This photo of the Blue Canyon mine near Bellingham was taken almost a year after the catastrophic methane gas explosion of April 8, 1895 that claimed the lives of 23 coal miners working that day. Two miner miraculously escaped. It was the sixth worst underground coal mine disaster in Washington state history. The mine was located on the southeastern shore of Lake Whatcom and operated on coal seams in the Chuckanut Formation. The mine opened in 1891 producing between 20-30,000 tons annually until the explosion. It continued operating until 1903 before suspending production for four years. It reopened in 1907 then closed completely in 1919. Over the mine’s 25 years of operation 276,000 tons of coal were produced. Its biggest customer was the U.S. Navy. Because the mine was considered very gassy all the miners in this image are carrying safety lamps to detect the presence of deadly methane fumes. The blackboard to the right of the portal speaks to the mine’s condition on the day of this photo: “March 19th, 1896 – Gas in 16 other places.” A year later Washington’s State Coal Mine Inspector, R.H. Norton declared: “This is the most dangerous mine in the state; it evolves large quantities of inflammable gas, and it is absolutely necessary that competent and vigilant supervision of its works be exercised.”
The following coal miners died in the tragic Blue Canyon explosion of 1895: David Y. Jones (Mine Supt.), Andrew Anderson, Martin L. Bloom, Charles Carlson, Edward P. Chase, Thomas F. Conlin, Philip Dinkle, William Evans, Alexander Hendrickson, James Kirkby, Lucas Latoka, William Lyster, James J. McAndrew, James D. McNulty, Benjamin Morgan, John A. Morgan, Samuel Olsen, Carl A. Ramberg, Henry Ravet, George Roberts, Charles P. Silvertson, John Z. Williams, and Michael Zelinski. Six other miners died during its years of operation making the Blue Canyon the most deadly of all Washington’s coal mines on a fatality per ton basis. This photo number 1996.10.3292 of the Galen Biery collection comes courtesy of the Whatcom Museum with additional information from Jeff Jewel of the museum.