Nanaimo Historical Society fonds
Series 2. Sound Recordings
Transcribed by Lois Park, February - March - April 2008
Nelson Dean, joined by Alex Dean
B. Hardcastle: The date is 25th of November 1978, I have with me Nelson Dean, who was a miner in Nanaimo.
Nelson Dean: Right
B. Hardcastle: When were you born?
Nelson Dean: 1907
B. Hardcastle: 1907 in Nanaimo?
Nelson Dean: In Nanaimo
B. Hardcastle: Your parents, where were they born?
Nelson Dean: My mother was born in Ontario and my father was born Scotland.
B. Hardcastle: They came out to Nanaimo when he came to Canada?
Nelson Dean: To Fernie in 1904, my father went to Fernie and my Mother she came out here to Vancouver and worked in the Hudson's Bay. That's where my Father met her in Vancouver and they went to Richmond and got married. And then they came back to Nanaimo and my Father was in the mines all the time.
B. Hardcastle: What mines did your father work in?
Nelson Dean: No. 1, mostly on Protection.
B. Hardcastle: So he would have remembered the strike?
Nelson Dean: The big strike in 1913, yeah, we moved to Victoria and he got working on the City of Esquimalt and when the strike was over he came back to Nanaimo.
B. Hardcastle: Did many of the miners leave town?
Nelson Dean: Oh yes, quite a few of them.
B. Hardcastle: So it was pretty bad times then.
Nelson Dean: Yeah, they brought in the solders from Victoria. [inaudible 1912?] I saw them come along Main Street on horseback. And they stayed in the barracks; where it, I think it is the Kiwanis playground way up on Franklyn Street, I think it is the playground and that's where the barracks was.
B. Hardcastle: You hear a lot of stories, about those times during the strike, etc. were there really riots and things like everyone says or was it all blown up?
Nelson Dean: No, they had a lot of trouble all right. Scabs going to work and then union men trying to beat up on them and all this kind of trouble. Things that happen every day when there is a strike on.
B. Hardcastle: Getting back to your part - what sort of things do remember as a young boy in Nanaimo. What was there for young children to do in those days?
Nelson Dean: Well, sleigh riding in the winter, in the summer time we played ball just the same as they do here now. But the winter seemed to be a lot different then they are today. I've seen four feet of snow on the ground in the winter and you don't see that here anymore.
B. Hardcastle: Some people would tell us that the harbour was often frozen over. Do you ever remember it frozen?
Nelson Dean: Oh yes, but I never skated in those days. I hadn't learned to skate then.
B. Hardcastle: When did you go to school first?
Nelson Dean: Well, I guess I would have been six years old when I went to school. Mrs. [Pritchard?] taught school, [Mr. Irvine?] and Miss Brown. The only one I remember being alive now is Mrs. [Pritchard?] and she is in the complex [inaudible]
B. Hardcastle: Which school is this?
Nelson Dean: The Middle Ward and it is up here on Victoria Road where we use to pay our phone bill. I forget what is in there now.
B. Hardcastle: What sort of things do your remember about school? Did the kids play [inaudible]?
Nelson Dean: No, no they played a drum to march the kids in and had a big coal stove in the middle of the floor, they had to stoke it up every once in a while to keep warm.
B. Hardcastle: Were there more than one grade together?
Nelson Dean: Oh yes, there was, in the school up here there was four I think. And two grades in each room, I think, baby class and then there would be mixed grades up.
B. Hardcastle: Do you think the school in the old days was any better for the students, got more out of school?
Nelson Dean: It may have been, I think the teachers seemed to have more time with the students. Today the students seem to think about pressure too much as far as studying is concerned.
B. Hardcastle: At what age did you leave school?
Nelson Dean: Oh, I guess I would be seventeen.
B. Hardcastle: Did you get a job in the mines straight away?
Nelson Dean: Oh yes
B. Hardcastle: Which mine did you work in?
Nelson Dean: Cassidy first.
