This article was orignally published in the Winter 2021 newsletter of the Nanaimo Historical Society. Thank you to the NHS board for giving me permission to share it here. Photography by Liz Laidlaw, VIU Library.
Did you know that the Library at Vancouver Island University has a digital archive of audio recordings of past Nanaimo Historical Society presentations dating back to 1962? You can find it online at: https://viurrspace.ca/handle/10613/14118.
In 2001, Shirley Bateman and other members of the NHS reached out to the Library at what was then Malaspina University-College. The Society was inquiring about the possibility of copying a set of cassette tapes containing recordings of NHS presentations from 1962 to 1973. Some of these cassettes had likely been created by a Malaspina student in 1974 by copying William Barraclough’s original reel-to-reel recordings, which were thought to be among the first documented recordings of their kind made in the province. The cassette tapes were deteriorating and the Society was hoping the Library could assist with making compact disc versions. In addition to being deposited at the Nanaimo Community Archives, a set of the recordings was kept in the Special Collections vault at VIU, and when technology allowed the Library to do so, digital mp3 files were created. These audio files were put online in VIUSpace, VIU’s digital library, in 2010 and form the first part of the Nanaimo History Project, which can be found here: https://viurrspace.ca/handle/10613/14119.
In 2019, a Memorandum of Agreement was signed between the NHS and VIU Library allowing for a second set of NHS cassette tapes to be temporarily transferred to the Library with the intention that they would also be digitized and made available online. The NHS was again concerned about the lifespan and accessibility of an aging cassette tape collection, while VIU Library perceived value in facilitating preservation and access to local- and BC-focused content to support new lines of inquiry and study for students, researchers, and members of the community. Working within the context of its strategic plan, which includes decolonization and community engagement objectives, the Library took steps to make its services and supports known and available to the Nanaimo Historical Society.
This second set of recordings, consisting of four boxes of over 100 cassette tapes mostly created by Pamela Mar and including NHS presentations from 1976 to 2011, will form the second part of the Nanaimo History Project, which can be found here: https://viurrspace.ca/handle/10613/14120. Digitization work is currently ongoing for this second set of tapes – over 125 audio files are now available with more being added on a regular basis.
With a keen interest in both local history and digitization work, the project has been a great fit for Dalys Barney, who is not only an NHS member, but also part of the VIU Library team that is doing this work. During the early stages of the pandemic, Dalys and her colleague Sarah Ogden were both working from home and had an opportunity to complete some transcripts for this collection. Now that Sarah has returned to working on campus (Dalys is still working remotely), the focus has shifted back to getting more of the tapes digitized and uploaded to VIUSpace. Expanded summaries, subject headings, and more transcripts will eventually follow as time and resources allow.
Consisting of family histories, recollections about school days, book talks by local authors, and presentations about a variety of Nanaimo and Vancouver Island events, businesses, buildings, people, and organizations, the collection is truly a treasure trove of material for anyone interested in the area’s human, industrial, built, or natural history. Like everything in VIUSpace, the Nanaimo History Project is open access, meaning anyone can listen to the recordings – you don’t need to be a VIU student or staff member.
NHS members may also be interested in other VIUSpace collections, such as the Coal Tyee History Project, which contains a series of audio interviews with Vancouver Island coal miners and their families conducted by the Coal Tyee History Society in the 1970s and ’80s. Digital audio files and transcripts can be found at: https://viurrspace.ca/handle/10613/25. If you’re interested in historical Vancouver Island newspapers, digitized versions of the Nanaimo Free Press (1874-1928) and the Cowichan Leader (1905-1928) can also be found in VIUSpace and are accessible here: https://viurrspace.ca/handle/10613/6678.
What do stumping powder, the SS Oscar, and the mostly empty cans of paint in my basement all have in common? They’re all connected to Canadian Industries Limited, or CIL, a brand name that many Canadians will recognize from their paint cans, but one that people from Nanaimo might also associate with the neighbourhood of Cilaire. After encountering a post on the Library and Archives Canada Discover blog about the company history of the CIL brand, I thought I would explore the (unmentioned) tie of CIL to Nanaimo a little further.
By the late 1880s, the Nanaimo area had a busy coal mining industry. The Vancouver Coal Mining and Land Company’s No. 1 Esplanade Mine downtown was in full operation and the Dunsmuir mines in nearby Wellington were also very active. Wanting to take advantage of the demand for blasting powder, the Hamilton Powder Company, which had opened an office in Victoria in 1884, began to explore the idea of establishing a black powder works in the Nanaimo area. “Because of the extensive mining of coal in Nanaimo and other parts of the island the Hamilton Powder Works were encouraged to come and set up a plant to produce badly needed blasting powder. Cost of shipping the product from England was high and the product was often ruined with saturation of seawater.”1 In 1890, the Hamilton Powder Company built and opened a plant about four miles out of Nanaimo in Northfield on a 156-acre piece of land. “At Northfield, ten acres of land was cleared on which to build storehouses, a gristmill, boiler and power plant, all out of brick. The roofs were built in such a way as to send them skyward in the event of an explosion. The plant was built and operational by the autumn of 1890.”2
At the time, the powder works was likely welcomed by the community as it provided local jobs as well as savings for those using explosives. As Vancouver Island historian T.W. Paterson notes, “Total production cost of a keg of powder was $1 which wholesaled at $1.75 and was retailed to miners at $2-$2.25. … This was a substantial saving over the $4 previously charged by the companies.”3
In 1892, wanting to expand into dynamite manufacturing, the Hamilton Powder Company opened a second plant in the area on a 100-acre property at Departure Bay. Here they would manufacture their own nitroglycerine, the explosive and volatile chemical required to make dynamite. Dangerous supplies and cargo were carried by wagon between the two locations along the Black Powder Road.
