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Some effects of coal mining upon the development of the Nanaimo area Matheson, Marion Henderson

Abstract

The physical environment of the Nanaimo area, inland forms, climate, soils and vegetation, is similar to that of the eastern coastal plain region of Vancouver Island. Two resources have/influenced the occupance particularly: coal deposits and location. The distributing economy made possible by location is still developing, but the economy as sociated with coal-mining has lost its former dominance. The effects which coal-mining, and adaptation to its decline, have had upon the economic life, the cultural landscape and the population can be studied as a phase in a continuing process of interaction between man and his environment. Physical factors have placed limitations upon the development of local activities. Location, which both fostered and hindered the progress of coal-mining, is becoming an increasingly important asset. Geological conditions proved disadvantageous to the prosperity of mining and limited the span of its productivity. Topography, soil and drainage restricted the scope of agriculture. The volume of local timber reserves confines their exploitation to small-scale operations, but the large reserves in surrounding areas form the basis of the whole regional economy. Fishing makes its greatest economic contribution in directly. Coal-mining expanded slowly from 1852 until the 1880's. The thirty years following 1890 marked the period of greatest employment and productivity, but it was interrupted by recessions due to the competition of other fuels and to labour difficulties. Decline since 1923 has been rapid and steady. The coal resources are now exploited on a continuously declining scale. Other economic activities have been further influenced by their changing relationships to coal-mining. Because of its early start, agriculture has nearly reached the limits of its areal expansion, part-time farming, by which land is used less intensively, has also been encouraged by the mining industry The depletion of timber reserves is directly attributable to the demands of the coal-mining economy. Certain manufacturing industries developed to serve the mining community, have disappeared, but others have expanded slightly Only those dependent upon resources located outside the area are likely to develop significantly. The tertiary industries of the coalmining period formed the nucleus of the present distributing economy. Favoured by location, they have become the mainstay of the area and have possibilities of further expansion. The features of the cultural landscape which originated during the coal-mining period are still discernible, but are being obscured by those associated with the distributing economy. The present complex pattern of agricultural and forest land utilization has been determined by the distribution of soil classes and the relationships of these industries to coal-mining. Zones of increasingly intensive utilization, centred on Nanaimo, may be developing. Settlements, formerly located near the outcropping seams, are becoming involved in a general tendency toward radial development. Three types of street patterns have been developed in the city and its vicinity. Elsewhere, the compact street patterns of the mining period are becoming more linear. Distinctive miners' homes remain in certain localities. The growth of population, formerly related to coal-mining, has not yet significantly increased, but population distribution is changing. Movements in accordance with mining developments have ceased, and the distribution is becoming noticeably dense near Nanaimo. Mining has been replaced as the dominant occupation by the tertiary industries. The nationalities in the area still represent those attracted by the mining industry. Attitudes engendered during the mining period still persist and may have varying effects on future progress. The present economic structure is based upon a primary resource, lumber, which must compete in the world market. Although the productive capacity of the area could be improved, the greatest contribution toward future development would be the maintenance of the regional timber resources.

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