B. Hardcastle: What was your first job in the mine?
Nelson Dean: Hoist man, and I got paid $4.19 a day.
B. Hardcastle: What year would that be?
Nelson Dean: That would be around 1924 or 25.
B. Hardcastle: Did you work at other jobs around the mines and so on and so forth?
Nelson Dean: Oh, yes.
B. Hardcastle: Can you tell us a bit about it?
Nelson Dean: Well, from hoist man, you went to rope rider and from rope rider you went into digging coal.
B. Hardcastle: What exactly is a rope rider?
Nelson Dean: A rope rider is much as a switchman is on the railroad, you just, it was on a slope and they had a hoist man at the top and he shunted the cars in and out with a miners [?], things like that
B. Hardcastle: And when you were mining coal, so drilling and blasting? What sort of work did you do?
Nelson Dean: Well, we'd get a face two of yous [sic], just working in the face we'd say it is maybe nine or ten feet high, you had to pay $1.10 for powder, blasting powder, then when the fire boss came around you'd drill the holes and fire boss came around you tapped up the holes ready standing looking at you. He wasn't suppose to fire anymore than one shot at a time but in a lot of cases that rule was broken. And the caps, they charged you .10 cents for every cap you used. And then you had to timber the place up and you got a $1.05 for a set of timber under nine feet. Over nine feet I think it was $1.25. And then you got so much, if you had to move rock, you got I think, we called it the brushing, you got $1.25 a yard for brushing. Or a $1.10, whatever it was.
B. Hardcastle: So were you on a set wage and this was extra or was this how?
Nelson Dean: No, we were working under contract.
B. Hardcastle: Would it be a crew?
Nelson Dean: No, it would it was just two men working together and then you had the fire boss come in everyday and he would mark down how many sets of timber you put up and then measuring day came along and the manager would come in and you had so many sets, he'd mark off where the last one was and then they would start counting out what you had.
B. Hardcastle: Then you got so much for?
Nelson Dean: So much for each set of timber, so much for brushing, brushing was lifting up the rock so the tracklayer could lay the track and get the car into the face.
B. Hardcastle: And did you get so much for the coal you took out?
Nelson Dean: Oh yes, on contract it was .91 cents.
B. Hardcastle: A ton?
Nelson Dean: Yeah, by the time you got to the surface, the company charged you $22.50 a ton.
B. Hardcastle: The company?
Nelson Dean: No, to sell it to outside.
B. Hardcastle: Oh, I see.
Nelson Dean: Outside, that price of that coal that $22.50 a ton but the miner got for a long time for $3.00 a ton but he spoiled his own, he started to the beer parlors and things like that in the summer time. You were allowed a ton a month.
Hardcastle: Of coal
Nelson Dean: And you got it for $3.00 but then when the company found out that, they didn't altogether stop it but they checked some.
B. Hardcastle: What did you, how many hours a day would you work?
Nelson Dean: Eight hours.
B. Hardcastle: A day.
Nelson Dean: And that was from surface to surface, that wasn't eight hours in the mine.
B. Hardcastle: And breaks? Lunch breaks and things?
Nelson Dean: Oh, you took that yourself.
B. Hardcastle: On the sly?
Nelson Dean: Oh, whenever you felt like taking your lunch, you took it.
B. Hardcastle: When was the mine [?]
Nelson Dean: From Little Ladysmith, Saltair, I believe we called it, yeah and [?]
B. Hardcastle: Did you work in any of the other mines in town?
Nelson Dean: Yes, I worked in [inaudible] and I worked in [inaudible] for a very short space of time.
B. Hardcastle: [inaudible] a wet mine with all the seepage?
Nelson Dean: Yes, I guess it was, I never found it too bad though in the places I was working in.
B. Hardcastle: And that was generally for a different company?
Nelson Dean: Oh, yes, that would be the Canadian Collieries, then.
B. Hardcastle: And they would ship?
Nelson Dean: All from Nanaimo here to anywhere they sold it I guess.
