Mining conflict spread into Ladysmith — Chronicles From The Past

In this second column in a two-part series, Ed Nicholson of the Ladysmith Historical Society shares news about the miners' strike of 1913.

This is the final part of a series contributed by Ed Nicholson of the Ladysmith Historical Society regarding the coal miners’ strike in 1913. The first part was printed Aug. 27.

Finally, after the conflict spread to Ladysmith, the editor could no longer ignore the situation. With the breaking of windows at a number of strikebreakers’ houses and the bombing of the Temperance Hotel and Mckinnon home, Sam Carley was obliged to make the following comment in the August 16 issue: “The Chronicle has to apologize for the lack of news in this issue. There is any amount of news to chronicle, but the less said at the present time is easier amended.”

Carley then elaborated in a longer editorial to explain the paper’s position. Under the heading “Militia Now in Control,” he wrote: “When the trouble between Canadian Collieries and their employees first commenced 11 months ago, the Chronicle took the position that it was not the case for newspaper comment … and we are continuing this policy, even under the present deplorable conditions. The Chronicle will avoid saying anything that might be misconstrued, and possibly lead to a further confusion of the serious matters that will have to be settled sooner or later. The Chronicle from the beginning has avoided the confidences of both sides to this dispute, and believes now that it has pursued the wisest course. To give anything like a full account of the events of the past week would not help matters at the present time.”

The paper for Aug. 19 did its best to ignore the tension in the town completely. A brief item under the caption “The Situation” indicated that a number of men in Nanaimo and Ladysmith had been arrested “for being concerned in the recent disturbances.” But that is all.

However, by Aug. 23, the dispute could no longer be ignored. Although there is no mention of torchlight marches, damage to property or confrontations involving strikers, strike breakers and the provincial militia, the paper did mention that there had been  “numerous arrests, in nearly all cases the charges being unlawful assembly. It is stated that about 140 men have been arrested at this time in Ladysmith, Wellington and Extension, and that more are to follow.” The Chronicle also reported that the Chinese Consul visited Ladysmith and indicated that he would ask the government to reimburse the Chinese residents for their losses through destruction of buildings and theft of property. In a page two editorial, Carley attempted again to focus local attention away from the strike.

“We can see no reason why the people of Ladysmith should take a despondent view of the future of the city. Apart from the vast coal resources in the vicinity, there is some of the finest agricultural and fruit land surrounding the city. This, in time must develop a profitable trade. In fact, during the 12 months the mines have been practically idle, business from the country has been growing and has enabled the merchants to keep their doors open. Ladysmith should become the center of a profitable agricultural based community. We know of no place with brighter prospects, and, as we have said before, the present troubles of the labor market should not discourage us.”

It was logging, not agriculture that eventually succeeded in revitalizing the Ladysmith economy. Carley never lived to see the recovery he predicted. He died five years after the strike, one of the last local victims of the influenza epidemic of 1918.

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