Nanaimo historian Lynne Bowen captures the risk of transporting such dangerous cargo: “Extra heavy springs and four inches of wood shavings on the wagon floor gave the six or eight glass containers a small extra measure of cushioning. A lone man drove, his back to the ominous cargo. The wagon driver knew the danger involved in transporting the cargo up the muddy and rutted Black Powder Road which led to the Northfield Powder Works. He had done it many times and he always insisted on doing it alone. His luck had always held until one day in 1896. One morning it blew. They don’t know exactly what happened, maybe two of those big demijohns started to rub together. But the horse and the wagon and everything went and him right in the middle of it. He was blown to bits; the horse was blown to bits. They never did find him or the wagon. Made a hole in the road you could sink a house into.”4
As well as black powder and dynamite, the Hamilton Powder Company also locally manufactured a somewhat less dangerous product called Dualin stumping powder. Dualin was an explosive made by mixing nitroglycerin with an inert substance like sawdust or wood pulp. The Hamilton Powder Company’s explosives were used on Vancouver Island by coal miners, farmers, and local contractors, and the company’s products were also shipped to destinations elsewhere from the company’s wharf at Departure Bay.
An article in TheDaily Colonist from 1920 reflected on the importance of explosives at the time: “The miner does not force a foot of his subterranean advance under the eternal hills without its help. The gold, copper, iron and coal that warm and energize and carry and pay the way of the world have all been driven, as it were, to the surface of the earth by the force of an explosion. The explosive has its work to do in the clearing of forests, the planting of trees, the cutting of canals, the building of railroads, the quarrying of building stone, the irrigation of dry lands. The explosive has become the veritable hammer of the industrial Thor. It is a giant pick, a swifter plough, a subtle and mighty tool in the cunning hands of men.”5
As detailed in the Library and Archives Canada blog post, the Hamilton Powder Company merged with six other companies to form a new company, Canadian Explosives Limited (CXL) in 1910. At around this same time, capacity of the Nanaimo operations was becoming strained by BC’s railway and mining booms. The Nanaimo plants were connected with the company’s offices in Victoria and Vancouver. Additionally, there was an office in Nelson which supported the needs of the growing mining industry in the Kootenays.6 There was plenty of demand for explosives, but any expansion of the Nanaimo plants was restricted by regulations which dictated that there must be a certain amount of distance (1.5 miles) between an explosives plant and non-company owned buildings.7
Despite a bylaw passed by Nanaimo city council in 1898 which stipulated that: “No more than fifty pounds shall be carried or conveyed on any vehicle whatever within or through the streets of the City and that no more than fifty pounds of powder should be kept in any store, dwelling, or building within City limits,”8 Nanaimoites must have questioned the safety of having CXL operations nearby. A series of deadly accidents occurred throughout the years, including an explosion at the Departure Bay plant in January of 1903 which “launched a piece of railway track 80 metres through the air with such force that it wrapped itself around a tree.”9 The community’s fears were additionally fueled by the terrific explosion of the SS Oscar in 1913.
On the afternoon of January 15, 1913, the Oscar, which was heavily laden with dynamite and black powder that had been loaded at both the Giant Powder Company’s operation at Telegraph Bay near Victoria and at the CXL’s Departure Bay wharf, had bunkered up with coal at the Western Fuel Company’s wharf in Nanaimo and was heading for Britannia Mines at the head of Howe Sound. The ship was battling winter weather conditions with falling snow and poor visibility, so the captain decided to turn around and head back to the safety of the Nanaimo Harbour. A fire was discovered near the ship’s boilers, and in an effort to minimize the impending catastrophe, Captain Alexander McDonald steered the ship towards Protection Island in hopes she would run aground. He and the crew jumped overboard and swam to shore.
The explosion was immense and felt throughout the area. The above ground workings of the Protection Island Mine sustained substantial damage and in Nanaimo, “practically every pane of glass in the city was shattered to atoms.”10 The shock of the explosion even stopped the Nanaimo post office clock, “Big Frank,” at 1:55 p.m.11 Nanaimo Mayor John Shaw was one of the many who received injuries from the explosion, but luckily no one was killed. I’m sure the incident must have had Mayor Shaw, as well as everyone else in Nanaimo, wondering about the future of having an active explosives business so near to the city. “One week after the S.S. Oscar was blown to smithereens on a Protection Island beach a mass meeting of citizens demanded an inquiry into the manufacture, storage, and transportation of powder in Nanaimo and vicinity. The situation was likened to living with a sword over their heads.”12
Perhaps swayed somewhat by the public outcry, but more likely motivated by a lack of expansion opportunities in Nanaimo, in the spring of 1913, CXL purchased James Island in Haro Strait for a quarter of a million dollars. The company planned to open a plant there and eventually phase out not only the Nanaimo operations but also its acid and fertilizer plant located in Victoria’s Inner Harbour. It was anticipated it would take approximately two years to build the new plant.
The outbreak of World War I changed CXL’s plans for James Island, with production being shifted from dynamite to TNT to support the war effort. CXL plant engineer George Grubb described the change in plans, which happened when the new dynamite plant on James Island was only half finished:
“In 1914 when the European war broke out, few people, if any, realized the amount of explosives that would be required to supply the armies of the Allies. Trinitrotoluol (then also called Triton or TNT) was the new explosive of the war and very little was known of it outside of Germany when war broke out. … In 1915 Canadian Explosives Ltd. obtained their first contracts from the British Government. On August 13th, 1915, Fred Moore notified me that I was to proceed immediately to James Island and erect a TNT plant and have it ready for operation by October 15th!”13
TNT was produced on James Island until the Armistice, supplying approximately 35 million pounds to the Allied forces during the war. After the war, work on the half-built dynamite plant on James Island resumed, and finally, Nanaimo operations could be decommissioned. By May 1919, all of CXL’s production on the West Coast was moved to James Island.
In 1927, CXL changed its name to Canadian Industries Limited (CIL) to better reflect the diversification of its various operations which as well as explosives also manufactured products like munitions, chemicals, paints, and plastics. The CIL plant on James Island continued to operate for decades. Dynamite was manufactured there until September of 1978 and Nitro-Carbo-Nitrates until 1985.
CIL crates and blasting machine
photos courtesy Janice Keaist & Maechlin Johnson
In the mid-1960s, former CIL land at Departure Bay was developed by Frank Ney’s Great National Land and Investment Corporation into a 220-lot subdivision. The “waterfront subdivision included all of the modern services and received plenty of flack from residents who objected to the unusually large number of trees that had to be removed to accommodate the project. However, it proved to be one of B.C.’s finest developments.”14 The subdivision was one of the first to have underground services and featured magnificent views of Departure Bay. The waterfront lots sold for just a fraction of their value today. The name of the subdivision? Cilaire, with the letters C-I-L paying tribute to the land’s earlier days under the CIL banner. There is little tangible evidence of CIL’s time in Nanaimo, just part of a concrete retaining wall and a few old footings from the company wharf, but the name and the stories continue to live on as part of Nanaimo’s history.