B. Hardcastle: Were the working conditions very much different from one company to another?
Nelson Dean: No, very little.
B. Hardcastle: So there wasn't too much competition between one company for labour?
Nelson Dean: No, not too much but the only thing I did find out, I would sooner work with Granby Company in Cassidy then I would with the Canadian Collieries because then [?] got, instead of working the faces for four feet or five feet they liked that because they could put in pans. What they called pan wall and they got the coal a lot cheaper and paid the miners a straight salary of $6.00 a day and that was that.
B. Hardcastle: Were you in any of the mines when there was any accidents?
Nelson Dean: No
B. Hardcastle: It was always considered a dangerous job.
Nelson Dean: Oh, I've seen men killed yes, few men killed but nothing big. Like an explosion or anything like that, no.
B.Hardcastle: And from the [inaudible] mine you said you went to?
Nelson Dean: Back to Cumberland
B. Hardcastle: Back to Cumberland
Nelson Dean: Yes
B. Hardcastle: Which mines did you work in up in Cumberland?
Nelson Dean: I worked in Number 5, and I worked in Number 8. Number 5, the first day I was in there, I couldn't get straight because the coal so low, I think it was only four feet high and the boss came along and said what are you doing? I said laying down, it's the first time I've been straight today. He said your [inaudible] is down, I said I know that but this is my first day and my last, I'm quitting tonight. So I left Number 5 that was it. I came back to Nanaimo, where you could apply, if you didn't have a job you could apply for relief. Well, the relief wasn't very good but at least you could get by,
B. Hardcastle: Umm...
Nelson Dean: Something to go on. Something similar to welfare.
B. Hardcastle: And the relief, was that sort of a government program?
Nelson Dean: Yeah, yeah.
B. Hardcastle: Did the unions have any benefits programs for miner or his family?
Nelson Dean: Well, not to my knowledge, I don't remember anything like that. But I remember when the cage went down the shaft at Protection sixteen men were killed. I have the record at home, the widow's pension, she got $25.00 a month. So that wasn't very much after her husband was gone.
B. Hardcastle: And that would be a pension from the company or the union?
Nelson Dean: No that would be the government pension.
B, Hardcastle: The government pension
Nelson Dean: Yep, compensation.
B. Hardcastle: Compensation, I see. Was the company liable for any of these sort of things, did they have to have a fund?
Nelson Dean: No, not to my knowledge. I have all the records at home if you care to look at them.
B. Hardcastle: Yes, I really would
Nelson Dean: And I can bring the pictures over too.
B. Hardcastle: Good. What sort of things [inaudible] in Nanaimo obviously at that time football was a big thing
Nelson Dean: Oh yes, soccer.
B. Hardcastle: Oh yes
Nelson Dean: Yeah, I played soccer around Nanaimo, in fact, the ball field was where Simpson Sears is now.
B. Hardcastle: I believe Nanaimo were the champions of Canada in '22, [23?].
Nelson Dean: Yes, twice. And the Indians were represented too. A lot the pictures are in the Occidental Hotel, I think around 1913 they had a team and the Indians were on it. Went back East and won the championship of Canada. I'm not sure about that.
B. Hardcastle: Who sponsored these soccer teams?
Nelson Dean: Well, the Western Coal Company did and then as soon as they won the championship of Canada, they fired them all.
B. Hardcastle: Why was that?
Nelson Dean: Well, because they were taking time off to go and play ball. So they got rid of most of them, the company figured they weren't going to sponsor a ball team, it was miners they wanted. They wanted work.
B. Hardcastle: So that would be around 22, 23?
Nelson Dean: No, about 1928, I would say, they got rid of the ball team.
B. Hardcastle: Because it used to be, I believe, a lot of competition between one mine another.
Nelson Dean: Oh yes, that goes back to the early days, Cumberland and Ladysmith and Nanaimo and then Victoria and Vancouver, they were all in to play for the championship of Canada.
