot at the pithead in Extension, the walking distance seemed much shorter.

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