Vancouver Island Parks: Colliery Dam Park (Nanaimo)

Beautiful Colliery Dam on a Spring Day
 Colliery Dam Park is a popular location for fishing, swimming and walking/hiking in the South end of Nanaimo. These dams have a rare link to Nanaimo's coal mining history. Built in 1910-11 by the Western Fuel Company to supply water for coal washing and for use by miner's, mules and horses in the mines. It soon had a secondary purpose, homes near the pipeline were allowed to tap into it for domestic purposes and this water was carried to most of the homes in South Harewood. Although no longer fulfilling these domestic purposes, the park has become well-loved as a fresh water swimming area, an off-leash park (the upper portion of the loop and only between 6am-10am and after 4pm) and slightly over 2.5 kms of trails loops through dense wooded sections of the 28 hectare park. 

 On May 14th the City of Nanaimo had a news release announcing the immediate removal of the lower and middle dams. The plan is as follows:

Early June - staff will release the tender for the removal of both dams 
July - dam removal is planned to begin in accordance with summer low water flow rates and Department of Fisheries and Oceans fish protection requirements
Summer 2013 through Spring 2014 - commence the design and approval process to build replacement dams 
Summer 2014 - construction begins on new dams

During this time trails and pathways may be closed and inaccessible. Be sure to read the signs and exercise caution if you are venturing into this area. 

  The Colliery Dam Preservation Society is a group dedicated to both the preservation of the Colliery Dam Park and safety concerns regarding the dams. They have been very proactive in rallying the community of Harewood to the pros of keeping Colliery Dam Lakes intact. 

 My thoughts? I spent many summers swimming in Colliery Dam. I walk Colliery Dam Park daily, I live close to Sixth St (below the dam) and I love the community feel the park has. If the BC Dam Safety Branch requires the City of Nanaimo to remove the dams due to safety issues, it is what it is. These are 100 year old structures and since I am not a structual engineer I am in no place to say whether these dams could just be repaired/fixed up to standard instead of a complete rebuild. I do understand the feelings of many citizens that believe City Council has not been forthright with information, having watched all the Council meetings it would seem as though many of the "costs" of rebuilding/fixing were simply guesstimated. It will be interesting to see how much rebuilding the dams will cost and whether the citizens of Nanaimo are prepared to spend money on it. Renaturalization could be a messy process, but in the end it will always be parkland. I will be following this story closely over the next year....


The Colliery Preservation Society has presented an option costing $8.6 million to rebuild both dams. The city says it will cost $7 million to remove. Aren't the lakes worth less than $2 million??
Dam Safety Branch is NOT saying the dams have to come out this year. That is a bit of misinformation being promoted by city staff.
Following Mr. Gales option, the park would remain as is this year, in 2014 the middle dam would be rebuilt, in 2015 the lower dam would be done, for a total cost of $8.6 million.
Why the city seems hell-bent on not listening is one of life's little mysteries.
s. said…
Thanks for your comment Jim, so basically either way both need to be dealt with within the next 2 years. Why not just remove and rebuild now?
It would take several months to actually design the structures, which is why they could not be built this summer. Had we been told last October that the price would be $8.6 million instead of $30 million they would be underway by now.
Unknown said…
A nice little article here, but you kind of come of as another one of the sheep that the city of Nanaimo is hearding into this misinformed state that the dams actually present some real danger, which they do not. You are more likly to die in a car accident. If the mega quake hits, our houses and hospitals will be totaled but the dams will most likly still be intact and provide us with the means to fight the fires that will be ripping through the city.
If the dams are drained now with no timeline to rebuild, we will have two large, very smelly stink holes, which you will no doubt be able to smell from the privacy of your backyard on 6th st. The previously beautiful swimming and fishing holes will be fenced off and the dams removed making the entire park completly unusable.
s. said…
Hi Thomas Warden, thanks for your comment. So you feel I am a "sheep" because I can see the pros and cons of both sides of the debate? That's unfortunate and I'm sorry you feel that way. Do you own property close to the dams? Did you read the part of this article where it states the plan to re-build the dams? Are you a structural engineer? Thanks!
Unknown said…
The sheep comment was only a metaphor for someone who is being led blindly into believing the opinions of those in power (Dam Safty Branch/City staff) when there is clearly other better options available by people with much more structual engineering background than anyone on city staff or council. I have been to the community meetings, the city council meeting and lastly the information session put on by Dave Cutts reguarding plan B. I have lived in Harewood for over 20 years, and although the property I now own is on Park Ave. I quite frequently ride my bike, with my dog from my property around the dams and back.
I know that the motion passed involved a re-build of both dams, but with dire consequences for the habitat in and around the lakes I can not support the immediate drainage, what happens to the spring run off and heavy rainfall next year when there is no dams in place? City council haven't thought it through and could be placing residents in greater danger by removing the dams than if they were to keep them. Maybe you would like to join us for our occupy colliery camp outs, we are only trying to preserve the history of Harewood to make it a better place for our children.
Unknown said…
Shayln, it's important to stress that Colliery Dams in their present condition pose NO danger to the public. These dams have been well maintained yearly by City staff and are in excellent condition. Dam Safety Branch has suddenly decided to change their requirements. Whether this is even legal is subject to some debate. Councillor McKay told me it wasn't in fact, law. Either way, Colliery Dam Lakes are part of Nanaimo's Heritage Water Preserve. They provide back up water for the city in the event of a disaster. For DSB, city staff or City Council to attempt removal of these dams, strikes a direct blow to the City of Nanaimo's emergency preparedness. At present Colliery Dam Lakes have an effective, natural 100 year old water filtration system in place. Whatever upgrades are done, will negatively impact this. Total destruction of these dams will of course, utterly devastate this ecosystem. Our backup water will be undrinkable or nonexistent. All this for a speculative event? San Francisco's last big quake was within my mother's lifetime. She's 87. The last mega quake on Vancouver island was in 1700! This entire situation is untenable.
Unknown said…
Shayln, it should be stressed that Colliery Dams are, under present conditions, completely safe. These dams have been well maintained by city staff on a yearly basis. They are in excellent condition. Under normal circumstances, there is NO danger to the public. The Dam Safety Branch has, for whatever reason, suddenly decided to change their rules. Whether this is even legal is up for some debate. Some city councilors believe it's not law. Be that as it may, Colliery Dam Lakes are part of Nanaimo's Heritage Backup Water Preserve. In the event of an emergency, these lakes provide an auxiliary water source. Harming them puts the entire City of Nanaimo at risk. Colliery Dam Lakes have a natural, effective 100 year old water filtration system in place. Any remedial work on the dams will negatively impact this. Draining the lakes and removing the dams, will utterly destroy their filtration system. All this for a speculative event? San Francisco had it's last big quake within my mother's lifetime. She is 87 years old. Vancouver Island's last mega quake was in 1700! Risk preparedness must be reasonable. This not only is not that, it is actually harmful.
s. said…
Thanks for all the comments. My concern is that they don't have a literal "plan" e.i drafts or blueprints in place for the re-build. This makes it seem they really have no plans to re-build.

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