In the late 1800s, news of Vancouver Island’s successful coal mining industry travelled quickly around the world. Young men and their families, including many from Great Britain, Asia and other parts of Europe, flocked to the region at the promise of a new start and high wages. Lured by recruitment agents, advertising campaigns and word of mouth, they uprooted their whole lives to make the long journey across vast oceans to work in Nanaimo’s coal industry.
But was it all just a promise, or did these workers actually find wealth within Nanaimo’s mines?
In actual fact, miners who came to Vancouver Island did find better wages than they would have earned in their homelands and even compared to other parts in North America. In the early days of coal mining, workers earned piece-work wages, measured per ton of coal. Later on, daily rates became the norm. Around 1870, hewers – workers who loosened rock in the mines – would earn about $3.50 a day. Some mining companies also offered their workers rations including beef or salmon, plus other basic household staples like flour, sugar, potatoes, sugar and even rum.However, tough and dangerous working conditions meant that this prosperity often came at a price, costing many their lives all for the sake of a few dollars and cents. (from the collection of the Nanaimo Archives)