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The History of the Town of Ladysmith

historical photo of the town of Ladysmith

The September 10 Salt Spring Island Historical meeting will have a presentation by the Ladysmith Historical Society on the History of the town of Ladysmith.

The Ladysmith area has been home to the Chemainus First Nation for at least 5,000 years. Their camps, resource harvesting places and special cultural sites existed the shores of Ladysmith Harbour.

Change began to take hold in 1884 when an E&N Railway grant to James Dunsmuir privatized many of the local lands. Dunsmuir opened a coalmine at nearby Extension in the early 1900s. Soon he needed a place to house the miners and a port from which to ship the coal Dunsmuir incorporated Ladysmith in 1904, naming it after the town of Ladysmith in South Africa.

Coal mining dominated the local economy in the first decades of the twentieth century. However, by the 1920s demand for coal began to decline. In 1931 the Extension mine was closed. The economy changed when the Comox Logging and Railway Company began logging in the area in 1936. By the 1940s, Ladysmith was the centre of several major logging operations.




Speaker 1 0:01
Thank you for inviting us over here. I hope I don't disappoint you on this. We'll start out with where the name lady Smith come from. At the time that they were put lady Smith together as shipping port for dumb smears cool. There was Sir Harry Smith had just raised the seed young ladies of South Africa. And that lady so South Africa was named after his wife, Lady Smith. And with that cease was pretty important. Fair and so Dunsmuir thought that would have been a good name for our new town or city. Now lady Smith was built by the Canadian calderys company, it was Dunsmuir company as shipping port for their extension mines. Robert Dunsmuir came out from Scotland in 1850 to work as a miner for the Hudson Bay Company. The Hudson Bay Company at that time, had control of all the

Unknown Speaker 1:36
mineral assets in the on the island and so if you were gonna mine, you know, work for the Hudson Bay Company.

Speaker 1 1:48
He was educated and geology and had worked as a minor in Scotland. And they sailed around the horn, it took him six months to reach the most of the Columbia River. And when they got the most of the Columbia River there, ship, ran aground and then sank. Unfortunately, they were all saved, and they were shipped off to Fort Vancouver in Vancouver, Washington. And that's where James Dunsmuir was born. It was Robert Sutton, but eventually take over the company. He was very close to being boring in the lifeboats of this ship that sailed around the horn. Now from Vancouver, Washington. dons mirrors traveled up to Fort Rupert, where the Hudson Bay Company had a coal mine up there. But the quality of the coal was very poor there and it didn't. It didn't keep running for very long, and they close it down. And he come down to work that Fannie Bay, and then down to Wellington. They'd open up some Hudson's Bay Company opened up some mines in Wellington, and he worked for them for a short while. And then he went out on his own and basically what he did was he went out on his own and contracted back to the Hudson Bay Company. And then Hudson Bay Company decided that they were under their realm was a seer coal mining industry, that wasn't their cup of tea. And so they sold their interest in Vancouver, or the Wellington coal mines to the Vancouver coal company. So now you had to cold call companies working out of the Wellington area that's just north of Nanaimo and it was done smear and as Vancouver Island coal company, and they both had their shipping words. Departure Bay, they had separate shipping, shipping wharves. They weren't on really very friendly terms with each other. The Vancouver Island coal company they opened up a new mine in the Wellington area and they You have to cross the Dunsmuir tracks and to get the they're cold warfare parcher Bay and dungeoneer wouldn't let them have a level crossing, they either had to go underneath the tracks or over overtop of the tracks. This was very inconvenient go underneath trouble with flooding and go over top. Other dangers and very expensive. So the Vancouver coal company they managed to sneak a roof around the behind the or I got behind the Dunsmuir rail line and get to the airport while in one call was they'd gotten call that extension which was then south of Nanaimo and dungeoneer figured that he would just run it out to this departure Bay wharf. This Robbins was fellow's name that was running the Vancouver coal company, he let them go and put the line right through and till they trespassed on their land and said, Nope. Can't do that. They wouldn't let him do it earlier. So Robin says, No, you can't do that. So Tanzania had to search for another shipping port and Lady Smith was the practical place to go it was within about 12 miles of where their mind was, and it had deep enough seas to get ships in. And they did have a transfer warfare. So they proceeded to go and put their bunkers and their coal washing plants at lady Smith. And so they started their infrastructure there and leading team 90s They had to build a wharf. They had to build coal bunkers. They built washing plants and the water from the washing plants, they had to dam up the hole and Creek, they put it to dams and Holland Creek, run a flume down to the beach to the coal washing plant. So they proceeded to ship coal on the lady's mouth now they needed a pallmann to support this workers and dungeoneer system. Anybody that worked at the extension mines had delivered lady Smith, and they had a rail line up there. So the morning crew would get on the train and go up to the mine and at night they would ship it back to Lady Smith. Prior to that, people were building in extension and they had hotels there and they had buildings there. Well, a lot of that was those buildings including the hotels. We're moved down to Lady Smith. There's two buildings still there that hotels, big buildings that were moved down from Wellington. One is the sportsman Hotel. Originally it was called the new Western but it's a sports town and another one is black nugget Hotel, which the building is still there but it's not run as a hotel anymore. And they moved a lot of the houses from Wellington down In the curse with Lady Smith, being on a steep hill, they had a donkey on the top of the hill. And skidded these houses up the hill on a donkey. And then when they got them on the flat, they couldn't move them along to the place that was called donkey hill. It was white street what we call now but that's how they moved a lot of the houses and there's still a lot of the old miners houses. There ladies, people are still living well over 100 years old.

