Mystery History Tour – Friday, October 19, 2018
David Maas, our guide, took us on a magical mystery tour via Forest Bus Tours to interesting points off the beaten track, south of Nanoose Bay. The theme was the role coal played in our local history. First stop, Lantzville where we viewed the flat still waters of Georgia Strait on a beautiful sunny day. The coal mines extended out from Lantzville shoreline and under the ocean.
We followed the backroads (Hammond Bay) past Shack Island to Departure Bay. This was the Coal fill-up/repair station for the shipping industry on the island’s west coast. Coal was brought by train to Departure Bay from the local mines, cleaned and loaded onto the boats for shipment. Ship were repaired and barnacle cleaning was done at low tide when boats were laid on their sides. Departure Bay would have been a very polluted area with industry and coal dust everywhere. Today the waterfront beach has been beautifully restored with walkways. From there it was off to Stewart Ave where we passed the natural harbor of Newcastle Channel where many Chandlery businesses had been located. Travelling through Downtown Nanaimo, we were reminded that the harbor had been filled in over the years to push the ocean back and create the downtown of today.
A highlight of the trip was a visit to the Extension Mines area. At the end of Extension Road were the coal mines created by Robert Dunsmuir. Local resident Garry Britt showed us his amazing yard with coal mining artifacts collected from the area. The #1 mine entry tunnel was located just down the road from his current home and he spearheaded the creation of the Extension Miners Community Park to commemorate the local coal mining history. This is an area that most people would not have been aware of; looking back now we can appreciate the importance of coal to the local economy and the hardships the workers endured at the turn of the century. A terrible mine explosion in October 1909 killed 32 men.
Leaving Extension we travelled through Ladysmith, the home of Dunsmuir’s workers for the Extension Mines. Ladysmith was connected to the mines by a railway. The Chemanius Visitor Center in the sunshine became our picnic lunch stop.
Following lunch it was off to Crofton and a pleasant drive through the rural countryside to Providence Farms. This 400-acre farm is a therapeutic community that has a host of programs available for people with disabilities, including farm therapy, cooking, and woodworking. There is also the Therapeutic Riding Association which is on the grounds at Providence. St. Ann’s Garden Club has a beautiful building and plots for gardening for those who are elderly or with disabilities. We wandered the beautiful grounds to explore the many programs they provide. After an hour with a visit to the General Store, some ice cream, apple cider, dog petting and hawk spotting we boarded the bus again for a drive through Cowichan Bay and back to the highway and home at 4:30pm.