Dead Man's Cave? The Douglas Slope mine

Posted May 31, 2010 @ 1:22 pm, Viewed by 8958 Visitors, Read 10014 Times.

Everyone in Nanaimo has some sense of the area's coal mining history. The stories and artifacts are so dark and interesting.

But an even richer experience is available when you seek out the old mine entrances and shafts. You can look at the spot and conjure laughing or screaming ghosts; you can imagine the Victorian era and the early twentieth century.

A bunch of people started talking about it in the forums (Old mining tunnels of Nanaimo). This page is about how I encountered the Douglas Slope entrance.

Looking for Dead Man's Cave

Amidst the discussion of old mine entrances and weird holes in the ground, the user CHUBer mentioned the following in 2007:

my brother tells me there is indeed a cave just below Connaught Ave. There used to be a trail down to Park Avenue and there was a cave or sorts. He assures me he and a friend went there but would not venture into Deadman's Cave. (link to post)
There used to be a trail from Connaught down to Park Avenue. the cave - Deadman's Cave, according to my brother - is along there. on Google map, you can see Connaught and Park, with a treed are between. Let me know what you find! could be interesting... (link to post)

I was extremely curious, and confirmed that he was referring to the forested area just south of Robins Park, as shown on this Google map:

I knew that was where the Cat Stream passes before joining the Chase River. I took my five year old and we went exploring in that area, but we didn't find a cave. We did find a lot of weird stuff, though, including this neat feature, which I'll call Cat Stream Canyon:

When I posted this photo and said I hadn't found anything, CHUBer said:

Nice photo. this, however, is not the "cave" area. I wish I could remember better. My mind seems to think the cave was in more of a cliff-face setting. .... (link to post)

"Dead Man's Cave" was forgotten for more than two years, as the dialogue turned to other topics, like the two Nanaimo brothers who succumbed to gases while sleeping in a local abandoned mine shaft and weren't found for ten years (see pages 7 and 8 of the dialogue).

Then in 2009, I went searching again, this time with all three of my boys. I reported:

We followed the canyon that the Cat Stream cuts through Robin Park, all the way to the end of the park (by Seventh) and encountered a junkie (pretty sure) who said he'd never heard of any cave in there. Then he said I might have been referring to a cave that the city had blocked off because homeless people were holing up in there (no idea why he didn't mention this right away). I asked where this blessed (imaginary?) cave might be, and he said it was in a cliff to the north, near the Fifth St end of the park (on the east side of the stream). We explored that way but there was a lot of human feces, broken glass, and brambles.... (link to post)

At this point I decided that if there really was a cave in this area, that it had either been covered up, or it was only going to be found by someone willing to rappel down a steep face covered in thorns.

The Douglas Slope

Not long after this, the forum user Harewoodian mentioned a mine entrance a little further south, on the Chase River:

I have been meaning to check out the end of 8th st to see if there is any way to access the Chase river from there.That's where the Douglas Mine used to be.

Quote from
"Harewood Land of Wakesiah" 1967

"This mine was located in the easterly bank of the Chase River,near the junction of the river and the continuation of 8th street.There was a bridge across the river and the coal was hauled from the tunnel up the bank and deposited in the bunkers that occupied the flat portion of land behind (east) the Park Avenue School.

The coal was then loaded into railway cars and hauled by locomotive on a track that ran along the easterly boundary of Harewood to Stockett's Junction and thence to coal wharves at the No.1 Mine.
The Douglas Mine commenced operations in 1910 and operated for several years.
By 1920,the operations had ceased,the buildings were demolished and the railway tracks lifted.

For years,the railway bed was known as the "Black track Road." (link to post)

The user Smokey© had some more info:

The Douglas Mine entrance was closer to the end of Lawrence Parkway off of Douglas but with the bridge gone (most likely), because it is on the east side of the river, you might find it by parking about 200 meters south of Kal Tire on Old Victoria Road, then go down the embankment, across the railtracks. I think it is within 20-40 meters of the tracks on the river side. From the mine entrance, you can see the farm at the end of Douglas (the part off of 7th) and the last house off of 9th. I haven't been there for a long long time. (link to post)

I wouldn't say I went looking for this mine entrance. It just happened that me and my boys started to make a hobby out of exploring all along the Chase River. We wandered the riverside trails between Bruce Ave. and Eighth St on a rainy day in early 2010, and then in May we did another trip, this time parking at the top of Douglas Ave. and heading into a forested, steep ravine area with some unmarked trails and old bits of debris, including a B.C. license plate from 1952.

Here's what the area looks like:

The boys found a ball and threw it into the river down below. We started running along the paths, heading downstream, following the floating ball. I looked across to the other bank, and was intrigued by the type of sedimentary rock (see below). I remembered that the guys on the forum had mentioned the Douglas Slope being in this area.

Imagine the fluttering in my gut when I noticed this feature across the river, halfway up the steep bank! It was much too dark to be merely a deep overhang in the rock, and the chainlink fence was a clear sign that this was no ordinary little cave. I yelled to the boys, "INTERESTING! ... Hey! We've found Dead Man's Cave!" (They were as excited as I was, which made me feel like being a parent isn't quite so unrewarding.) We wanted to cross the river to check it out, but there was no way to cross the river. I said we'd have to find it from the other side, and opened Google Maps on my iPhone to mark the spot so we could find it. But then I got a phone call, summoning me home.

No way was I leaving without some investigation. So I left the kids on the bank with some donuts and forded the river in my boots. Here is what I saw when I got closer:

As you can see, if this was once a gaping tunnel with men and machines moving in and out, then erosion has clearly covered most of the entrance. I moved cautiously, knowing that the crumbling sedimentary rock could easily orphan my boys on the riverbank. The cave mouth didn't look like much as I stood at the top of the debris:

As I got lower down into the mouth, I could see it was more open than I thought — but unfortunately, it is completely flooded.

(When he saw the photo above, my youngest son thought that the log and the leatherjacket were a bomb, its wick sparkling.)

The coal seam was neat to see. I wondered how much money was made from this working.

As I stooped down to see into the mine, I was feeling surprisingly nervous about things. I didn't know which Tolkien-esque creature might be splashing in the deeps, and the crumbly weight above me was a pressure on my brain. I don't think I would have had the nerve to venture very far, if it hadn't been flooded.

The image below (click on it to see the larger version) shows how a wooden barrier has rotted away, and there is the spade of a shovel in the water. I wonder if that is an old shovel, or a relic of some recent effort to block (or uncover) the Douglas Slope.

Here's how it looks from inside:

So, is this the "Dead Man's Cave" that CHUBer remembered? Perhaps he mixed this location up with the Cat Stream area beside Connaught Ave., just a kilometer upstream. I may never know, but I think I'll satisfy myself by assuming this is it. I guess it's too bad it was flooded — but the experience of looking, and then finally finding this interesting portal into the underground, was rewarding enough.

Location of the Douglas Slope

Here is the approximate location of this entrance, which I do not recommend anyone to explore beyond what I did:

This image shows the mine in relation to Victoria Rd, the railway, the ocean, and south Nanaimo:

2 Responses to “Dead Man's Cave? The Douglas Slope mine”

photo ryan

that is awesome, i to spend a great deal of time hiking the woods in search of mine shafts, vents and even just walking old railway grades. so much fun

Posted 3 years ago
photo Gordon

I remember as a child crawling inside of the small cave entrance underneath Connaught Road. I was led to believe and so were my friends that it was called Dead Man's Cave. Supposedly the cave was supposed to exit somewhere near the shoreline at Departure Bay Beach.

Posted 1 year ago