Guest Page No. 5

Home From Home - Ilkestonians Abroad
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 in Ilkeston.

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 people.
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.