A tragedy unlike anything seen before or sinew s marked in Nanaimo Tuesday.
129 years ago explosions rocked the mine shafts that run below Nanaimo’s downtown as over 150 men worked mining coal down there. The blast sent the community into a frantic response and rescue effort and wiped out generations of men, with boys as young as 15 counted among the victims.
Coal still runs deep below the surface of Nanaimo, but few like Aimee Greenaway remain to tell the stories of the men who built this city and lost their lives doing it.
“I come from a coal mining family, six generations in Nanaimo,” says the Curator at the Nanaimo Museum.
She knows personally what May 3rd, 1887 marks in this former coal mining town.
“There were two explosions. The mine whistle went off to let the community know that there had been an accident and right away the families started arriving at the mine to see what was going on. Who was affected. See I’m gonna cry,” says Greenaway, wiping away tears.
When the smoke had cleared 150 men had died. Boys as young as 15 among the losses.
“Archibald Muir, in his case he left behind a wife and three children. John Woobank was found with his son Copley and his new son in law Joseph Forest, so his daughter’s husband. She lost her dad and her husband in one day. And her brother,” says Greenaway reading the manifest of losses from that day.
73 of the victims are buried at the Nanaimo Cemetery on Bowen Road.
“Most of the stones are pretty old and sort of breaking down but they’re all still legible,” says Rod Leclerc of the City of Nanaimo.
The bodies of seven more men remain in the mine shafts below Nanaimo. Their bodies in locations deemed too dangerous to retrieve.
But Amy Greenaway is working to keep their memories alive. As a curator at the Nanaimo museum, she is sharing the history that’s shaped this town before it’s lost to development and time.