All posts by Marina Sacht

Ladysmith Railway Station Open House

About 50 people attended an open house at the Ladysmith Railway Station on July 21Wednesday evening. The purpose of the event, hosted by the Ladysmith & District Historical Society (LDHS), was to familiarise the community with the building so that the best community use(s) for it could be decided. Now the property of the Island Corridor Foundation, the building has been locked and empty since suspension of rail service in 2011.

Quentin Goodbody, President of the LDHS, addressed the gathering and gave background to the initiative. In February of this year a group of volunteers, under the umbrella of the Ladysmith & District Historical Society, approached the Island Corridor Foundation to see if an agreement could be reached to put the heritage building to use. The ICF responded enthusiastically, and a memorandum of understanding was signed under which the LDHS would try to assess the best non-profit community uses of the building, with the potential of a long term lease being available from the ICF for a nominal fee. Since then, the ICF paid for a new roof, and volunteers have worked diligently to bring the building to its current state which allows the community to see its potential. Apart from thanking the volunteers for their efforts, Quentin thanked the Kinsmen and Rotary clubs for generous financial contributions toward building repairs to date and noted that local firms Heart Lake Roofing and Gutter Gator had been contracted to install the new roof and guttering.

Larry Stevenson, CEO of the Island Corridor Foundation, said that he was very pleased that the community had taken the initiative to put the building to use, and was most impressed with the rehabilitation work done to date. He noted that all but two of the stations along the E&N line were currently being put to community use. Aaron Stone, speaking as Mayor of Ladysmith and as Co-Chair of the ICF Board, said that he was excited about the potential for the building to be an important part of Ladysmith’s waterfront development and to be put to community use, and thanked the volunteers for their efforts.

Goodbody noted that a lot of work remains to be done before the building is in a useable state, and that this will require significant investment. He encouraged interested parties to contact the LDHS with ideas and business plans. Those present, were then invited to tour the building, enjoy its authenticity, imagine potential uses, and leave comments. A number of displays were also on view which put the building in historical perspective.

For those that missed the occasion, other viewings of the building may be made by arrangement with the Historical Society or drop in during their regular work parties every Wed from 10 to noon.

Community Feedback is welcome with an email to info@ladysmithhistoricalsociety.ca

Watch Slide Show here!    https://youtu.be/H4fa-7gTO9U

 The story of British Columbia joining the Canadian Confederation 150 years ago this July 20th

By Quentin Goodbody

Most of us remember the big celebrations across Canada in 2017 to mark the 150th anniversary Canadian Confederation which occurred July 1st, 1867. We in BC joined in the party, but really this was eastern Canada’s celebration because BC did not become part of Canada until July 20th, 1871. This year marks our  150th anniversary!

The story of how BC came about, and how we ended up part of the Canadian confederation is all about colonial expansion.  It has little to do with the First Nations who, after the fur trade days, became disenfranchised and were not afforded any political say.

Colonial expansion into North America arguably started with Columbus discovering the ‘New World’ in 1492 – which was promptly claimed by Spain. Portugal, the other major colonial power of the time, didn’t like that. According to the Treaty of Tordesillas signed in 1494 non-European lands west of a meridian about halfway between the Portuguese Cape Verde Islands and the newly discovered Caribbean islands would belong to Spain, while that east of the line belonged to Portugal. It was irrelevant that Spain and Portugal had no idea about much of the Americas. No one else paid any attention to this treaty, least of all England and the peoples inhabiting the affected lands.

