By Tom Read

Clarence Wood (left) and Dan Read discuss Texada history at an undisclosed old mine site on Texada Island.

Clarence Wood (left) and Dan Read discuss Texada history at an undisclosed old mine site on Texada Island.

Texada Island is generally known to possess a rich history, and yesterday I thoroughly enjoyed a brief, guided sojourn into our island’s past. Thanks to the generosity of local historian Clarence Wood, my father (visiting from St. Augustine, Florida) and I toured four old mine sites with Clarence, who provided a running commentary on each. Clarence also thoughtfully provided copies of old photos showing the very same mine sites as they appeared about a century ago.

We found remains of long-abandoned mining equipment and collected a few bits of colourful pyrite and iron-rich rock extracted long ago from various mines, and we used our imaginations to peer inside darkened old mine shafts that reach hundreds of feet underground. In the cool, bright sunshine of a late September morning, I felt the presence of all those working men who once built and operated these mines.

Human history on Texada goes back a lot further than its many old mines, of course. And mining wasn’t the only industry here a hundred years ago; forestry and agriculture also played important roles in the building of modern Texada. When I think about the history of this place, it helps me understand how much our island community today reflects the decisions and efforts of those who came before us. We have inherited a valuable infrastructure of buildings and transportation facilities from our history as a mining and forestry district, but we also still carry with us a less-obvious and not-so-beneficial status as a resource colony.

It’s true that a few local families, particularly the Beale family, built and operated mines on Texada. However, just as the provinces of ancient Rome were systematically exploited solely for the benefit of Roman aristocrats, Texada, and British Columbia itself, have a history of economic colonization by foreigners. For example, the mines we visited yesterday were originally built by Americans primarily to serve the American market. The metal ores and quick lime were shipped to the USA for further processing into what we now call “value-added products.”

Among the photos Clarence showed us yesterday was a posed shot of two well-dressed gentlemen standing in front of a recently-exposed rock face. These were the mine owners, come for a visit to their holdings on Texada Island. Locals provided the labour, and ultimately created a proud and strong community here, but they did it on an economic foundation provided by off-island capital investment and business management expertise, such as represented by the men in that photo.

Are there any lessons from our history that we might contemplate for our own future? Of the three quarries now operating on Texada, only one is effectively a local business. Very little value-added manufacturing occurs on Texada today, even compared to the early days of mining here. We might be grateful that the cement plants are located elsewhere, but what about other opportunities for making something useful from local resources? Do we have access to capital and business expertise locally, so that we might create a truly local economy?

History is not just about the past; it gives us our present and helps us think about our future.


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September 2009
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