Speaker 1 11:01
When Dunsmuir was looking for a place for the town site, he was going to go and put it further south down around Solitaire. But it was going to cost them too much money for the land. And you'll notice lady Smith is built primarily on the steepest part of the train within 20 miles of that place. And the reason was that you could buy that cheap, and he bought the townsite and at 96 for $6,000. And at that time, it was supposed to be from a Simon's street through Strathcona. That was the original plan. But they shortened it up to sign the street. And all the streets up and down. Were called named after generals that were in the Boer War that raised the seizure of South Africa. There was material in the white Baden Powell Roberts, Gattaca they're all they were all generals in the war and there was one exception. And that was high street and High Street went straight up the hill and just about the middle of what they had surveyed out for the town. And that was supposed to be their main commercial. Street however, as it turned out, First Avenue became their main commercial street. And all the lots that are on High Street right up to Sixth Avenue are half the size of the other laws.

Unknown Speaker 13:19
They had

Speaker 1 13:26
when they went in the move their shipping point down to Lady Smith they also put in a put in a smelter there. And it was primarily for smelting the copper from Mount Sychar but they also got copper from mine and Tex Ada and also mines in Alaska. They would bring them down and smelt them, but it was only secondary smelting that they did there. The ordinate to come out of Mount sicker. They smelted all the gold out of it. And they sent the rest of the copper which was called blister copper, to Tacoma, for their final smelting, and they pay for their smelting at lady Smith with the goal that they extracted from this or net smelter never lasted very long. There were some capitalists from the east, Moto smelters in Tacoma, Everett and San Francisco and they undercut the Tai Chi smelter in lady Smith. And they just couldn't compete with the lower prices. So it didn't last very long. And they also had a foundry in lady Smith, the bill stoves, primarily and also maintenance on the smelter and coal mining industry. Now in the early days, Lady Smith there was about 23 hotels in there at one time. And they all served alcohol except the one. It was called the Temperance Hotel. That was the only hotel that never sold any alcohol. They were going by their their name, I guess. It was also to cigar factories, to breweries, brewing beer, Bottling Works. It has one time it was fairly large going concern.

