Talk of bridge to the Mainland put on hold as WWI starts — Chronicles From The Past

Compiled of historical stories and happenings by Ed Nicholson, the Ladysmith
Historical Society

May 1914

Victoria City asked Ladysmith council to support a resolution being sent to Ottawa requesting that a bridge between the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island over Seymour Narrows be built as soon as possible.

A direct rail link to Vancouver Island had been promised by the federal government as one of the terms of B.C. joining Confederation in 1871. The City of New Westminster, for obvious economic reasons, had lobbied aggressively for a southern railway route which would pass through the Fraser River valley. The “mid route” favoured by all Island communities would run through Bute Inlet across from Seymour Narrows, north of Campbell River on Vancouver Island. This route required extensive tunnels and bridges, including a long span across Seymour Narrows itself. From there, the railway would run south to Victoria, largely along the route of today’s Esquimalt and Nanaimo railway.

The issue was put on hold with the beginning of the First World War in August.

May 29, 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the CPR liner the Empress of Ireland in the St. Lawrence River after a collision with the Norwegian collier SS Storstad. Of the 1,477 persons on board the ship, 1,012 (840 passengers, 172 crew) died. Only four children of the 138 children aboard the ship were rescued. The number of those who were killed is considered the largest Canadian maritime accident in peacetime.

It was reported that a number of local residents were related to passengers on the Empress of Ireland, including relatives of the Hogan, Griffith, Whitelaw, Cooper and Dixon families.

One survivor was a former resident of Ladysmith: Dr. F. Grant, who had once shared a practice in Ladysmith with Dr. A.C. Frost. Dr. Grant was acclaimed as a hero in the sinking of the Empress after he managed to revive a number of passengers who would have otherwise succumbed to exposure. (For more information see the Ladysmith Chronicle online.)

May 1939

Our small community was all-abuzz in May of 1939 with the opening of a World’s Fair in New York City at the beginning of the month, and the arrival of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in Victoria on May 29.

Mayor Walkem declared May 30 to be a civic holiday in Ladysmith, and at 8:45 in the morning of that day, 287 children from the town left for Victoria by bus to greet the royal couple in person.

Although many parents and other residents took the opportunity to go to Victoria as well, the students were supervised by their teachers. Parents were not allowed to take charge of their children until after the ceremonies were completed at Beacon Hill Park. The coaches left Victoria for the trip home at 6 p.m.

May 1969

The Ladysmith Ratepayers Association invited Mr. Frank Ney as a guest speaker at its Annual General Meeting in 1969.

At the time, Mr. Ney was operating Nanaimo Realty. Ney’s speech was provocatively entitled “Why Ladysmith has not kept pace with Nanaimo.” (Nanaimo and Ladysmith at one time were the same size.)

According to Ney, success depends on the “mood of the people.”

“There is the potential to double the size of pulp and paper production in the area. Ladysmith residents and merchants should try to spruce up the town. Add window boxes and flowers. Plant trees on First Avenue. Plant flowers everywhere and turn Ladysmith into a “City of Roses.” Haul in sand to make beaches on the waterfront and clean up the shore area. Create a balance between recreational and industrial land use.

“Your town,” he argued,  “can compete favourably with many larger communities because of your low overhead. You need to make your town unique and then sell it to the world.”

As many readers are aware, Frank Ney “practised what he preached.” He was Mayor of Nanaimo for 21 years, beginning in 1962.

Ney could often be found in a sea-going bathtub dressed as a pirate, or riding downtown in a wheelchair to demonstrate the lack of rounded curbs in the Hub City.

Ney passed away in Nanaimo in 1992.

Compiled by Ed Nicholson, Ladysmith Historical Society