B. Hardcastle: We are joined now by Mr. Alex Dean, Mr. Nelson Dean's brother is with us. I wonder if you could tell me a few things that you use to get up to as boys growing up in Nanaimo.
Nelson Dean: Well, like I told you before there was sleigh riding in the winter and the snow seemed to last longer then it does now. In the summer time it was just ball, that is about all I can tell you. We played in the arena.
Alex Dean: Now when we lived out in the Five Acre district, there was Halloween. Now we didn't call it Halloween, we called it mischief night and then there was Guy Fawkes night and we use to build great big bonfires. We had bonfire night [inaudible] we'd be out in the bush hauling logs in for these bonfires after school [inaubible]
B.Hardcastle: Did you have many [?] and fireworks and things?
Nelson Dean: Oh, yes that was on....
Alex Dean: Fire crackers and sky rockets.
Nelson Dean: November 5th wasn't it?
Alex Dean: Halloween was....
Nelson Dean: Oct 31
Alex Dean: That's right and Guy Fawkes night was 5th of November.
Nelson Dean: Yeah.
B. Hardcastle: Where did you live in Nanaimo at that time?
Nelson Dean: We were both born at 623 Kennedy Street.
B. Hardcastle: And the Chinatown, did you have, what was Chinatown like in those days?
Nelson Dean: Oh, it was a big place.
Alex Dean: It was one of the, it was as big as the San Francisco China Town, a lot of men up there
Nelson Dean: The Chinamen worked firing boilers for the Western Fuel Company and some of them worked on the railway too,
Alex Dean: Railway out to Scotch Crossing there.
Nelson Dean: Old Fred [Quagin?] he was the man that looked after the chinamen on the railroad for the Canadian Collieries and he could talk Chinese as good as the Chinese.
B. Hardcastle: They didn't work in the mines though?
Nelson Dean: No, not at the time that we went to work in the mines, they had taken them all out.
Alex Dean: The chinamen weren't allowed in the mines. There was legislation about that.
B. Hardcastle: Did you go into China Town much or were the Chinese very much on their own?
Nelson Dean: Oh, they were on their own but we were up there occasionally, they never bothered us.
They would give you a package of firecrackers now and again if you went and bugged them. Actually, we were kids and we would go there like any other kids.
Alex Dean: The most time we would go up there would be on Chinese New Year.
Nelson Dean: Yeah.
Alex Dean: They would have a lot of firecrackers and fire works, that would be about the only time we would bother them.
Nelson Dean: It's a wonder it wasn't burned down long before it was. The firecrackers were all along the wooden sidewalks.
Hardcastle: The beer parlors, were there very many problems in those days, as there is today?
Alex Dean: No, there wasn't as much trouble in the beer parlors in those days as there is today. You could get an 11 ounce glass of beer for ten cents and you get three and if the house saw you were getting ready to leave they would give you one on the house.
Nelson Dean: Yeah, a miner coming in with his dirty face, he'd order two beers and then he'd get one on the house.
Alex Dean: He'd get one free, yeah.
Hardcastle: In the [?], a couple of people have mentioned in the past that the children, the father would send them down for a bucket of beer
Nelson Dean: Oh, yes, yeah and I guess they get quite a lard tin for ten cents
Alex Dean: No, about two bits. Two bits it would be two glasses. The miners were smart; they'd smear the top with butter so that when the foam got up to the grease it would drop down so they would get a fuller bucket of beer.
Hardcastle: The powder works?
Nelson Dean: Oh yes
Hardcastle: It was out where Beban Park is now, is that [?]?
Nelson Dean: No, the powder works is what they called Cilaire. Down by where the ferries in, I have pictures where they have had explosions, they rail wrapped right around a tree, just curled around a tree like a snake, I have a picture of that.
Hardcastle: Do you remember any of the explosions?
Nelson Dean: Oh yes, the explosion was on January 14th, January 17, 19 - January 13, 1913, I think.
