Men with horses and wagons mining gravel in Kanaka Creek in around 1920. (Maple Ridge Museum #P04966/Special to The News)

Men with horses and wagons mining gravel in Kanaka Creek in around 1920. (Maple Ridge Museum #P04966/Special to The News)

LOOKING BACK: Maple Ridge’s coal boom – that wasn’t

Discovery of the mineral weren’t total fiction in Kanaka Creek

By Shea Henry/Special to The News

A Vancouver newspaper article from 1912 reports a coal vein was discovered rich in the highest quality bituminous coal, much higher quality than found anywhere else in B.C.

With this find, they proudly exclaimed that Haney “was destined to become the most important coal town as exists in the province.”

The future was bright and fortunes were ready to be made, all you had to do was buy part of the 8,000 acre offering.

If this history of our town sounds confusing to you, it should because it never happened.

Articles outlining the rich coal finds in and around Haney, and the fortunes that could be made from them, pop up about every five years from 1890 to 1915.

PAST COLUMN – LOOKING BACK: The enemy they could not see in wartime

Unsurprisingly, these fantastic fortune building finds are quickly followed by newspaper ads selling land in the coal boom town of Haney.

On the other side of the story, the discovery of coal isn’t a total fiction for Kanaka Creek. Kanaka Creek is rich in fossil finds and even rare coal finds along the banks of the creek.

The odd lump of coal would float down the river, be found by someone local and the excitement grew from there.

It wasn’t for lack of trying that these finds never amounted to a coal boom.

Prospectors would venture to Kanaka Creek every few years to try their hand at finding a rich coal seam only to be disappointed.

The excitement would die down and then after a few years another lump of washed up coal would spark the fever all over again.

Maple Ridge was not the only town subject to these over-exaggerated boomtown predictions. Other spots throughout B.C. have also seen their share of coal speculation and the inevitable land grabs that followed.

MORE LOCAL HISTORY: Hundred-year-old log cabin in Maple Ridge torn down

And it wasn’t just coal that drummed up false claims of a boom in Maple Ridge.

In 1908 another triumphant headline announced the flax industry discovered that Maple Ridge was the perfect climate to produce superior linen.

While this industry did try to get off the ground on the flat land of the North Alouette River, it ended up yielding a poor harvest and crashing within a year.

Another boom that wasn’t was that of the Port Haney Oil Fields Ltd. Believe it or not, this company was created to explore for oil reserves in Maple Ridge.

In 1915, capital stock of the Port Haney Oil Fields could be purchased at $1 per share.

Unsurprisingly, we did not become a boomtown for coal, linen, or oil, but that was not for lack of trying by these industrialist settlers.

What we did have in our history were the sawmills, brickyards, and farms that matched the resources we do actually have here.

It seems that those who benefited most from the dreams of a coal or oil were the land sellers, always present whenever even a whisper of oil, coal, or gold was uttered in the district.

Within days of an article stating that coal or oil had been found you will find ads encouraging people to “buy land before it’s too late!”

Whether people were being purposefully misled or land sellers were simply taking advantage of an exaggerated claim, the lesson is the same; being weary of over-exaggerated and even fraudulent claims is a tale as old as time.

– Shea Henry is Maple Ridge Museum’s executive director

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