Douglas Steel, Nanaimo Past & Present: Stories of the City (Nanaimo, BC: Steelbro, 2013), 1.
A new, ultra local read! I first learned about the booklet, “Cedar By The Sea: 1890-1970” compiled by Roger Prior in the fall newsletter of the Nanaimo Historical Society. Since I live in Cedar myself, and I also like to support the creative work of fellow NHS members, it was a definite must-have! Only a limited number of copies have been produced, so I’m happy to have one to add to my always expanding local history library.
In his NHS newsletter article, Prior expressed that he felt that the history of Cedar’s early settlers was not well-known (I’d agree), and that he hoped that his “modest little booklet might help to recognize the endurance and vision of [Cedar’s] pioneers.” It’s so easy for stories to get forgotten if they aren’t recorded in any way. Local history matters, and I’m happy to see someone else writing about the history and development of the often overlooked small communities that surround Nanaimo.
The first and most lengthy section of the booklet features the Fiddick family, who moved to the Cedar area in 1872. Samuel and Elizabeth (Grandam) Fiddick pre-empted 250 acres on the west side of the Nanaimo River, building a home at the corner of Wilkinson and Akenhead Roads. Their son Charles later purchased 120 acres near Dodd Narrows, a property that was uncleared and included a quarter of a mile of waterfront. Charles Fiddick developed the land and moved his family into a house there in 1904, and descendants of the Fiddick family still live in the immediate area today.
Next there is a brief section in the booklet about the Long John Silver subdivision, which was developed by the realty company of Nanaimo’s pirate mayor Frank Ney on land purchased from the Fiddick family in 1963.
The next section features the Thomas family that first pre-empted land in Cedar in 1884. The Thomas family section is particularly focused on long time Cedar resident Ivor Thomas who lived in the area from his birth in 1889 to his death in 1981.
The final section of the booklet is about the Aquarian Foundation property. It was nice to see that Prior did not spend a lot of time on the mysterious (but sometimes over-embellished) tale of Brother XII that’s been covered at length elsewhere. Instead, the property itself is the focus in the booklet and what happened to the land and different buildings after the foundation dissolved and Brother XII and his followers dispersed.
I really appreciate the effort that goes into producing this kind of local history resource: peering at old newspapers, sorting through albums and boxes of photos, conducting interviews with neighbours, and exploring the resources of the Nanaimo Community Archives. As I contemplate my own writing ideas, I was pleased to read that Prior found his project to have a community building element. He shared that he “used the project as an introduction to even more neighbours and locals who added more of their memories.” The idea that neighbours can be brought together in the spirit of local history project is definitely one that I can get behind and something I will be thinking about in the future.
Two new ultra-local reads! I purchased both of these books directly from the authors, which I was happy to do in theses strange COVID-19 times. Each book is biographical, following the life and times of a different yet contemporary white, male, colonial pioneer who spent time in Nanaimo.
McDowell, Jim. Pluck, Luck and Grit: Charles A. Bayley in Colonial British Columbia (1851-1869). Richmond, BC: JEM Publications, 2018.
Davidson, Carole. Early Nanaimo 1857-1876 from the Diary of William J Hughes. Victoria: Rendezvous Historic Press, 2020.
Pluck, Luck and Grit: Charles A. Bayley in Colonial British Columbia (1851-1869) was published by Jim McDowell in 2018. I recently learned about it when it was briefly profiled in the books section of the Summer 2020 issue of British Columbia History magazine. McDowell is a BC historian with several titles to his name. He only self-published a very small number (12!) of limited edition, full colour copies of Pluck, Luck and Grit, and I feel lucky to have one. The book follows the life of Charles Bayley, who came to Vancouver Island with his parents in 1850 aboard the Tory. The ship had been chartered by the Hudson’s Bay Company “to carry a few ‘settlers’ and numerous labourers around the horn of South America and north in the Pacific Ocean in order to start colonizing the Pacific Northwest Coast for Great Britain.”1 The Bayley family settled three miles from Fort Victoria, where Charles’ father Thomas was contracted by the HBC to manage a farm. Charles Bayley went on to become one of Vancouver Island’s earliest schoolteachers, working first in Victoria and then later in Nanaimo. According to the book’s dedication, McDowell’s mother was Charles Bayley’s “grand niece-in-law,” and her brother, McDowell’s uncle, was married to a granddaughter of Bayley. This connection likely gave McDowell access to Bayley’s memoirs, quotes from which are included in the text, adding Bayley’s own voice to the narrative.
Early Nanaimo 1857-1876 from the Diary of William J Hughes by Carole Davidson was just published this year and follows Hughes’ life as depicted in his daily (only one line per day) diary. Nanaimo history fans may be familiar with Davidson’s earlier book, Historic Departure Bay…Looking Back, which was published in 2006. Hughes and his Indigenous wife Mary Salacelowitz settled on a piece of land at Departure Bay in 1861, where they farmed, gardened, and generally seemed to work hard to earn their living. Mary, who was from the Cowichan Tribes, followed the traditional ways and annual seasonal patterns of her people. She frequently spent time away from home and took the children with her, while William’s days seemed to be mostly full of never-ending chores and work to support their family and property.
If I come away from a book about Vancouver Island having read one thing I didn’t know already, I’m usually pretty happy, and that certainly was the case for both of these books which cover some of the Island’s early settler history. For example, Davidson’s book explains how the land at Departure Bay where Robert Dunsmuir built his coal shipping wharves for the Wellington Colliery was originally part of William Hughes’ 150-acre pre-emption. Having read a lot about Dunsmuir, it’s not hard for me to imagine the canny Scot bullying Hughes into entering a lease agreement which gave Dunsmuir access to tidewater through Hughes’ land. Surprise, surprise, not only did Dunsmuir apparently go ahead and build a road and wharves on William Hughes’ land before sorting out the details of the lease agreement, but he also petitioned the Legislative Assembly to be allowed to appropriate even more of Hughes’ land for his use:
“The original lease granted Dunsmuir a strip of land thirty-three feet wide from the mine to the sea with one acre of land at the waterfront. The new petition asked for sixty-six feet of land from the mine and five acres of land at the seafront. William makes no comment in his diary to indicate his feelings about this second intrusion on his land, but one can assume he wasn’t happy as under these new terms his house was separated from the rest of his land.”2
What a guy! Robert Dunsmuir sure didn’t become one of the richest men in the province by playing nice with the neighbours. His “robber baron” label certainly seems to fit in this case. In her biography, Robert Dunsmuir: Laird of the Mines, local historian Lynne Bowen looked at the range of ways in which Dunsmuir was described after his death. A claim that he was “a man who knew what he wanted and took the shortest route”3 seems to perfectly describe how Dunsmuir dealt with Hughes.