Alex Dean: I was three years old and I was sitting on a [?] and I remember that. Floor was just up and down like this; there was smoke after that.
Nelson Dean: I had a write up on it at home.
Alex Dean: All the windows in the house kind of [?]
Hardcastle: Did it break many windows in the house?
Nelson Dean: Oh every store in town.
Hardcastle: Every store in town.
Alex Dean: I think they [inaudible?]
Nelson Dean: No, it caught fire, the coal [inaudible?], and the skipper and the crew knew it was loaded with dynamite so they only thing they could do was take it out. So they took it out, the other side of Protection Island and they beached it and they run. And Mr. Muir's house was the one that looked after the lighthouse, and it was blasted to bits. The crew was lucky to get off with having a body lost but I say the Skipper and the crew were very brave men to take that boat out.
Hardcastle: And that was being filled with [powder?]
Nelson Dean: Oh yeah
Alex Dean: It had been down to the powder works and loaded up and came up to Nanaimo to get coal.
Hardcastle: Caught fire?
Alex Dean: When it was at the coal dock they found out it was heating up, so they just took it out around Protection Island and beached it and ran into the bush.
Hardcastle: And it got every window downtown?
Nelson Dean: The fan house at Reserve Mine, which is five mile away it was all smashed in, they had to bring the miners out.
Hardcastle: It must have been some explosion
Nelson Dean: Oh it was.
Alex Dean: They moved the powder works out to Nanoose after that.
Hardcastle: Wasn't there a powder works or something at where Beban Park is now?
Nelson Dean: No, not that I know of. No.
Alex Dean: Unless there was a storage, unless Western Fuel Company had some storage up in there. They may have stored powder there for the mines.
Nelson Dean: Oh, maybe you are thinking of the Northfield Mine. They had storehouse there at [inaudible]
Hardcastle: They use to actually make powder [inaudible]
Nelson Dean: Oh yes, down where the Cilaire buildings are, down at Departure Bay there. And the railway use to come in there where that road cross at the angle, crosses Departure Bay, that's where the railroad use to come down.
Hardcastle: I was talking to a gentleman the other day and he was telling us about Fraser Street. Some of the humorous sides of Fraser Street.
Nelson Dean: The Red Light District. Well, I never use to go down there but I did hear a couple of stories about them.
Alex Dean: Well, I used to be cognizant of what was there.
Nelson Dean: Some of the big shots...
Alex Dean: The girls were told, [inaudible] off the boat from Vancouver and the girls were told it was okay, if you stay down there [inaudible]
Nelson Dean: Yes and he was an organizer for the union, [interrupted by a comment from Alex which is not audible] anyways he went out to the bush and they went out and they were told to bring him back dead or alive. And this policeman shot him and they brought him back, all the miners just went on strike.
Hardcastle: [inaudible] living in Vancouver the time.
Nelson Dean: Yes
Hardcastle: What year was this?
Nelson Dean: I couldn't say what year it would be, about 1915, I had it all at home but I've lost [?]
Alex Dean: The year [inaudible] was shot.
Nelson Dean: Yeah.
Alex Dean: It was later than that.
Nelson Dean: It would be around 1918.
Alex Dean: Yeah the world war was pretty near over. He was classified as 4F [inaudible they all speak together]
Nelson Dean: With him organizing and sort of being an agitator, they classed him A1 and when he saw the score, they were just going to ship him over to France and put him in the front lines trenches. So he ran away up to Comox Lakes and the sent a bunch of special police up there to bring him down. So they went up there, they said okay Jim you are going to give yourself up we've got you surrounded so he stood up to give himself up and as soon as he stood up, they shot him.
Nelson Dean: Oh, yes no body worked the pits for a couple of days anyway and the policeman, he left there and he went, I could give you his name but I'd better not, he went over to Calgary and the United Mine Workers Union was having a meeting with the, what was the organizer's name from Cumberland. English, Sam English, and this policeman was sitting in the lobby of the hotel and they told him if you don't get that policeman out of here none of us [inaudible] black ball. [inaudible]
Hardcastle: Was there obviously a lot of trouble even in those times way after the strike?
