The Coal and Rail Connection

November 17th, 2016

Throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, the area of Nanaimo was a rich producer of coal, bringing prosperity and infrastructure to the region. While the area had an abundance of the resource, being able to transport the coal was an equally important part of its success. Confederation in 1867 brought ambitious plans of a transcontinental railway linking BC to the rest of Canada. However, a flawed plan and undelivered promises lead to delays in the building of the railway on Vancouver Island. Motivated by his own personal interests, Victoria coal baron Robert Dunsmuir created his own plan to link Vancouver Island by rail. And on September 1883, Dunsmuir’s proposal prevailed with the incorporation of the Vancouver Island Railway, first known as the Esquimalt and Nanaimo (E&N) Railway. Dunsmuir’s original vision was for the southern terminus to be Esquimalt and the northern terminus to be Nanaimo, providing a link to support the coal and lumber industry, as well as the Royal Navy Base at Esquimalt Harbour.

Construction began on April 30th, 1884 and on the 13th of August in 1886, Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald drove the last railway spike into the tracks near Shawnigan Lake. Soon after, the line was extended to the City of Victoria, and north to the Dunsmuir coal mine at Wellington. It was also further expanded south and in March 1888, a passenger train made its first trek into downtown Victoria.

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