A wonderful, trivial fact about Victoria is shared in McDowell’s book. Because of how his hotel was built on the corner of Government and Yates Streets, Charles Bayley left a lasting mark on the city. Apparently, there is what McDowell calls a “jog” in Yates Street, where Bayley “inadvertently built his hotel [in 1857] without allowing for a setback from the street line. Instead of relocating what was then Victoria’s finest building, surveyors simply shifted their measuring pegs, and created a slightly dysfunctional, unattractive ‘jog’ along the entire block which still exists.”4 McDowell goes on to suggest that “this engineering oddity deserves recognition by a modest, amusing historical marker,”5 and I can’t say that I disagree with him!
It was interesting to read these two books together. While they both cover relatively the same time period, in relatively the same place, the lives of Bayley and Hughes, two white men of a similar age, are significantly different. Bayley’s days in Nanaimo, which was called Colviletown at the time, were spent teaching the children of the settlement’s miners and HBC employees. “The census [of 1854] indicated Bayley had 29 (apparently all male) students,”6and because a proper schoolhouse had not yet been built, he used a single room in a small, wood-frame cabin as his schoolroom. Bayley received a salary and his board (at the home of his future wife’s parents) was also paid. It seems like Bayley must have enjoyed a reasonably comfortable lifestyle, as by the end of 1856, after just three years of teaching in Nanaimo, he had enough of a nest egg to enable him to change careers and cities. “Tired of the monotony of the sedentary life of a teacher and having saved a few thousand dollars, [he decided to] embark on a more active life as a trader [in Victoria].”7Bayley’s cash flow wasn’t always so stable, and in 1868, he took out an advertisement in Victoria’s British Colonist claiming his time was not “fully occupied” and he was looking for work he could do. As McDowell puts it: “One can sense how humiliating it must have been for a man…to be forced to publicly beg for work behind the thinly-veiled pretense of simply having too much time on his hands.”8
In contrast, Hughes certainly didn’t lead a life of comfort or one where he found himself sticking much money aside for future plans. When he died in 1876, “the value of his effects was less than $820.”9The “monotony of life” for Hughes meant day after day of work. “He worked from dawn to dusk, seven days a week to feed his family, and to improve his land and living conditions.”10 Unlike Bayley, who could change occupations on a whim out a desire for something more fulfilling or lucrative, Hughes seemingly took any job that he could in order to just survive.
Although living markedly differently day-to-day lives, both men experienced instability. Charles Bayley moved from England to Victoria, to Nanaimo, back to Victoria, and then to San Francisco in the space of two decades. During the first years of his diary, Hughes moves around so much that Davidson isn’t actually able to determine where he really lived. He does eventually settle and file a pre-emption for land in Departure Bay in 1861, but even after that, he still spends time going back and forth to Newcastle Island, and also making fairly regular trips to Nanaimo, Victoria, and to St. Ann’s in Duncan where his children attended school.
Bayley shuffled from career to career, apparently not finding success or contentment with any one thing. After teaching for a few years, he went on to become a hotelier and storekeeper, next a gentleman farmer, and then a politician. He also tried to make money by investing in mining goods and equipment then hiring someone else to take the supplies in a pack train to where they could be resold for a profit. Bayley sent a pack train to Williams Creek (outside of Barkerville) to capitalize on the Cariboo gold rush, and he later funded a similar venture bound for the Leech River (outside of Sooke) where a gold bonanza happened briefly in 1865. McDowell describes Bayley as “a venturesome fellow who knew how to seize a new opportunity or meet an unexpected challenge when it appeared.”11
Hughes also moved from one job to the next, all of them apparently temporary. He seems to have made a large portion of his living by periodically crafting tool handles, selling fish oil he’d rendered down from dogfish livers, and through his farming ventures. Davidson proposes that he may even have been running one of Vancouver Island’s early nurseries, based on the large number of fruit trees he cared for. “The number of young trees produced seemed to be many more than he would use himself which leads one to suppose that he grew them for resale.”12Hughes also tried his hand at gold mining outside of Yale, spent time at the quarry on Newcastle Island, and carried out small building projects. His diary reflects a life of constant chores and hard work with little room for luxury, rest, or frivolity.
I’m pretty sure the two men would not have been friends or even friendly acquaintances. McDowell frequently makes note of the stereotypes that Bayley upheld. He didn’t think much of the labouring classes, which Hughes certainly would have belonged to. “Bayley’s condescending references to a ‘medley of various characters’ and ‘incorrigible’ country folk in steerage indicate stereotypes and biases about labouring class people that aspiring ‘squires’ [like Bayley and his family] brought with them.”13Bayley also had little respect for the Indigenous Peoples of the land, and at times apparently didn’t even acknowledge them. “Bayley’s unspoken, but obvious exclusion of Indigenous people from his estimate of the town’s population count rendered this group non-existent.”14 While Bayley might have summoned the respect to acknowledge Hughes in his store or on the streets of Nanaimo, he likely wouldn’t have looked favourably on Hughes’ choice of an Indigenous woman for a partner, and in all probability, he wouldn’t have treated the mixed-raced children of the Hughes union in the same way he treated the children of the white settlers of the community. I appreciated how McDowell wasn’t shy about critiquing the condescending and racist references in Bayley’s memoirs, and how he notes how Bayley’s views reflected a “narrow-minded 19th century colonial socio-cultural perspective [that] would remain largely unchanged in British Columbia for more than 100 years.”15
Like many self or community published titles, both of these books could have benefited with some additional editorial oversight, as they each include an assortment of minor spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors as well as some inconsistencies in font and format choices. But overall, I enjoyed reading both Davidson’s and McDowell’s latest books, and I will certainly look forward to anything they might publish in the future about the history of Vancouver Island.
