Suquash Beach: Vancouver Island's First Coal Mine
Updated: Sep 18
In 1835, a First Nations family told the Hudson's Bay Company about coal at Suquash Beach (1). The First Nations were the first to mine the coal, but it wasn't long before the Hudson's Bay Company began mining operations to support the increased use of steamships in the region (1, 2). The Suquash Coal Mine is situated very close to Suquash Beach, and the underground mine extends beneath the nearby ocean. There is plenty of old mining equipment and the remnants of old houses hidden in the woods just behind the beach (2). It's a pretty cool spot to visit both for the historical aspects and the rocks exposed on the beach.
The Suquash Mine operated from 1849 to 1851 before it was abandoned in favor of the much richer coal beds near Nanaimo (1). The mine operated during a second phase from 1908 to 1922, although mining was intermittent (1). Between the two phases, a total of 23,000 tonnes of high-volatile C to B bituminous coal was produced (3). The last attempt to make a go of the Suquash Mine was in 1952 but no coal was mined during this final phase.
Aside from the historical importance of the Suquash Mine, the rocks at Suquash Beach are geologically intriguing. There is general agreement on the age of the rocks, which accumulated at about the same time as dinosaurs were in their heyday (Late Cretaceous: ~70 million years ago). However, there is less certainty about which westcoast sedimentary basin the rocks at Suquash Beach belong too. For the longest time, the Suquash sedimentary rocks were thought to be part of the Georgia Basin, which is situated mainly under southern Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland of BC (1). That view is now being challenged as new evidence suggests they are part of the Queen Charlotte Basin which extends from Haida Gwaii to northern Vancouver Island (4). This may seem like a bit of an esoteric debate, but it impacts where companies explore for new natural resources, how scientists reconstruct the geological history of Canada, and how natural hazard risks are assessed.
The sedimentary rocks at Suquash Beach also contain a lot of interesting features that preserve evidence of processes and animals from 70 million years ago. There are old river channels, tidal flats, and swamp deposits preserved in the rocks, and you can find the burrows of ancient shrimp and bivalves preserved. Together the rocks record the geological history of on an old delta which probably looked something like the Fraser Delta but smaller, and that's pretty cool!
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1) Kenyon, C., 1990, The Suquash Coalfield, Vancouver Island (92L/11): British Columbia Geological Survey.
5) Nixon, G. T., Hammack, J. L., Koyanagi, V. M., Payie, G. J., Orr, A. J., Haggart, J. W., Orchard, M. J., Tozer, E. T., Friedman, R. M., Archibald, D. A., Palfy, J., and Cordey, F., 2011, Geology, Geochronology, Lithogeochemistry and Metamorphism of the Quatsino-Port McNeill Area, northern Vancouver Island (92L/11, parts of 92L/05, 12 and 13): BCGS.