Guest Page No. 5
Home From Home - Ilkestonians
5 - Jim's Winter In Nanaimo
Our Canadian correspondent Jim Garner has sent another
selection of photos following some time spent last winter on
the west coast at Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Jim has also provided
a commentary showing a comparison between Nanaimo and his former
home town half way round the world in Ilkeston.
The picture on the right shows Jim standing at the ferry terminal
on the mainland with the snow-topped peaks of the Coastal Range
behind. Jim has now made his home in Ottawa, which is towards
the eastern side of Canada, but with his wife Suzanne, he spent
much of last winter (2004/5) on the west coast where the temperature
is usually comparable to the UK's Bournemouth as opposed to the
minus 20C that can be expected in Ottawa.
Nanaimo turned out to be especially interesting to
an Ilkestonian, in as much as it's an ex-coalmining town that
has had to adapt to life after the closure of the pits.
Nanaimo has done very well reinventing itself since the decline
of the mining industry, as a centre for transportation, a holiday
area and more recently as a winter resort for refugees from central
and eastern Canada.
The former coal harbour seen here on the left is jammed with
commercial fishing boats, yachts, cruisers, freighters, work
boats, ferries to the mainland and seaplanes. In short its function
has changed from a coal exporting harbour to one used mostly
by fishing and pleasure boats.
The picture on the right is also from the harbour
area and shows Jim's wife Suzanne enjoying some of the hospitality
in a pub that floats on pontoons in the harbour. The British
Columbia provincial government encourages local brewing and Jim
asserts that some of the product is really excellent.
Nanaimo's pub tradition derives, of course, from the British
miners who dug coal there from 1850 onwards. The local Indians
presented early settlers with lumps of black rock that would
burn in the middle of the 19th century. So the Hudson's Bay Company
promptly drafted in hundreds of British miners to work the mines.
These must have been small pits as there were 24 of them in the
Nanaimo area alone.
There was a maximum work force of 4000 producing
at the peak 1.2 million tons a year. The coal was shipped to
all kinds of places, even as far as South America.
Mining began to fade in the 20th century due to various factors
including competition from Alberta and the greater use of oil
and natural gas. The last pit in Nanaimo itself closed in 1953
and there is now only one coal mine on the whole of Vancouver
Island. That is at Campbell River, which is situated about 100
miles further north.
These days the waterfront presents a much cleaner and environmentally
friendly aspect than it would have done at the height of the
coal mining industry as Jim's picture of the blossoms that appeared
in mid-March shows.
This too is evidenced by the presence of seals in
Oak Bay. These seals are in Jim's words "pretty smart".
He adds, "Instead of looking for dinner out in the ocean,
they have it figured out that by hanging around the pier and
looking cute they can get suckers like us to buy fish and throw
it to them. The Pacific around Vancouver Island is full of seals,
sea lions, sea otters and whales, and they seem to have very
little fear of people."
Such sights would surely have been quite awe inspiring to those
miners and their families from England's land-locked East Midlands.
Those early miners came to Vancouver Island under
a standard contract with the Hudson's Bay Company. They brought
their wives and were obliged to stay for five years. Jim didn't
get any specifics, but found it hard to believe that at least
some of them didn't come from the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire
coal field, and it's quite possible that some of them originated
After five years in and around Nanaimo, Jim doubts that many
of the miners would have returned home to Blighty, even though
it was provided for in the contract. So it's quite possible that
some of the today's fourth and fifth generation Nanaimoites could
well be descended from Ilkestonians, or at least from Derbyshire
This building (above) by the harbour is the town
museum. The Hudson's Bay Company set up their headquarters in
Nanaimo and built a fort to deter potentially hostile Indians.
It was never needed and its cannons were never actually fired
in anger. The Nanaimo museum which is within the original settlement
area "administers" the fort, the defensive bastion
being another building some way off.
This final image (right) too is some way off being taken in the
market on Granville Island in the city of Vancouver. Ironically
the city is on the mainland and not on Vancouver Island itself,
albeit both are named after Captain George Vancouver of the Royal
Navy, who was the first European to find them. The market is
full of local farm produce and interesting delicatessens and
probably more importantly, is next to a local brewery. As Jim
says, "Down with beer!"
I'd like to thank Jim once again for his continued
interest in Ilkeston Cam and for his help in preparing this page.