Jim McDowell, Pluck, Luck and Grit: Charles A. Bayley in Colonial British Columbia (1851-1869) (Richmond, BC: JEM Publications, 2018), 11.
Carole Davidson, Early Nanaimo from the Diary of William J Hughes (Victoria: Rendezvous Historic Press, 2020), 103.
Lynne Bowen, Robert Dunsmuir: Laird of the Mines (Lantzville: XYZ Publishing, 1999), 141.
I wrote a previous blog post about the boom and bust of Wellington, the mining community north of Nanaimo’s original downtown which grew rapidly after Robert Dunsmuir discovered coal in the area in 1869. The exodus from Wellington was equally rapid, with a majority of the coal miners and their families moving on to the new mining towns of Extension and Ladysmith after the last Wellington Colliery mine closed in 1900. Even though the Wellington townsite essentially faded away once the mines closed, the Wellington name spread to other parts of the Nanaimo region. The mines and settlements which adopted the Wellington name were above-ground reflections of the network of coal seams that local miners followed deep below the surface.
South Wellington (#1)
By 1877, another mining operation had started outside of Dunsmuir’s Wellington. A shaft was sunk on a nearby farm and developed into the South Wellington Colliery. An undated map titled ‘Dunsmuir’s railway and Nanaimo coalfield’ shows the original South Wellington Mine as being located between Brannen and Diver Lakes.1
This was not a Dunsmuir mine, it was owned by investor Richard D. Chandler of San Francisco, but it did tap the Wellington seam. Because it was located on the Nanaimo side of Wellington, it was indeed “south” of Wellington, but I suspect that there may have been an attempt to capitalize on Wellington coal’s growing name and reputation.
But this proved to be somewhat prophetic: by 1879, the South Wellington Colliery belonged to Dunsmuir and it became the No. 2 Mine of the Wellington workings. 1882 is the last year that South Wellington Mine is mentioned in the annual report of the minister of mines. Over time, it eventually just got wrapped up in the memory of the Wellington Mines, but for a few years at least, this first South Wellington was a distinct place.
The East Wellington Colliery was located on land originally owned by the Westwood family. The Westwoods had arrived in Nanaimo in 1864, and developed a 650 acre property halfway between Nanaimo and Wellington in the Mountain District. The undated railway map previously mentioned shows this mine site as being at approximately the intersection of East Wellington Road and Maxey Road. Think north of Westwood Lake, but the lake wasn’t there then, it has only existed since about 1907, when the Nanaimo Electric Light, Power and Heating Company dammed the Millstone to create it.
William Westwood died in 1872, and the coal rights for the property were eventually sold by the family to Richard D. Chandler of San Francisco, who formed the East Wellington Coal Company. Yes, that’s the same Chandler who had been the owner of the first South Wellington operations. He was a San Francisco entrepreneur, with an obvious interest in British Columbia coal mining. At first I was pretty skeptical – was it really the same investor backing the South Wellington and East Wellington Collieries, or has the story just got muddled over time? But the annual BC mining reports point to Chandler being responsible for both operations.
In the 1878 report, Chandler is not named, but the South Wellington Colliery report is signed by agent R. Wingate. In the 1879 report: “Two bores were put down by Mr. Wingate, the manager for Mr. R. Chandler, the former proprietor of the South Wellington Colliery. ” While this statement is referring to prospecting work for the East Wellington Colliery, it also makes reference to Chandler’s previous ownership of the South Wellington operation.
Robert Wingate was a successful mining engineer in the Pacific Northwest, working for Chandler at several of his coal operations. In 1879, Wingate was sent to prospect along the Carbon River, in Pierce County, Washington. Liking the potential of the site, Chandler purchased the Carbon River Coal Mining Company’s claim. A year later the company incorporated, and Wingate was named superintendent. An article about Carbonado, the coal mining town that grew up around the mine site, suggests that the reason Chandler sold off the original South Wellington Colliery was to finance these new Washington operations. The timing certainly fits. While the 1879 coal market had definitely been in a downturn, it would also make sense that Chandler was trying raise capital for investing in Carbon River.
Mining operations at the East Wellington Colliery commenced in 1882, and despite limited success, the site was continually developed in the hopes of finding good coal. A second shaft was sunk in 1887, within a kilometre of the first. In 1893, the East Wellington Mines were closed and flooded, and in 1894, in what must have felt like a repeat of the past, Chandler’s mines were taken over by Robert Dunsmuir and became part of the Wellington Colliery. Dunsmuir pumped out the mines initially, but work only recommenced for a short period following the change in ownership.
Today part of the Regional District of Nanaimo’s Area C, the land around the former colliery is now primarily residential, with a definite rural feel. Although the coal days are long over, small reminders of Vancouver Island’s mining history can still be found in the street names in the area. The local improvement district, the Mountain Fire Protection District, has also chosen to maintain the East Wellington name for its fire department and new fire hall. As a side note, it was interesting to read the City of Nanaimo’s May 2018 report about the currently undeveloped park at 2191 East Wellington Road.2 The Nanaimo Model Airs, a local model aircraft flyers club, approached the city with an appeal to create a safe flying site for model aircraft. The East Wellington Park is now being considered as a possible location for the concept. What the coal miners of days past would think about drones and remote controlled planes flying overhead, I can’t imagine!
A few kilometres out of Wellington and adjoining the western border of Dunsmuir’s land, another San Francisco investor, Dennis Jordan, Esq. started up a mining operation, calling it West Wellington. Although some earlier work had been done, in 1895 operations resumed, including building a tramway to Jordan’s wharf in Nanoose Bay. By 1896, the mine was owned by the West Wellington Coal Company Ltd. Getting the coal to market proved to be difficult for this company, and the operation was closed after just a few years. In 1907, the West Wellington Coal Company’s coal rights were acquired by the Gilfillan Colliery, but this also proved to be a short lived venture, closing the next year. The final attempt at this mine was in 1928, when the Little Ash Mine opened at the site. This was a small operation which closed down after just a handful of years.
In 1925, Island Collieries, which was owned by King & Foster Company Ltd., opened north of Wellington, with the intention of recovering pillars from the original Wellington Mines. This was a small operation, employing just 10 men. Henry Shepherd was the superintendent, resulting in many remembering this operation as Shepherd’s Mine. By 1927, the mine was owned by Canadian Collieries (Dunsmuir) Ltd., which was what Dunsmuir & Sons was renamed after it was sold by family in 1911. The site was renamed Wellington Extension No. 9. Like many small operations of the time, the No. 9 closed periodically due to downturns in the coal market, and did not work again after 1932.
