Cumberland honours the past and looks to the future

The village's history is highlighted in weatherproof displays attached to historic buidlings

The hardscrabble life of a coal miner is reflected in much of the Village of Cumberland, and rightly so. This tiny place’s history is based on the huge network of underground coal mines that were a major industry from the late 1800s to the middle of the twentieth century. The tucked-away village is actually built on top of the mines.

            The past decade has seen some changes to Cumberland, although the downtown business core remains essentially intact, physically. New housing ‘estates’ built on the outskirts have brought an influx of younger residents (who call themselves ‘the breeders’). Although older, established residents in smaller towns and villages often look askance at a flood of new faces, the immigration of newbies to Cumberland appears to have brought an infusion of innovative energy that is helping to keep the village vibrant and interesting.

One of the historic homes in Cumberland

            Our visit occupied most of a day, and even then we decided we would have to make a return trip to accomplish the four compelling heritage walking tours laid out in the village. The problem (although a delightful one to encounter) was the number of knowledgeable and friendly local residents and merchants we talked to throughout our foray. As in so many small places, time most definitely is not of the essence; enjoying life and sharing it with others is far more important. You see that attitude everywhere in Cumberland – on the streets filled with young parents pushing strollers, in the shops, where merchants take the time to talk with friends and visitors. There is a genuine human connection here that rounds out the community’s personality.           

The front of the museum, a treasure trove of history

We began our adventure at the Cumberland Museum and Archives, a diminutive historical treasure trove with an intriguing false front. The museum focuses heavily on the coal mining industry that was the making of  Cumberland, and on the multicultural mix of Japanese, Chinese and Caucasians that laboured both above and below ground beginning in 1888. One of the best small museums in the country, this little gem occupies two levels; the basement features a replica mine, complete with coal dust underfoot, constructed by retired miners in the community.

Inside the replica of the mine at the museum

            As mentioned earlier, we never managed to stray far off the main drag of Dunsmuir Avenue for the rest of the day.  The multitude of interesting characters, shops and food offerings combined with commemorative plaques throughout the village chronicling the history of various buildings kept us absorbed for several hours. While there may be a different aesthetic in the village these days there is absolutely no doubt that the community honours and remembers its past, and the people who populated it. The heritage ambiance of this rough-and-tumble little place is both appealing and humbling. It has a charisma all its’ own, hewn from a tradition of hard work, community involvement and remembrance. Kind of like the good old days, but with a bit of a contemporary twist.

The village's streetscape looks much as it did 120 years ago, other than the power lines and vehicles

             Further information can be found on-line at:




        The best place to find information about Cumberland when visiting is at the museum, located at 2680 Dunsmuir Avenue. Lots of written guidebook material, and very knowledgeable staff.


GPS Co-ordinates are: Lat. 49.6189388 Long. -125.0315857

                                        N 49 37.136  W 125 01.895




About Shirley

More years ago than I like to remember, I completed the Journalism program at Vancouver Community College and launched straight into a career as a newspaper reporter (thanks to my journalism professor Nick Russell and an opening at the venerable daily Alberni Valley Times.) My work as a news reporter/feature writer/columnist and ultimately, newspaper and magazine editor, took me to many interesting places and introduced me to hundreds of interesting characters over the years. I loved every minute of it, but burnout caught up with me while I was trying to juggle the simultaneous editing of five trade magazines, and for 27 years I abandoned my keyboard (on a professional basis, at least) and followed my heart in a variety of other careers.
In 2010 I returned to the journalistic fold, thanks to the encouragement (nay – nagging!) of my husband. I feel no regret – only great joy to be back at the keyboard, and to be spending time interviewing interesting folks and discovering great places.

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