Speaker 1 16:30
As time went on, there was a couple of strikes there was three strikes, there was one and two that or two that didn't amount to too much. They were down for from April to July. And then there was one in 909 and then one in 12. And one and 12. It went on for two years and actually what got that got that was the war. They they had to go and seize the strike because most people had to go off to the war. But there was some very bitter incidents, they had the military and militia because of rioting, and there was one incident where some people went out on beer parlor and threw a stick of dynamite into us break breakers. House. The guy picked it up to throw it back out, and the curtain was closed through it and come back in, blew his arm off. But that was just some of the things that come out of this strike. I guess it was a very bitter strike at that time. They say they didn't they didn't really solve anything because the strike button assault or war weapons first world war one solved the strike. There was many people got put in jail for rioting. My uncle he was in town at that time and he had nothing to do with the riots. There was 14 of them that they rounded up and put him in jail. Turns out seven of them who got charged charge them and the rest of them got their charges thrown out. My uncle he never even got charged but he does still spend time in jail

Speaker 1 19:35
now between the strike and the war, things really didn't get back to normal about 1918. In lady Smith it was getting the minds were the scene school scenes were good smaller and smaller. And it was debatable whether it was feasible. And at that time, oil was discovered in California and it was a much cheaper source of energy then coal was, and so cool wasn't it was waning, away from winning away from getting coal for their energy. And by 1929, they'd close it down for a while, and then when the price would eat, they would open it up. And finally in 31, they shut the mines down totally. And that was the end of the mindset. It seemed like it was the end of Lady Smith too. But then the depression come along. And there was no point in people moving away because there wasn't any jobs anywhere else, anyway. And they just kind of hung on. Lots of people got into farming, or at one time it was mentioned that lady Smith would have been a good place for fruit farming because of the climate. But to get into fruit farming, you plant a tree that's big, and it takes a long time before you get any product out of it. But with the you had nothing else to do, he made a plan to 3d and the oyster business. They were they were selling local oysters and then they were brought in some Japanese oysters. transplanted them and they were a much bigger oyster. And they grew very well there. And that's basically what you get out of there now is these Japanese transplants, people fish, they seem to get along and then in 1933, there was a big, December 33 There was a big windstorm and blew about 2 million board feet of timber down behind lady Smith. And it was timber that Rockerfeller from New York, John D. Rockefeller. He owned the rights to this timber. And he didn't really have any intentions on doing anything with it. So this timber was laying down and deteriorate deteriorating. So the western Canadian timber company bought it off Rockerfeller and komak logging and railway was a subsidiary subsidiary of Canadian Western Lumber Company. And they went in there and they started building roads in 36. And they were going to rail log because that's all we knew at that time or did at that time. There was very little truck logging. And they brought some rail equipment down from Komatsu had a big operation up in the court area. And they brought some equipment down from up there and then they decided, well, maybe we'll try truck logging lady Smith, and it was the biggest truck logging operation in the country at that time and it really opened the doors to other truck logging outfits or companies they realized that no, you didn't really need a low key because that was very expensive. It was a lot more expensive to put in a rail grade that it was a logging road and railroad you could only have such a minimal log Read compared to a truck and it worked out very well. However, they did go and run the rail up to Nanaimo lakes and they wouldn't hold the wood out of the bush to first and second Lake and put it in the water there and then loaded out onto the rail cars to bring it down believe Smith. So basically logging salvage the economy of Lady Smith. They did very well with logging. For many years. Goldman's industries put in a big sawmill layer in the early 70s. That's sparked more employment for the area than they put in a second mill there

Unknown Speaker 26:13
pretty much ran out of woods

Speaker 1 26:22
middle agents, and they do a little bit up there, but not a great deal. Not like it used to be. But there was a few incidents that happened and Lady Smith share with you. I don't know whether you people had ever heard about the candy bar war. After the Second World War, like during the war, only wages and prices were froze. And after the war. This was lifted. And kids and Lady Smith went downtown at lunchtime and discovered that the candy bar went from five cents up to eight cents. While this was unheard of. And so they caused a big ruckus about this. Then they went home and one fellow. He had a 1923 McLaughlin, Buick and they wrote slogans all over it, and went back into town and melt them down on the streets with people hanging all over this old car. And they got pickets in front of the wigwam Cafe, which was the place to be. And they put this on for a couple of days and they just let it go while the wet poor lady slows down to germaneness. And then it got down to Victoria and when it got down to Victoria hit the big newspapers. And this candy bar was right across the country. And of course the the candy bar companies they were getting pretty annoyed with this that they didn't need this publicity. And so they went and said this was all part of a communist. They were all communist

