1887 Nanaimo mine explosion memorial, Milton Street, Nanaimo BC
1887 Nanaimo mine explosion memorial, Milton Street, Nanaimo BC
Ken Walker - Source
License: CC BY-SA

Nanaimo Mine Explosion

The Nanaimo mine explosion on May 3, 1887, in Nanaimo, British Columbia killed 150 miners. Only seven miners survived and the mine burned for one full day.

The explosion started deep underground in the Number One Coal Mine, after explosives were laid improperly. Although many miners died instantly, others were trapped by the explosion. These men wrote farewell messages in the dust of their shovels. Nearly 150 children lost their fathers and 46 women became widows. A plaque at the foot of Milton Street commemorates the event.

While the death toll has commonly been given as 148, researchers established that the correct number is actually 150, of whom 53 were Chinese. While Chinese workers obviously had names, they were not recorded officially at the time; records of the government inquest into the disaster and the annual report of the Minister of Mines simply listed them as "Chinamen, names unknown" followed by the tag or tally number that every miner, Chinese or white, was given at the pithead before going underground. Not only were Chinese miners not listed by name at the time of the disaster, but, as Christine Meutzner, archivist at the Nanaimo Community Archives, has reported, employers in BC were not legally required to report the deaths of their Chinese employees until 1897.

Men have been working all night fighting the fire in the mine. Powerful streams of water are being pumped on the fire, and it will be got under control by this evening. Until the fire is entirely out no effort can be made to clear the mine of the after damp, as it would drive it on the fire, and a more frightful explosion that before would occur. Thirty-six bodies were discovered in one heap this morning. These will be brought up soon. Twenty-four are white and twelve are Chinamen's. It is almost impossible to conceive the misery of this city. Aid will be badly needed, as most of the families are left destitute. There are 47 widows and 147 fatherless children left.