Union Bay, British Columbia

Demolition of the Union Bay coke ovens, May 1968. ©Cumberland Museum and Archives.

Yesterday I mentioned that we have a patio made from pale cream brick, scavenged from one of the old Union Bay brick kilns that used to sit crumbling beside the Island Highway. It was a devil to lay as each brick is shaped to be part of a beehive kiln, i.e. no face is parallel to any other.  It turns out that the kilns were coke ovens, part of the coal industry of Vancouver Island.  And the bricks came from Scotland complete with Scottish bricklayers, all imported, in 1880 or so, by Robert Dunsmuir, the coal magnate who effectively owned the island. 

Coke.  From wikipedia 'it is the solid carbonaceous material derived from the destructive distillation of low-ash, low-sulfur bituminous coal'.  Coal is fired at high temperature driving off coal gas (hydrogen, carbon monoxide, methane, CO2 and H2O), coal tar (phenols and aromatic hydrocarbons) and water.  Coal gas and tar are recovered and used in a number of industrial processes, otherwise, coal gas especially, is fairly toxic.  Coke burns at a higher temperature than coal, thus its value.  It didn't stay on the island, it was exported by the shipload

Union Bay was a company town, with a coal mine, a railway line, a wharf, the coke ovens and a coke washer.  Labour was imported: Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Scots.  Anyone who thinks that the present day anti-development, 'let's keep Vancouver Island natural and beautiful' lobby is stemming the tide of industrial exploitation of the land hasn't taken the coal industry seriously.  It was a significant, extensive, disruptive extraction enterprise, connected by water to the rest of the British Empire in all its outlines.