North Vancouver Island has many old mines that can be found but the oldest is the suquash mine south of Tsaxis. Tsaxis is a Kwakiutl village that dates back as far as 6000 years, it is known today as Fort Rupert. Suquash is found between Fort Rupert and Port Mcneil, Suquash in Kwakiutl means, “the place where seal meat is cut into strips”. Suquash had always been a place where seals were hunted. There were outcrops of coal here that the people of Tsaxis had known about for years.
The company was told about the coal by a Kwakiutl family from Tsaxis who had stopped at Fort McLaughlin, located at Waglisla (Bella Bella). They saw that the newcomers were burning coal for heat and powering their ships with it. Coal was known, in the chinook trade language, as “khale-stone,” meaning black stone. They told the Hudson’s Bay Company men that they knew of a place where they could find more black stone, at a place known to them as Suquash. After surveying the deposit, the Hudson Bay Company expressed an interest in opening up operations at the site but the Kwakiutl people said no, as they were determined to mine it themselves. They began hand digging the coal and delivering it by the canoe full to the British Navy and other commercial steamers to use as bunker fuel. Over the next few years, they mined about 9,000 tons of coal from the site. They worked this mine until the surface deposits had been dugout.
Then in 1849, the Hudson Bay Company built Fort Rupert at Tsaxis to protect coal mine operations that were being surveyed in the area. The same year, the Suquash Mine was again brought into operations, this time by the Hudson Bay Company. Mining operations ran for 3 years until Robert Dunsmuir discovered the coalfields in the Nanaimo/Wellington area and the coal found there was deemed to be of a much higher quality. The suquash mine was closed.
Fort Rupert had been built to protect the coal mining operations at suquash, but after the mine closed the fort quickly became a base for colonial activity on northern Vancouver Island. It remained an important post for trade and resupply until the fort burned down in 1889.
In 1908 the Suquash Mine was reopened by Pacific Coast Coal Mines Ltd, the mine ran from 1908 to 1914. This time, it was a major operation. A vertical shaft was sunk 173 feet and a horizontal shaft was dug that ran under Queen Charlotte Straight that almost reached Malcolm Island. They built a loading dock to accommodate shipping the coal out by barge. They also constructed a small community for the miners that included approximately 20 houses for families, a bunkhouse for single miners, a company store, post office, school, an electrical generator, and numerous buildings for different mine operations. A foreman’s house with a two-story river rock fireplace was constructed, you can still see the fireplace today. Regular steamship service ran during these years.
In 1914 the shaft was filled with water and mine operations were shut down, but in 1920 the mine was drained of water and coal was again being mined. The mine was in operation until 1922 at which time it was again filled with water and all mining ended. By 1932 most of the mine’s equipment had been auctioned off and the mine refilled with water
There have been attempts to reopen the of the Suquash Mine over the years since it closed in 1922. In 1952, the mine was looked at very closely by Suquash Collieries Ltd, they went as far as pumping out the flooded shaft but on surveying the mine, they decided to not go any further, the mine was refilled with water and the oldest coal mining operation on Vancouver Island came to an end.