Where the Coronation Mall is now used to be the side of the Eastern Lumber Co. mill

Where the Coronation Mall is now used to be the side of the Eastern Lumber Co. mill

Evolution of Coronation Mall

Ladysmith shopping centre used to be sawmill

Kit Willmot

Historical Society

In 1904, John Coburn, at that time mayor of Ladysmith, built a sawmill at Cassidy on what is now Nanaimo Airport.

Clark Lumber bought it and moved it to the area which later became Coronation Square.

In this area, there was a pond (where Safeway is now) which became a popular skating rink in winter — but not in February 1916 when 10 feet of snow fell in the area.

In 1920, Clark Lumber sold the sawmill to Saran Singh, owner of the Eastern Lumber Co. This  mill employed white men, East Indians and Chinese workers, the latter doing most of the falling and living in shacks facing the highway; “the smell of their pipes was overpowering on a hot summer’s evening,” John Zizac.

A four-km railway ran up the hill alongside Holland Creek, the logs being brought down by a locomotive and single wagon. The outstanding event was when an East Indian died, a funeral pyre of logs was built, the body placed on top and the logs fired — all watched with ghoulish delight by the youngsters of Ladysmith.

The mill closed around 1927.

In 1933, on the hills behind Ladysmith, a violent windstorm blew down thousands of trees belonging to the Rockefeller Foundation, who eventually sold them to the Comox Logging & Railway Co.  They built offices and a large complex of work/repair shops in Ladysmith.

In 1936 Comox started logging and it was officially called the “Salvage Operation.” Their arrival, signifying the salvation of Ladysmith’s economy, was celebrated by the erection of a 100-foot flagpole in civic square, also known as Coronation Square, near the bottom of Roberts Street.

On it was a plaque inscribed ‘To the City of Ladysmith by the Comox Logging and Railway Co. September 1936 First Timber from Ladysmith’. At the same ceremony, the city’s bonds were burned by Mayor W.W. Walkem and council, signifying that the city was debt free, a remarkable achievement considering the years of depression.

In the 1960s there was much building up Davis Road on the southern end of Ladysmith, so when in 1971, council received an offer from a developer to build a $500,000 shopping centre on the old mill site, they accepted.

Work started straight away and Coronation Square was opened on March 4, 1974, with Safeway (built on the site of the pond), and John Strom’s United Pharmacy being the main businesses.

The latter became Pharmasave in 1981 and by 1994 Strom owned six Pharmasave stores and when in 1998, Rexall Drugs bought the Ladysmith Pharmacy, Strom retired.

In 1995, several new businesses were opened and in 1996, Coronation Square was renamed Coronation Mall.

August 1997 saw a spectacular fire which destroyed Field’s store and made Dr. Phelp’s Dentistry and the Bank of Montreal unusable.

The latter operated from portable cabins on the parking lot for many months and many businesses suffered from smoke damage.

The cause of the fire was never determined, being put down to an electrical fault. In the same year, V.W.A. Wine Shoppe opened, selling wines from B.C.’s 30 wineries, a store unique to the Island, one of only three in the province.

The mall has seen many notable events. In 2000, the First Annual Scarecrow Festival was held, run by the Coronation Mall Merchants Association, proceeds from which were given to the Ladysmith Food Bank.

An Oyster Fest, a pumpkin Fest at which the pumpkin pie was certified the longest pumpkin pie by the Guinness Book of Records, presided over by the colourfully dressed King of  Pumpkins, John Meloche.

In 2004, the mall was sold to a Korean investor for $9,900,000 with an office in Maple Ridge; merchants were assured that there were to be no changes in business arrangements.