Nanaimo’s Darkest Day

1887 Mine Explosion

Illustration - Explosion of Fire Damp in Coal Mine - Project Gutenberg's The Boy With the U.S. Miners, by Francis Rolt-Wheeler This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at

Explosion of Fire Damp Project Gutenberg


The horrific Nanaimo mine explosion occurred on May 3, 1887, and killed 150 miners. The mine burned for a full day. The explosion started deep underground in the Number One Coal Mine. Operated by the Vancouver Coal Company, the Number One Coal Mine opened in 1884 at the foot of Milton Street in Nanaimo. Its shafts and tunnels extended under the Nanaimo Harbour to Protection Island, Newcastle Island, and the Nanaimo River. After the explosion, the mine re-opened and produced 18 million tons of coal before permanently closing in 1938.



Norah Solan Nanaimo

Norah Solan

I found a connection in my family tree to this devastating day in Nanaimo's history. My great-aunt Norah Solan, who was my grandmother's sister, married William Hoy who had been born in 1887 and at one month of age had lost his father, grandfather, and uncle on the same day in the brutal mine explosion at the No. 1 Esplanade Mine. His father William Hoy, grandfather, John Meakin, and his Uncle Reuben Meakim were all killed by the explosion. Hauntingly his other grandfather William Henry Hoy had died in the Sydney Mines in Nova Scotia at the age of 23.


William Hoy is seen at the age of 5 in the 1891 Canada Census living with his widowed grandmother, Mary Meakin, widowed mother, Florence Hoy and other family members, the head of household being his grandmother. In the 1881 Canada Census, there were around 2800 inhabitants in Nanaimo.


1891 Canada Census Nanaimo

1891 Canada Census Nanaimo
Click to Enlarge


Extracts from front pages of the Daily Colonist,Victoria, BC, Canada

Clip from front page of Colonist, May 5, 1887 - Mine Disaster

Clip from front page of Colonist, May 8, 1887

Terrible Explosion at No. 1 Shaft
Daily Colonist, May 4, 1887

The Colliery Disaster Nanaimo 1887

The Colliery Disaster
Daily Colonist, May 5, 1887


Download PDF file (1.57 MB) full front page May 4, 1887 Daily Colonist

Download PDF file (1.47 MB) full front page May 5, 1887 Daily Colonist

Download PDF file (1.59 MB) full front page May 8, 1887 Daily Colonist

South end remembers victims of No. 1 Esplanade Mine



View of Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada in 1887

View of Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada in 1887


1854 Arrival of Miners in Nanaimo

It was 1854 and miners along with their families arrived at  Nanaimo through a treaty with the Snuneymuxw, the Indigenous peoples of the area that is now known as Nanaimo and the Hudson's Bay Company. The city's current name of Nanaimo (nuh · nai · mow)was derived from Snunemuxw (Snuh . NAY . mow).

They had travelled from England by ship on the Princess Royal. The Princess Royal docked at Esquimalt in November 1854. The ship was constructed of solid oak and teak with a copper bottom. These were the miners that were bound for Nanaimo under contract to the Hudson's Bay Company. The passenger list included John Meakin, his wife Mary Ann Elson, and sons John and Frederick. They survived the long, gruelling voyage of almost 6 months.

View passenger List of The Princess Royal - 1854

It is interesting to note that at embarkation there were:

Men Women Children
23 22 38

Upon their arrival their numbers were:

Men Women Children
22 (*) 21 (**) 35 (***)

* Thomas Lowndes deceased

** Sarah Incher deceased

***Mrs. Bull's infant deceased, Mrs. Malpasss' infant deceased, Mrs. Ganner's infant deceased, Mrs. Richardson's infant deceased, Mrs. Sage infant born)



Indigenous Nanaimo people, Vancouver Island - Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Indigenous Nanaimo people, Vancouver Island
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1866 Princess Royal Hudsons Bay Company Voyage to Vancouver Island Click to Enlarge



Links to 1887 Photos from Site of Mine Disaster

Nanaimo No. 1 Esplanade 49.157923°N 123.929004°W Coal Seam

This is the location of the worst mining disaster in BC history, the 1887 Nanaimo mine explosion in which 150 miners died. Workings extend beneath the sea to 1.6 km to the east running north .8 km and south 2 km. There were two further shafts 100 and 200 metres south of this location.

Map of Nanaimo Coalfields

Nanaimo Coalfields
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A Few More Links about Nanaimo's Coal History

List of Coal Mines and Landmarks in the Nanaimo Area
The Nanaimo Coalfields
Nanaimo Archives Mine Death Accidents

Download PDF file (1.10 MB) of the Nanaimo Coal Fields

Nanaimo Coalfields PDF

More History of Nanaimo

Early Days in Nanaimo

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