Nelson Dean: Oh yes, I think myself that people got branded as scabs you know but, it was always branded that way but what could you do?
Nelson Dean: You got black balled, well you were black balled and there is nothing you can do about it.
Hardcastle: What sort of things would the workers strike for? Did management try to have it completely non-union?
Nelson Dean: Oh, yes.
Alex Dean: In fact, there was no unions here for a long time after the '13 strike was over. Until '37 I would say, I went to Cumberland and they were organized in Cumberland when I went there but they weren't organized in Nanaimo here.
Alex Dean: 1937, they weren't organized, the miners weren't organized.
Nelson Dean: You have to understand you see, years ago when they tried to organize it was the old OBU, what they called One Big Union and this was what they wanted but the company was against that and of course, a lot of men got black balled on that. Then when they come, like my brother said in 1937, it was the UMWA, United Mine Workers of America.
Hardcastle: It was basically an American union because we didn't have one here?
Alex Dean: It was International.
Nelson Dean: Yeah, International
Hardcastle: They say coal production never did pick up as it was before 1913 after that year.
Nelson Dean: No
Alex Dean: [inaudible discussion about market]
Hardcastle: The, was it the same year [inaudible] Cumberland [inaudible] Extension
Nelson Dean: Yes, the Extension was one of the biggest mines going.
Alex Dean: Biggest mine there was.
Nelson Dean: Yeah, I know but it wasn't going in '37.
Alex Dean: No, most of the mines were shut down by then. That's when they opened # 8 in Cumberland.
B. Hardcastle: [inaudible] closed down in Nanaimo and how it affected everybody if it closed down the mines.
Alex Dean: I think it affected many of the men personally being a miner and working for some of these companies you knew what you had to do every day, you just went to your work and that was it. But these companies were sitting watching you and.....
Nelson Dean: All of Nanaimo has gone further ahead since the mines closed down then were because the mines would work [?] day a week.
Alex Dean: Oh yes, It got down to that.
Hardcastle: And that was just because there was no market for it or ?
Nelson Dean: That's right.
Hardcastle: Or no coal?
Nelson Dean: Oh, there was lots of coal, but no market for it. People started burning sawdust, and burning chips and now they are burning oil, so coal was out.
Alex Dean: [inaudible]..even earlier than that. The mines were working one or two days a week in the summer time and the most would take off and go to the harvest in Alberta or Saskatchewan. Then they'd come back after the harvest, of course, the mine would be picking up for the winter and working five days a week but during the summer months one or two days a week that's all.
Hardcastle: Did the Depression effect the [inaudible]
Alex Dean: Oh, yes. Quite a bit. I would say that you had to live by your wits.
Nelson Dean: I remember one time that [inaudible] wife and three kids and you got to figure things out what you are going to do. Nothing to eat in the house and the missus is giving you toast and jam for breakfast, she says "Well, nothing for dinner." It was a long time to dinnertime, I said I'll find something. So I went downtown and went into Safeway and loaded up a basket and charged it up to the courthouse. Oh all right and they gave me the groceries. I came home and the Missus says to me where did you get these? I said, "out of the Safeway". Never heard no more about it, that was it. You lived by your wits.
Hardcastle: Did the mines, during the depression, were the mines running down anyway or did the Depression really affect them?
Nelson Dean: Well, they were only working one day a week. Or two days. You were lucky if you got two, three days a week.
Alex Dean: Oh yeah.
Hardcastle: So did the depression really did effect the mines?
Nelson Dean: Not too much. No.
Alex Dean: Well there was a bunch of miners out [inaudible] on the highway, blasting rock.
Hardcastle: Well, thank you very much for your time and I'll be getting in touch with you for sure about the photographs.
Nelson Dean: You are welcome. Yes, in fact, I'll bring them in this afternoon.
Hardcastle: Thank you very much.