South Wellington (#2)
As part of the exchange for agreeing to build the E&N Railway, Dunsmuir’s newly formed Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway Company received a huge land grant, amounting to approximately 20% of Vancouver Island. This included the mineral rights for nearly 800,000 hectares. Not long after this deal went through, Dunsmuir began to explore coal prospects up and down the Island in the railway belt. In 1884, the Alexandria Colliery3 was opened in the Cranberry District, just south of the Vancouver Coal Mining and Land Company’s Southfield Mine. The mineral rights for the area had previously been owned by early settler and local land owner James Beck, but no substantial mining was done until after Dunsmuir acquired the rights.
The mine didn’t turn out to be as successful as hoped. It ran for just a few years before it was closed down for a decade. But by 1895, work had resumed again at the site, and as was typical of coal mines at the time, a small settlement grew up nearby. The townsite shared the mine’s name and was called Alexandria, a tribute to the Princess of Wales, Alexandra. But in 1899, when the community made an application to the post office, it was pointed out that the name had already been in use for some time in the province.4
The now unused South Wellington name was repurposed for this new Dunsmuir mining community. A likely reason for this was to keep the mine and its coal associated with the Wellington reputation that had already been developed. In reality, this was somewhat of a misdirection, as the mines in South Wellington accessed the Douglas coal seam rather than the Wellington.
On August 1, 1899, the post office opened and the name South Wellington officially moved even further south. Locals describe the boundaries as: “an area bordered on the east and south by the Nanaimo River, [with Cedar on the river’s east bank and Cassidy on the south bank], to the north by what are now Nanaimo city lands [approximately the Duke Point Highway], and to the west by a large forested area and a ridge which separates it from Extension and Cinnabar.”5 This is the South Wellington I know and love, and if you ever hear anyone talk about South Wellington today, this is almost certainly the one they are referring to.
Today South Wellington isn’t as densely populated as it would have been at the time of active mining. Instead of people living clustered around the mine sites, homes are now spread throughout the rural area. Minto Avenue is no longer a main drag with stores and boarding houses, but a quiet residential street.
From 1869, when Dunsmuir made his first discovery at Wellington, to 1951, when the No. 10 Mine in South Wellington closed, coal was king in the Nanaimo region. If underground seams proved profitable, the townsites flourished and grew; but when the coal played out, the towns faded away. The Wellington townsite itself was practically deserted after just a short period, but its influential name spread north, south, east, and west throughout the Nanaimo region, leaving behind clues about coal mining’s impact on Vancouver Island.
1. Viola Johnson-Cull, Chronicle of Ladysmith and District (Ladysmith: Ladysmith New Horizons Historical Society, 1980), 356.
4. Fort Alexandria was opened north of Williams Lake on the Fraser River in 1821, the last fort to be established by the North West Company before it merged later that year with the Hudson’s Bay Company. Alexandria was named after Sir Alexander Mackenzie in recognition of him being the first European visitor to the area in 1793. G.P.V. Akrigg and Helen B. Akrigg, 1001 British Columbia Place Names. (Vancouver: Discovery Press, 1973), 15.
5. South Wellington Historical Committee, South Wellington: Stories from the Past 1880s-1950s. (Victoria: First Choice Books, 2010), 1.
A coworker who hasn’t lived on the Island very long recently asked me if I knew where South Wellington was. My eyes lit up: “Do I? Yes!” Having grown up in the tiny community just south of Nanaimo city limits, I’m always eager to talk about my home town. Those familiar with Nanaimo will also know East Wellington, or at least East Wellington Road. And yes, for a time, there were also coal mining sites called West Wellington and North Wellington in the Nanaimo area. And don’t forget about just plain Wellington, the springboard for all these naming variations. So what’s with all these Wellingtons around Nanaimo anyway?
Wellington was the starting point of it all. Before 1869, the area around Diver, Brannen, and Long Lakes had just a few farms and cabins and was known as the Wellington District. The Comox Trail, a rough path leading from Nanaimo to Comox 120 kilometres away, ran through the area. Now, I haven’t found anything to confirm this, but I suspect that the Wellington District was named some time shortly after 1852. That would be the year that Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington died. Wellesley was an important 19th century British military and political figure. He defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, and served twice as Prime Minister. As one of England’s most celebrated heroes, he was mourned greatly, and was honoured in many ways including a state funeral, a poem by Alfred Tennyson, and a bronze memorial in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. It wouldn’t be surprising if a new district in the fledgling Colony of Vancouver Island was also named in tribute.1
The timeline fits for the district getting a name after Wellesley’s death. Snuneymuxw Chief Che-which-i-kan2, known afterwards as “Coal Tyee”, had brought a canoe full of black rock to Victoria in 1850 for the HBC’s perusal. This led to Joseph McKay being sent to Nanaimo to secure the area on behalf of the company, and coal mining around the harbour got going in earnest shortly after. It would make sense that in the ensuing years, as Nanaimo developed as a townsite, people would spread out into the surrounding areas, resulting in those districts being surveyed and assigned their own names. Maps from 1859 show that the nearby Cranberry, Cedar, and Mountain Districts had also been named by this time.
In 1869, independent miner Robert Dunsmuir discovered coal near Diver Lake, just outside of the northern boundary of the Vancouver Coal Mining and Land Company’s property. (The HBC had sold its Nanaimo interests to the VCML in 1862). Further investigations in the area led Dunsmuir to uncover a thick new coal deposit which he called the Wellington seam. This coal discovery led to the development of Dunsmuir’s successful Wellington Colliery, with a townsite, Wellington, growing up nearby.
