Deceased Brethren

This very distinctive headstone in Bowen Road Cemetery marks the grave of Joseph Foy, a member of Ashlar Lodge No. 3 who died in 1915, aged 45.

Joseph Foy was a coal mine manager who died on 9 February 1915 trying to rescue miners trapped in a flooded mine shaft. His body was not recovered from the mine until April 1915.

Joseph Foy grave, Bowen Road Cemetery, Nanaimo, B.C.
Joseph Foy grave, Bowen Road Cemetery

The GPS location of the grave is: N 49⁰ 10.165′ W 123⁰ 57.202′

Here is a photo of Joseph Foy provided courtesy of the Foy family:

Joseph Foy, who died in 1915 trying to rescue miners from a flooded coal mine. (Photo courtesy of Foy family archive - private collection - used with permission)
Joseph Foy, who died in 1915 trying to rescue miners from a flooded coal mine. (Photo courtesy of Foy family archive – private collection – used with permission)

Here is Joseph Foy’s signature when he signed the Ashlar Lodge No. 3 membership book in 1913:

Joseph Foy signature in Ashlar Lodge No. 3 membership book, 1913 (photo by Ashlar Lodge No. 3 Historian)
Joseph Foy signature in Ashlar Lodge No. 3 membership book, 1913 (photo by Ashlar Lodge No. 3 Historian)

Here are some contemporary newspaper reports of the incident in which Brother Joseph Foy lost his life:


Nanaimo, Feb 10: (Special to the Advocate) – Yesterday forenoon Fire Boss David Nillerst lit a shot in the South Wellington mine of the Pacific Coal Company’s property that resulted in the loss of twenty-one lives.

The fatal shot broke through into the old workings of the Southfield mlne of tho old Vancouver Coal Company, a mine abandoned some twenty years ago. The old workings were filled with water and when the shot broke through the inrushing waters drowned all the men in the section of the mine affected with the exception of W. Murdock, who, after a hard struggle, succeeded in reaching safety. Among those who lost their lives and Joseph Foy, manager of the mine, and David Nillerst, fire boss.  Foy was on the surface at the time, but upon hearing of the old workings being tapped went below ground with the intention of getting all the men to the surface. He opened a trap door in the old slope and was immediately met by a flood of water which hurled him against the timbers. His body has not yet been recovered. Those who lost their lives in the disaster are:

  • Joseph Foy, manager, married, family of nine, aged 48.
  • Robert Miller, aged 51, married, no family.
  • William Gilson, age 45, married
  • Otto Lingerin, age 35, single (notify Captain Cockle, 3456 Victor Street, Vancouver)
  • G.H. Marvos, age 27, single
  • William Anderson, age 22, single
  • Peter Fearon, age 30, single
  • Frank Hunter, age 19, single
  • John Hunter, father of Frank, widower
  • Samuel Wardle, married, Chase River
  • John Stewart, married South Wellington, no family
  • F. Maavel, age 20, single
  • J. Bullich
  • David Nillerst, married about a week ago, aged 53. Had a son in Vancouver
  • John Cowder, unknown [age and family]
  • Thomas Watson, married, Chase River
  • J. Hronis, age 22, Greek
  • William Irving, age 40, single
  • V. Finn, aged 23, single, mother in Austria
  • Benjamin Zeniol, age 24, single”

(Source: Alberni Advocate, 12 February 1915, page 1)


Heroic Self Sacrificing Efforts of Foy, Watson and Anderson In Flooded South Wellington Mine On Tuesday

There is no change to report in the situation at South Wellington mine. The level of water in the flooded mine remains just about the same and the company is bending all its energies in getting extra pumps to deal with the water.

A force of volunteer helpers worked all Tuesday night to divert the course of the creek draining Beck’s Lake. It was discovered late on Tuesday afternoon that a cave had occurred in the bed of the creek just about where the old Southfield slope passed underneath. This meant of course that the workings of the South Wellington mine were flooded to the level of the creek, and until this cave-in was blocked up the water could not be pumped out.

Work was accordingly carried on all night, and the course of the creek was diverted. The cave-in is being filled in, and with all surface leakage shut off, the work of pumping out the water in the mine can be proceeded with. There is a very large submerged area. In addition to the old Southfield mine and the South Wellington mine, it is thought that the waters have invaded the old Alexandra workings. The water will naturally find its level but the bulk of it will have to be pumped out before the mine can be operated again.

