Union Bay Coal Hills

Beach at Union Bay
Large chunks of black rock on the beach at Union Bay are remnants of the area’s historic use as a coal shipping terminal between 1888 and the 1960s.
Pilings at Union Bay Beach
Pilings are other evidence of historic industrial activity at Union Bay.

I’ve lived in the Comox Valley for some time now but have never walked out into the coal waste hills at Union Bay. This is the place where coal from the mines in Cumberland was “washed” using water from Hart (or Washer) Creek. The waste material was simply left in a big pile near the washing station, the processed coal was loaded onto ships and transported off to market.

Industrial Midden
More signs of the industrial history of Union Bay litter the beach.

Walking out into the waste hills and along the beach is like visiting an industrial midden. On the beach, large chunks of black rock, bricks, rusting metal spikes, bolts, and parts of machinery can be found. At the upper edge of the beach, wave action has eaten away at the waste material exposing layers of low grade coal  and other material that was of little value and discarded as part of the washing process. Processing began in the late 1800s and continued through to the 1960s.

Layers of Waste
At the edge of the beach, wave action acts to expose layers of coal waste left behind by the washing process.

This area is considered to be one of the top 13 toxic sites in British Columbia (due to the high sulphur content and resulting acid leaching from the 13 hectares of coal waste). It does look like a moonscape in places but in others, the views are spectacular out towards Denman Island and Tree Island.

Grass and Coal Waste
Grass slowly growing over the coal waste at the Union Bay Coal Hills.
Comox View
From the top of the coal waste pile, the views are excellent toward Comox.

The coal hills are a fascinating place to visit—not only are they a window into the Comox Valley’s industrial mining past, but it is also a beautiful place in a surreal way.

Tree Island View
Sunset views of Tree Island and Denman Island are spectacular!

Need to Know:

  • the Coal Hills are signed as no trespassing, enter at your own risk