The original “old” Wellington townsite was north of Diver Lake and was made up of company houses for the coal miners and their families. Robert Dunsmuir died in 1889, but the Wellington Colliery remained in operation under the direction of his son James. With the success of the mines, more people came to the area, and starting in about 1890, James Dunsmuir allowed lots to be sold off to miners in a “new” Wellington townsite not far away. This would be the area on the south shore of Long Lake, with numbered streets (now 101 – 107), and distinctively British avenues.3
With the huge success of Wellington coal, the town grew fast, eventually reaching a population of over 5,000, which was larger than Nanaimo’s at the time. But by the late 1890s, the mines were no longer the high producing operations they had once been. The Wellington Mines closed one by one, especially once a new coal discovery at Extension drew the company’s attention southward. A fire in 1899 destroyed many of the town’s key buildings, and others were moved to the new mining communities of Extension and Ladysmith. The population dropped significantly, but Wellington continued on as a rural community until it was eventually amalgamated with Nanaimo in the 1960s.
Few remnants of Wellington can still be see today. Some of the homes located in Extension and Ladysmith originally came from Wellington; they were transported by rail to their new locations when the miners moved away from the fading Wellington Colliery to work at the new Extension mines. Other larger buildings were also moved to Ladysmith from Wellington: the Anglican Church on Buller Street; the Temperance Hotel at the corner of First Avenue and High Street; and the Jones/Miner’s Hotel on Gatacre Street are a few that are still standing today and appear on the Town of Ladysmith’s Community Heritage Register.
In Wellington itself, the most tangible reminder is the Wellington cemetery, quietly hidden at the corner of Ledgerwood and Cardena Roads. This is the resting place of some of the original Wellington residents, most likely many of whom were miners or their family members. While over 100 burials are recorded, only approximately 25 markers still remain. Many are difficult to read, overgrown, or damaged. The Italian, Belgian, and Finnish names which appear on the remaining headstones reflect the diverse ethnic makeup of the mining families of Wellington. Formally recognized on the Canadian Register of Historic Places, the cemetery is quiet and peaceful.
While the current Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District Island ConnectEd buildings (formerly Mount Benson Elementary School) only date back to 1950, the site has a long history as the home of the Wellington school. On May 20, 1875, on property donated by Dunsmuir for the purpose, the Wellington Public School officially opened. This first building burnt down in 1904, but another school was rebuilt on the same site. The second school was also destroyed by fire in 1944, and yet another school was rebuilt on the site. This third school was given the new name of Mount Benson Elementary, and was open until 2008. It now is home to Island ConnectEd, the district’s facility to support distance learning. With over 140 years of public education on its grounds, the site has the distinction of being the oldest known operating public school on its original site in British Columbia.4
The Wellington Inn has also had a significant presence in the area, albeit from several different locations. The original saloon, operated by Charles “Donnybrook” Chantrell, was almost as old as the mines and was near the original townsite on the north shore of Diver Lake. Seeing an opportunity with the development of the mines, Chantrell built a larger hotel in 1875, and despite being called The Wellington Inn, most people called it Chantrell’s. The establishment burned down and was rebuilt at least once while it was near the lake. The hotel was eventually rebuilt in the new Wellington townsite, where the present Wellington Pub and Liquor store still operates on Victoria Avenue.
1. In 1852, Vancouver Island was still its own colony. It was created in 1849, and was a separate entity until 1866, when it was joined with the mainland Colony of British Columbia.
2. Also seen as Ki-et-sa-kun.
3. Apsley Avenue was likely named either for Henry Bathurst, 2nd Earl of Bathurst, who was the Lord Chancellor of Great Britain from 1771-1778, and was known as Lord Apsley, or for his home, Apsley House, which was eventually sold to Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington; Wellesley Avenue was another tribute to Arthur Wellesley; Victoria Avenue named for Queen Victoria who was the reigning monarch at the time of Wellington’s development; and Corunna Avenue was likely named for the Battle of Corunna, which was considered a memorable British tactical victory against the French in the Napoleonic Wars. The naming pattern (numbered streets and British avenues) is reversed in Ladysmith, which was also named by James Dunsmuir, where the avenues are numbered and the streets carry names of British Boer War officers. For more info on Ladysmith’s street names see: https://www.ladysmithhistoricalsociety.ca/histories/street-names/.
4. For more information about the history of the school site see: http://www.mountbensonschool.ca/. Note: There is also a high school in Nanaimo called Wellington Secondary. This is at a separate site at 3135 Mexicana Road. The high school opened in 1967, initially as a junior high, but now has grades 8 through 12.
Recently I’ve been transcribing recordings of presentations given at Nanaimo Historical Society meetings during the 1960s and 70s. The one I’m working on now is an address by Patricia M. Johnson from 1968. The topic of Johnson’s presentation was Dr. Klein Grant, a pioneer doctor in Nanaimo during the city’s early days.
Johnson originally became interested in Grant after encountering his headstone in the pioneer cemetery at 10 Wallace Street at the corner of Wallace and Comox Road in downtown Nanaimo. This cemetery, Nanaimo’s original, is the third oldest in British Columbia after Fort Langley and Victoria. It was used up until 1895, and although it’s hard to think of it that way now, it was most likely considered outside the downtown core when it was established.
One hundred years after its first known burial in 1853, the cemetery had fallen into quite a state of disrepair, with overgrown grass and blackberry brambles, and damaged monuments and markers. The newly formed Nanaimo Branch of the British Columbia Historical Association1 was deeply concerned about the state of the cemetery. In 1953, the group, including Johnson, made a record of all the stones still standing and a sketch of their original positions.2
In 1958, as their B.C. Centennial Project, the Hub City Kiwanis Club cleared the site, grass was planted, and with the help of the Historical Society members, the remaining monuments were placed in a curved stone wall. By 1960, the project was completed and the site was officially converted into a memorial park by the municipality. Dr. Grant’s monument was one of the markers placed in the wall.
Patricia Johnson was curious about this little known Nanaimo pioneer. At the time of her visits to the cemetery, she could still read the inscription (today it’s very difficult to make out):
Here rest the body of KLEIN GRANT, M.D. Who died May 27, 1873 Aged 68 Years
A learned man A kind physician A courteous gentleman
Johnson was intrigued and she wanted to know more. Who was this man with the marble headstone with such a beautiful epitaph?
So she conducted research and put together an interesting report on Dr. Grant. In brief: she found that before coming to Nanaimo he had been a prominent physician in England, with a home and office in Bedford Square, and an important position at theAldersgate School of Medicine.
