Situated just off the Island Highway, eight miles south of Nanaimo, the ghost town of Cassidy is easy to reach. If driving from Victoria, turn left just before the Cassidy Hotel, at the Nanaimo River bridge, and drive under the railway overpass beside Haslam Creek.
Originally known as Granby, Cassidy was built in 1917 by the Granby Consolidated Mining, Smelting and Power Company. According to an old newspaper account, No. I Colliery was the last word in coal mining during the brief years of its operation, and at peak production, around 1921 and 1922, 450 men were employed, in connection with the works.
Granby Consolidated had spared no expense or time in constructing its model community, having hired a Vancouver engineering firm to design its picture-book settlement of pretty bungalows, mine buildings and a sawmill. The town boasted not only electric light and proper sewerage, but a pressure water system. The residents greatest source of pride was the California-style, two-storey rooming house. Every suite in the attractive 76-room apartment had hot and cold running water and steam heat. All the comforts of home.
Then there was the mine rescue headquarters. As the years passed, Granby prospered and grew. New homes were built. The town, now covering 100 acres, had its own department store, theatre and paved streets. By 1928, the mine was producing 1,000 tons of coal in every eight-hour shift; coke tor the hungry smelters at Anyox. The population had swollen to more than 500 souls, 300 of whom toiled in the black pits below.
Sadly, 1931 brought the end. Some say the famous 10-foot-wlde seam of coal gave out; others maintain it was the growing popularity of oil. Still others say the mines became too dangerous. Perhaps it was the depression that spelled the death of Cassidy. Whatever the cause, there was no turning back the clock. The powerful machinery which had been operating almost without pause for 15years wheezed to a final halt, leaving an eerie silence. The miners drifted away, abandoning their prized cottages to the forest. In March, 1936, the “best company town in Canada” went on the auctioneer’s block.
The, hammer fell on toe modern office buildings, the famous boarding house, the “fine stucco dining halls, bathhouses and garages.” Ironically, Granby Consolidated had built its structures so solidly, the major buildings could not be removed intact but had to be dismantled for their materials and fixtures. Only the five, six and seven-room bungalows could be transported, whole, to new locations.
Then the sewer and water pipes were unearthed, to be used elsewhere. The last of the mining machinery vanished in the smelter pots during the metal-starved war years. After the wreckers had done their work, the forest slowly began, to reclaim its own. By 1951, only gaunt concrete bones marked the city. The tall, arched walls of the apartment house resembled a Roman aqueduct. Already, the 125-foot boiler house smokestack had gone, and the 100-foot-long mess hall had crumbled into complete ruin, except for the east wall, standing forlornly amid the broken cement and timbers.
Today Cassidy is alone with its memories. Occasional visitors poke about the the ruins in evidence, wonder what the ghost town was like, and leave. Most are disappointed and few realize what stories Cassidy could tell.