The town of Cumberland on Vancouver Island came into being in the late 1800s. Most of the residents were there to work or support the new coal mining operation. By 1924 the population had grown substantially with a Chinatown population of about 2000, the second largest Chinatown on the west coast of North America.
These historic buildings have the Cumberland Museum attached on the right. You would be surprised if you went into the museum to find that you can go downstairs into an actual coal mining area to see just how it was done.
I’m sorry that I can’t explain how the equipment below was used in mining the coal, but it makes sense to assume that the wagons were filled with coal and taken out of the mine on underground railway tracks.
The machinery below is a mystery to me, but it must have been used to extract the coal or load the wagons. Perhaps there is a mining expert out there who can help us with this. Please feel free to comment and offer any help you can about how the coal mining was done.
Coal mining is a very dangerous job, not only because of the danger of fire or collapse of the mine shafts, but because of the high risk to a miner’s health. The coal dust was particularly bad for the lungs, as were the gases released by the underground excavating. From time to time the dust combined with the gases suddenly ignited. Methane, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide combined with nitrogen, and hydrogen sulphide were common threats. Open pit mining, while not pretty, is much safer by comparison.
I shudder when I think of going underground into a small space. Miners spent long hours down there, working in a dangerous job under terrible conditions just to make enough money to feed their families.
In August of 1922, an explosion in one of the mine shafts killed 13 people, and in February of the following year another explosion killed 33 more (both white and Chinese).
After the depression, many of the Chinese workers either went back home or went to Duncan or Nanaimo to go logging instead of mining. Desperate times, for logging was not much safer than mining, but at least they were out in the fresh air.