When the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway (the E & N) was completed in 1886, it ran close to the top of Oyster Harbour and through what was to become Ladysmith. In 1898, a coal mine was opened at Extension, 11 kilometres to the northwest; some miners lived there, but most lived at Oyster Harbour.
A railway line was built between the mine and the coal wharf at Oyster Harbour and the trains carried miners to the mine in the morning and back in the afternoon as well as hauling coal during the day.
The two railway lines crossed over on the northwest edge of Oyster Harbour so it was necessary to lay a diamond-shaped section of rail with trains being controlled from a signal tower nearby (the switch levers are presently situated at the junction of First Avenue and Warren St. being part of the Ladysmith Heritage Walk); thus the area became known as the Diamond. The signal tower was eventually moved near the Comox workshops, but caught fire and had to be demolished as it was unsafe.
In 1900, Oyster Harbour was renamed Ladysmith by Robert Dunsmuir when he heard of the relief of Ladysmith, South Africa, where British troops had been besieged by the Boers. While the Diamond was part of the development of the area, it has never been included in Ladysmith’s administration, being under the Cowichan Valley Regional District.
As settlers, like the Pollocks (Robert born 1861 in Scotland), the Dohertys, the Herlinveauxs (he had a shop and a dance band) bought and developed land from about 1900, it took on a separate identity.
A plot might have a cow or cows, pigs and chickens, fruit trees, vegetables and maybe a hay field, produce going to family or shops. The Diamond is approximately the area bounded by Grouhel Road. down to Christie Road. as far as Pollock’s Corner.
Children had many chores to do around the house or holdings; some delivered groceries, but it was not all work; there were picnics at Ivy Green and Shell Beach on the other side of the harbour. Newcastle Island, swimming at The Point (near where Timothy Oysters processing plant is now) is where children were taught to row a boat so they could visit relatives and friends across the bay. Softball, hiking, and fishing were popular; sledding down Cemetery Hill, skating on frozen ponds; in summer there was strawberry and blackberry picking. (Robert and William Pollock families of the Diamond Crossing)
Older children used to walk up Cemetery Hill, along Third Avenue to the Ladysmith school; (in the early 1900’s there was a 9:00 p.m. curfew for children and woe betide you if the village constable caught you out!). When the Diamond School was opened in 1912, it also served as a social centre for whist drives, dances, etc.
The school was closed on several occasions, re-opened, but finally closed in 1989 at an emotional meeting of teachers and students. It remained empty until 2003 when Judy and Terry Whittaker leased it and turned it into Ladysmith’s Little Theatre, producing many plays.
In 1900, there was no road over the railway at the Diamond, with traffic going through Cedar to Nanaimo.
The first Diamond Bridge was built in 1910; this was demolished in 1950 and a new one built. In 1960 it was closed when a loading shovel being hauled on a flatbed on a rail wagon damaged a supporting column. This lasted until 1999 when the present one was built with a tunnel underneath for train traffic.