Badovinac wedding photo, 1908 (Submitted photo)

Badovinac wedding photo, 1908 (Submitted photo)

Croatian miners of old Ladysmith

A history of Ladysmith’s Croatian miners

By Dr. Želimir Juričić

Special to the Chronicle

At the turn of the last century, the communities of Ladysmith and Extension were home to over 80 Croatian miners working in the near-by Extension mine. The Croatian miners and their families lived between the Fourth and Fifth Avenues, in the residential section of Ladysmith, known as “on the hill.” The single Croatian men lived in boarding houses and hotels, while the miners with families lived in their own houses. Most had vegetable gardens and some kept cows pigs and chickens. They all had grapevines and made excellent wine.

In 1903 the Croatian miners in Ladysmith founded the National Croatian Society (NCS), Lodge No. 268, named St. Nicholas, the first such Lodge in Canada. The founding meeting of St. Nicholas lodge was held in the home of thirty-year-old Croatian miner named William “Bill” Keserich. It was attended by eighteen members, who all joined in electing Keserich as their first president. Besides providing it’s members and their families with insurance protection, the NCS offered many cultural and social activities to its members. Soon after it’s formation, the NCS founded the Croatian ‘Tamburitza/ Tamburica’ orchestra, with Jack Djuric as first musical director. By accompanying dancing and singing at concerts and on special occasions, the 12-piece orchestra helped to preserve the musical heritage of the old homeland. Opined one, “there was a special bond of understanding between miners at Christmas, which transcended language and cultural boundaries. We were all of different nationalities, but at Christmas we all got together because coal miners, they all had the same worries and the same way of life. We all loved music.”

In 1904, Croatians helped build the St. Marys Roman Catholic Church in Ladysmith. Father Verbeke was it’s first pastor. The church at times appoined a Slavic priest to attend to the spiritual needs of its Croatian parishioners. Sports were vigorously promoted by all Croatians in Ladysmith. Besides the traditional game of “bocce,” which was regularly played by the older folks, the young Croatian boys distinguished themselves in the game of baseball and especially at soccer, which was a national pastime in Ladysmith. Led by the “Kulaj boys,” Danny and George, the city of Ladysmith soccer team was considered among the best in Canada. With the coming of the depression, the once vibrant Croatian community slowly begun to break up. By Christmas 1929, only a handful of Croatian miners were still working. The membership in the Lodge plummeted to only a few members. At the closing of the mines on April 10, 1931 it moved to Nanaimo, where it continued as a focal point for the Croatian community.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Chakalaka Bar & Grill remains open in defiance of orders from Island Health to close. (Cole Schisler photo)
Island Health seeks injunction against restaurant defying COVID-19 orders

VIHA says Chakalaka Bar and Grill also violating water and sewer regulations with RV hook-ups

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks at a press conference Monday, April 18. (B.C. Government image)
New COVID-19 cases tick down on the central Island

New cases held to single digits three days in a row

CVRD offices on Ingram Street will remain closed for another 14 weeks after flooding last month. (File photo)
CVRD headquarters closed for another three and a half months

Building significantly damaged during water leak

The IIO is investigating after a police dog bit a man during a traffic stop near Ladysmith on April 17, 2021. (Black Press Media stock photo)
IIO investigating after police dog bites man near Ladysmith

RCMP dog bit man during traffic stop on Friday, April 17

Ladysmith Save-On-Foods. (Cole Schisler photo)
$5.4 million in renovations coming for Ladysmith Save-On-Foods

Save-On-Foods would not say when the renovations will begin

In this image from NASA, NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
VIDEO: NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

Families of two of three workers killed in a train derailment near Field, B.C., in 2019 have filed lawsuits accusing Canadian Pacific of gross negligence. The derailment sent 99 grain cars and two locomotives off the tracks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Families of workers killed in Field train derailment allege negligence in lawsuit

Lawsuits allege the workers weren’t provided a safe work environment

(New Westminster Police)
4 youth arrested after 30-person brawl in New Westminster leaves 1 seriously injured

Police are looking for witnesses who saw the incident take place

South Surrey’s Paul Cottrell, who works with the DFO, tows a grey whale out of Semiahmoo Bay Sunday. (Contributed photo)
Dead whale floating near White Rock towed to shore for necropsy

Animal has been dead since at least April 15

Wickaninnish (Clifford Atleo) plays the drum while singing the Nuu-chah-nulth song on the court steps in Vancouver In a picture from April 2018. Photo credit, Melody Charlie.
Five western Vancouver Island First Nations celebrate legal fishing victory

Court ruling confirms Nuu-chah-nulth fishing rights in case dating back to 2003

Sunday’s storm rocked one of the ferries crossing Kootenay Lake. Photo: Dirk Jonker
VIDEO: Storm makes for wild ferry ride across Kootenay Lake

The video was captured by ferry employee Dirk Jonker

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Toddler marks youngest British Columbian to die related to COVID-19

Child one of eight people to die from virus this weekend

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is a independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. to open up AstraZeneca vaccines for all people 40+, set up clinics in hot spots

A total of 13 neighbourhoods and communities will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine

Most Read