During her search Johnson came across the rumour that Grant had been the editor of The Lancet, a prestigious medical journal. With the assistance of the journal’s staff, she found this to be untrue, but she was very curious about the fact that Grant had apparently lived on the same street as the man who was the editor.3Thomas Wakley, the founder of The Lancet, did indeed live at #35 of Bedford Square. Johnson speculated that the two men, being from the same profession, must have known each other, and wondered if Grant had in fact been a contributor to The Lancet.
In 1968 it was probably nearly impossible for Johnson to determine if Grant was a contributor to The Lancet without a serious amount of effort, possibly even a trip to the UK. But 50 years later, I can easily confirm that Dr. Klein Grant did publish at least two articles in The Lancet, just as she had suspected:
“Subscription for the widow and children of the late Dr. Ryan” was published on March 20, 1841 (Volume 35, Issue 916, page 903), and “The North London Medical and Surgical Institution at Islington” was published on May 21, 1851 (Volume 73, Issue 1864, page 522).4
In addition to these articles, Grant also published some longer material: in 1839, he produced a revised, corrected, and enlarged seventh edition of Lexicon medium ; or Medical dictionary. This was described on the title page as “containing an explanation of the terms in anatomy, human and comparative, botany, chemistry, materia medica, midwifery, pharmacy, physiology, practice of physic, surgery, and the various branches of natural philosophy connected with medicine,” and would most likely be the “medical treatise, for family use, which had an immense sale” that Johnson referred to in her presentation. On the title page of this substantial eight volume set, Dr. Grant is listed as “late senior physician to the Royal General Dispensary and lecturer on the practice of physic at the Aldersgate School of Medicine, extraordinary member, and former president of the Hunterian Society of Edinburgh.” Additionally, in 1842, he edited Memoir of the late James Hope, M.D., physician to St. George’s Hospital with historian Anne Fulton Hope (the subject’s wife).
Patricia Johnson also apparently found evidence that Dr. Grant had at one time had some poetry published (she doesn’t give any details). The library worker in me knows that this will be nearly impossible to find any more information about, primarily because of the typically poor indexing of poetry anthologies. Even without proof of his more literary pursuits, it is clear that Dr. Grant was a highly learned man, respected, and well published while he was in England.
He travelled to Vancouver Island in 1862, acting as the ship’s doctor on the ill fated, Rosedale, which ended up running aground on Race Rocks, resulting in the doctor losing everything but the clothes on his back.5 He then came to Nanaimo for a job as the colliery doctor for the Vancouver Coal Mining and Land Company, replacing the community’s first physician, Dr. Benson. But Grant’s life in Nanaimo ended up troubled with drink; he died in 1873, and in the words of Canon John Booth Good, who served at the Anglican Church in Nanaimo until 1866, Grant was “unwept, unhonoured, and unsung.”6
This is actually a line of Sir Walter Scott’s, from his 1805 narrative poem, “The Lay of the Last Minstrel: Canto VI”:
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentered all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonoured, and unsung.7
In her presentation Patricia Johnson reads another excerpt from Canon Good’s journal which suggests Good knew more about the story behind Dr. Grant’s immigration to Canada: “He lost his standing, and the confidence of the public, compelling him to give up wife, home, and country, and flee away to where he was not known.” Was Canon Good simply using the “unwept, unhonoured, and unsung” line from Scott’s poem because he felt the words fit Dr.Grant’s sad end as an alcoholic in Nanaimo? Or perhaps he was making a larger comment on Grant’s exit from England after the loss of his “fair renown” – the loss of his reputation.
A very curious thing about Dr. Klein Grant is that he has another tombstone. In the graveyard of St. John the Baptist Church in Hope Bagot, Shropshire, England, his name is listed on a family stone along with Anne Morgan, who was the daughter of a former rector of that parish. The epitaph reads:
Klein Grant & Anne Morgan tombstone – Hope Bagot, UK
In Loving Memory of KLEIN GRANT M.D. who died at NANAIMO
N. AMERICA 27th May 1873, Aged 68 years Also of ANNE MORGAN, his wife Eldest daughter of the late
Rev. DAVID JONES Rector of this parish Died 14th May 1891, Aged 75 years “In Christ shall all be made alive” 1 Cor. 15. 22
Very interesting! So Dr. Grant did leave a wife behind in England when he set out for Canada. Her parents, the Reverend David Jones and Joan Elizabeth Jones, are also buried in the same graveyard, and according to the inscription on their grave marker, Rev. Jones had been the rector of the parish for 28 years: from 1840 until his death in 1868. It is not surprising that with such a long family connection to the church at Hope Bagot that the graveyard there was Anne’s final resting place, but why didn’t she go to Canada with her husband?
When he left for Canada in 1862, Grant was about 56 years old; Anne was about 45, certainly old enough to make a contemplated decision. Was his drinking the issue that tore them apart? Or did his addiction only begin once he was alone in North America? Was the separation in fact related to a professional mishap? Did they have children? Did Anne place the tombstone in her home parish’s graveyard after she received word that her estranged husband had died in Canada, with her own name to be added later? Just like Patricia Johnson in 1968, I feel like there are so many unanswered questions!
But one thing is clear, even if Canon Good felt that Dr. Klein Grant was “unwept, unhonoured, and unsung”, this wasn’t actually true. Someone cared enough to purchase the lovely marble headstone in Nanaimo, as well as a second headstone in Hope Bagot…not bad for a guy who was apparently professionally ostracized, was estranged from his wife, and who drank himself to death.
2. When introducing Patricia Johnson for her November 19, 1968 address, William Barraclough refers to a booklet that was printed with an inventory of the tombstones at the time of the restoration work.
3. Johnson’s research led her to information provided from a Miss Eleanor Grant, an assistant editor at The Lancet. Miss Grant researched Dr. Klein Grant (no relation) in British medical directories and found him listed in 1854 as living at #49 Upper Gower Street, Bedford Square, which she said was just two houses away from the first editor of The Lancet. It’s well documented that Thomas Wakley, the founder of The Lancet lived at #35 Bedford Square. A look at the Internet Archive’s full text version of the British Medical Directory for England, Scotland and Wales, 1853also lists Grant at #49. The two men therefore lived reasonably close, certainly in the same neighbourhood, but they were not “just two houses away.”
6. Excerpt read from Canon John Booth Good’s journal by Patricia Johnson as part of her presentation to the Nanaimo Historical Society on November 19, 1968. Audio recording and transcript available in VIU Library’s VIUSpace at: https://viurrspace.ca/handle/10613/218