Speaker 1 28:53
was just the communists that were doing this. They didn't even know what communists were that fellow was the 23 McLaughlin be like he was my brother. And you know, I we still get requests that lady Smith archives, they're on information on the candy bar war. And of course whenever we get in from our request for information, candy bar war, it gets thrown at me. And I've talked to a woman from Saskatchewan wanted to do a paper on it. And I talked to a woman and this has just been in the last four or five years. I talked to a woman in New Brunswick want to do something on it, and I had some people from Vancouver. wanted to do a play on

Speaker 1 29:59
my brother There's, every time I go and get a request from an AI folder. He says God, I wish this would just die it just never seems to be one other thing. I'm sure I'm past my limit now. In lady Smith during the summer a lot of people went out to the gap during the summer. And they had this is pull the air pass on top end of Galliano Island and they had sharks out there and they would go out there from the time the kids got out of school and they had to go back in September and

Unknown Speaker 30:50
they would fish and at that time you could fish and you could go sell your salmon or your cod to local buyer there while they might make a few bucks,

Speaker 1 31:08
or I think every dollar that probably made selling a fish probably went into the local government store. refurbish there, but everybody had fond memories of the gap and one of our women that they Historical Society she got going and wrote a book on it and what that book was Is she had all the people that were out there just write their stories on what it was like open the gap and it's been a very good seller. Very interesting book if anybody's interested in it, I've got a couple of with me I think that's about all I can I can see the nuts your neighbors now and wake them up we'll get back to

Speaker 1 32:19
what happened to the 23? What happened to the car? What happened to the car it's sat there over years and years and years. Some people come in to love the property and took the bulldozer and Washington

Unknown Speaker 32:41
and what time used to be a railroad museum and what happened there

Unknown Speaker 32:46
was a problem between the city and the society some of them went up to Port Alberni one will make

Speaker 1 33:01
their there is a committee amongst this historical society that we're trying to get a hold of that collage shop, the old shop that was built there and gonna get that one remaining Loki inside and put it back together. And we also got what they call 100. And it was a

Speaker 1 33:40
we got this. We've got a committee there, Lady Smith. We're trying to get a hold of that of all curls Hollaback shop komak shop and put some of the remaining artifacts, the bigger artifacts back in there. And one is number 11 loci it's a 1923 Baldwin and there's a machine they call them they're getting them out. There was only two of these bills. They were both built up in headquarters Komatsu, this shop up in a Courtney. And the first one, they're built on the chassis of a che locomotive. And what they do is they've got two parallel tracks where they unload the rail cars and this machine runs parallel with loaded railway cars and it's got an arm that kicks out and not the wishes their logs off the car. And very efficient way of unloading these cars. I could do two cars in a minute, unloading them, and they had run their 300 feet so they could go on Have lots of cars in there and unload a lot of cars in a very short order. But they've got that we've got that. And we've got at our disposal to have the original call cars that come down from that they hold down from extension to Lady Smith.

Unknown Speaker 35:28
Those are available for us to refurbish the say we got a committee there. really gung ho to get this but we got to bend the arm of our councils. Let us have the shop.

Unknown Speaker 35:53
You have archives. Where's that located?

Speaker 1 35:58
The Archives is underneath the Tim Hortons area lady Smith on First Avenue. It's just the first building at the north entrance of First Avenue there on where you come off the highway. There's a little park there. And then there's Tim Hortons and you just go through Tim Hortons parking lot and around behind and we're kind of in a bunker down underneath. Tim Hortons and we're open. Nine to two. Monday to Friday. We'd be happy to see anybody come in and visit us You're welcome.

Unknown Speaker 36:51
Yeah, the website? Yes, we do

Unknown Speaker 37:00
we've had problems with our website it got

Unknown Speaker 37:03
it got hacked.

