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Remembering lives lost in BC's worst mining disaster

Flags located at City of Nanaimo facilities will fly at half mast on May 3 to mark the anniversary of the coal mining disaster of 1887 that took 150 lives. The explosions of the No. 1 Esplanade Mine are known as the worst mining disaster in British Columbia's history and second worst industrial accident in Canada (the mining disaster of 1914 in Hillcrest, Alberta killed 189 miners).

Explosions started at 5:55 pm on May 3, 1887, 260 meters below sea level in what was known as the city's largest mine, No. 1 Esplanade Mine. The blast was so forceful it rocketed through the underground shafts for almost a kilometre and the underground fire burned for two weeks. Because of such damage, the last of the bodies could not be recovered until July and unfortunately seven men never were recovered and remain somewhere beneath the Nanaimo Harbour to this day.

This tragic accident took the lives of 150 miners, a massive loss to a community of approximately 2,000 people at the time. Forty six women lost their husbands, 126 children lost their fathers and the mine lost 25 per cent of its employees.

In 2015, Council passed a resolution to lower the flags at all City of Nanaimo facilities to half-mast on May 3 in memory of the lives lost in the Nanaimo coal mining disaster of 1887. A memorial plaque to remember the miners who died from the explosions stands in place of the site of the No. 1 Esplanade mine on Milton Street (1151 Milton Street).

Historic image showing the No. 1 Esplanade Mine

Photo courtesy of the Nanaimo Community Archives

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