The company is fully alive to the task before it. Two new additional pumps are being installed as rapidly as possible and it is expected that with all these workings the water will be rapidly reduced.  This is all there is to do at present and the work is being rushed as rapidly as possible.

There is nothing new to tell about the accident itself; but The Herald has been told some additional circumstances covering some of the incidents connected with the disaster. There is first of all the manner in which Manager Foy and Tom Watson met their deaths. Watson had escaped the flood and Manager Foy only went into the tunnel after the flood had commenced.

The latter met Watson and two or three other men on the slope above the water and asked them to go back with him to see if anything could be done. Apparently he had the idea that some of the imprisoned men below might be attempting to reach safety up the counter-slope. Accordingly he with Watson and the others following, proceeded to a point in the counter-slope at which there had been an air regulator. Debouching on the counter-slope at this point was a slant to the main slope and in this slant was a stopping. It was the washing out of this stopping which caused the death of Foy and Watson.

On the low side of the regulator was a drop of 3 1/2 feet, and when Foy clambered through the opening and dropped to the floor he was up to his waist in water. The jar of the jump extinguishing his lamp, and he asked the men on the high side of the regulator for one of their lamps. However just then he got a spark on his lamp, and Tom Watson climbed through the regulator and slipped into the water.

It is said that at this time Foy could hear the shouts of men down the counter-slope and this explains the willingness of the men to follow him so long as there was the chance to save the life of a fellow-worker in distress. And here is what happened. While the men were going down the counter-slope the water had been backing up the main slope to a point away above the slant already referred to. Just as Watson got through the regulator to join Foy the weight of the water backed up against this “stopping” in the slant washed it out, and the wave of water simply engulfed Watson and Foy. The other men on the high side of the regulator were comparatively safe. Foy and Watson were simply smothered in a cataract of water. They sacrificed their lives in an effort to succour their fellows and their bodies are there not more than one hundred feet below the point the water is now at.

Another man who deliberately risked and lost his life for others was William Anderson. He was working in No. 3 level when the flood occurred, but succeeded in reaching the main slope. Then he remembered his brother-in-law Robert Millar, who had been working down the slope lower than No. 3 level. At least he would try to warn him and the other men working in that section. He handed his coat to his partner Gourlay and started down the slope. Part way down he came across a boy tending a winch and told him to run for his life. The boy did reach safety and this is all that is known of Anderson.

Foy, Watson and Anderson are real heroes. They all knew the risks they were taking, yet took them cooly and without bluster, and paid for their heroism with their lives.  Anderson knew of the flood of waters that were sweeping through the mine workings below him, and must have known that any moment might bring the flood racing down behind him. Yet somewhere ahead was someone who had been as a father to him and others of his fellows and he chose to take this supreme risk to get to him. The chances are that he never reached the other men, but all reverence to his noble heroism! Imagine him stumbling blindly down the slope, unknown dangers in the darkness ahead, and racing death in the darkness behind, intent only on warning his fellows and giving them a chance for their lives. Greater love and noble courage could no man show and Anderson, Foy and Watson are as true heroes as any man that ever a received Victoria Cross.”

(Source: Nanaimo Daily Herald, 11 February 1915)

We will be adding more about Joseph Foy’s funeral from the Ashlar Lodge No. 3 Minute Book in the next few days.

Here are some sites with more information about the S. Wellington mine flood in which Joseph Foy died:

B.C. musician David Gogo has written a song about the mine flooding incident in which Joseph Foy died. David Gogo’s great-grandfather died in the South Wellington mine on 9 February 1915. Here is a video of David Gogo performing She’s Breakin’ Through at the Morden Mine site:

January 2017 Update:

Unfortunately we have to report that the grave marker of Bro. Joseph Foy in Bowen Road Cemetery has been vandalized and defaced. Someone has put a layer of concrete over the Square and Compasses carving on the grave. We have put up a post about this and we are looking at starting a cooperative project among Nanaimo Masonic Lodges to repair the damage.

The photo of the undamaged grave stone at the top of the page was taken in 2014.

Here is a photo, taken 14 January 2017, of the same side of the grave marker, showing the damage done to the Joseph Foy grave:

The defaced Joseph Foy garvestone in Bowen Road Cemetery, 14 January 2017, Note how someone has covered the Square and Compasses with cement on the diamond shaped stone on top of the marker.
The defaced Joseph Foy grave stone in Bowen Road Cemetery, 14 January 2017, Note how someone has covered the Square and Compasses with concrete on the diamond shaped stone on top of the marker.

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