Speaker 1 37:09
So we're why they would why they would do that. I have no idea. I can give this to you. While here you can write this.

Unknown Speaker 37:26
You also upgraded Museum? Yes.

Speaker 1 37:30
That's located on First Avenue. And Miller Street. It's just about four blocks up closer downtown.

Unknown Speaker 37:40
Big Question. Question.

Unknown Speaker 37:48
Do you want to get one of

Unknown Speaker 37:53
the questions about

Speaker 1 38:00
Lady Smith in the olden days, while it was around for files in the early 1900s, one figure that I'd come across was 4000. Then that would it was incorporated in 2004. And that was the population at that time. Many hotels have the dancing girls. What was that?

Unknown Speaker 38:36
The dancing girls in the hotels?

Speaker 1 38:38
Well, I couldn't tell you. I know we don't know anyway. It's about 7000.

Speaker 1 38:53
I was born and Lady Smith. Well, in the area I have is actually from northeaster which is about five miles north of Lady Smith. But at that time, my father worked at Copper Canyon for McMillan blowdown. And if you work for Macmillan and blowdown they had a medical plan, but it was only good for the chain of hospital. So they had all my mother down to chumminess and I was born there. But my family has been in the area since 1905. My grandfather was the MLA for the area from 19 1903 to 1916. And then he, in 1916, they come up with the Compensation Board and he won't give up his MLA seat to run as one of the commissioners, the Compensation Board

Speaker 2 40:20
I was at Area in 1941 42 area, and I went up on the logging truck to the south. And went up, came down on the low to be left out

Speaker 1 40:46
Yeah, I couldn't believe that because you know, Nike 41 trucks they just never had the brakes are the power that they do now? And I know I worked in the logging industry in the 60s, and they always had to, you know, if something was rated at 100 tons well, they had to put 150 on them or read that at times they would have to put 120 times on that was just a number

Unknown Speaker 41:27
right? If you week how many volunteers do you have? How many volunteers do we have? Two people there Yeah. Fi something's too close down because of what area north of there. That's either district. Oh, yeah.

Speaker 1 42:08
Depends on what part of cedar we generally take in North Park. We generally Yeah, taking moister area yellow point. Out cedar way would probably be more Nanaimo.

Unknown Speaker 42:28
Near where the airport is.

Unknown Speaker 42:30
Oh, yeah. No, the airport. It would be our area.

Unknown Speaker 42:38
What about solidaires? That first lady.

Speaker 1 42:42
It is they were talking about starting Historical Society themselves. But we have got people from Saltair volunteering at our place. Nothing has come about them starting.

Speaker 3 43:05
Another just anyone even another question. That goes 24 hours a day. I always anchored. Opposite. Ladies, but then that thing rolls away? Yeah.

Speaker 1 43:24
Yeah, sometimes that runs two shifts, sometimes three. And then it was shut down for a few years to it was worried that they weren't going to open it up again. But I think right now yeah, they run out three shifts.

Speaker 1 43:48
A lot of little lady Smith side, they're out of Lake couch. And it's one Western Forest Products that own the mill. So there's a lot of it's coming out of the lake Cowichan area.

Unknown Speaker 44:08
What sort of government? Government is a city town.

Speaker 1 44:14
It's a town. They weren't when they incorporated the 1904 they were a city and then they downgraded to, to a town

Speaker 3 44:29
and their boundaries go how far they go.

Unknown Speaker 44:32
While they're extending them all the time.

Speaker 1 44:40
They go from just north and salty Saltair. Up to well, pretty much where the Indian reserve is that a husky gas station We're used to the IV screen they're trying to extend it further west now timber West house, some real estate back there that they want to subdivide the water system mainly from stock and Lake Heartlake up hills up the west of town. There's also a place a call the company down. There's another lake up in that area that they dammed up, but our water supply isn't really as good as what they tried to only make his lead with a soft leather that we've had this year, we've been on some pretty heavy restrictions

Speaker 3 46:18
Well, thanks very much, Brian. I'm glad to get a little bit of background over the history of ladies Ben. Thank you