Due to its isolation, the Pacific Northwest remained unmolested by outside influence until the late 18th Century when Russian, American and British fur traders encroached on Spain’s ‘rights. Meanwhile, Spain had been very busy plundering Central and South America since the early 1500s. In 1774 Spain sent Juan Perez up from their Pacific base of San Blas (in modern Mexico) to assess the degree of ‘incursion’ on Spain’s sovereignty. Perez visited Haida Gwaii and Nootka Sound. Captain Cook famously visited Friendly Cove in Nootka Sound in 1778 during his third Pacific voyage looking for the Northwest Passage: reports of his visit and rumours of large profits trading furs to China attracted more outsiders to the area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things started heating up in 1789 when the Spanish returned to Nootka, kicked the American fur traders out, arrested a British captain whose ship carried sufficient supplies to establish a settlement, and seized a number of other ships and their crews, bringing them back to San Blas.  Spain established the short-lived colony of Santa Cruz de Nuca at Nootka and built Fort San Miguel there to cement their ownership of the area.  Britain was NOT happy and a serious diplomatic squabble, called the Nootka Crisis, resulted. War was avoided, with Britain and Spain agreeing not to establish any permanent base at Nootka Sound, but ships from either nation could visit. They also agreed to prevent any other nation from establishing sovereignty. Spain’s intent was not to colonize the area but to use it as a buffer between encroaching Russian influence from Alaska and their more southern, lucrative colonies in Mexico, Central and South America. Spain effectively withdrew from the Pacific Northwest in 1794. Throughout all this, the First Nations had no understanding of what was going on.

Increased visitation by British and American traders followed who realised significant profits selling furs to Asia. Captain George Vancouver’s charting of the coastline in the early 1790s  was one way of asserting British interests. The permanent British presence in the area came later with the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) establishing a series of fur trading forts – Fort Simpson in 1831 (near present-day Prince Rupert) and Fort McLoughlin in 1833 (near present-day Bella Bella) – to intercept inland furs being traded with the Americans. In 1843 the HBC established a fort at Camosun on Victoria’s Inner Harbour: initially called Fort Albert, it was after some months called Fort Victoria.

The 1846 Oregon Treaty between the United States and Great Britain, which established the 49th Parallel as the official border between US and British interests, prompted the HBC to move its headquarters from Fort Vancouver on the banks of the Columbia River north to Fort Victoria on Vancouver Island. In 1849 the British Colonial Office designated Vancouver Island a crown colony and leased it to the HBC for 10 years at an annual fee of seven shillings with the intent that the HBC would encourage British settlement within five years. The idea was that this would halt the northern advance of American influence.  That same year, the HBC established Fort Rupert in northern Vancouver Island – not so much for the fur trade – which was diminishing over time due to over-trapping  – but because of the coal deposits there which had been known about since 1835. With the increasing use of steam vessels, coal became a valuable and strategic commodity. When the Rupert coal mines turned out to be a failure, attention switched to Nanaimo following First Nations reports of coal there in 1851. The establishment of coal mines at Nanaimo heralded the change from fur trading to a settler economy for the colony.

Following a gold rush on Moresby Island in 1851 which saw an increase in American presence, the British Colonial Office created the Colony of the Queen Charlotte Islands to emphasise British sovereignty. A similar gold rush incursion of Americans during the Fraser River Gold Rush of 1858 prompted the establishment of the mainland Colony of British Columbia, which was expanded to the north in 1861 in response to the Caribou Gold Rush.  The three colonies were united in 1866 into the ‘United Colony of British Columbia’ which had the outline of our current province.

The U.S. purchase of Alaska from the Russians in 1867 sandwiched the United Colony of British Columbia between American territories. Britain and the new Canadian confederation formed July 1st, 1867 consisting of Ontario, Quebec (prior to Confederation known jointly as The Province of Canada), New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, became concerned about the Pacific Northwest being annexed by the Americans. It was so very far away – Britain could not reach the colony without either sailing around Cape Horn or the Cape of Good Hope. However, the Americans could get there quicker: construction of the first transcontinental railroad in the U.S. – the Central and Union Pacific connecting San Francisco to Saint Louis – was commenced in 1864 and completed in 1869. Construction of a second U.S. transcontinental railway, the Northern Pacific, started in 1870. At this time, the U.S. definitely had their eye on Britain’s Pacific Northwest.  A report submitted to the US Senate Committee on Pacific Railroads in February 1869 stated: “The opening by us first of a North Pacific railroad seals the destiny of the British possessions west of the 91st meridian. They will become so Americanised in interests and feeling that they will be in effect severed from the new Dominion, and the question of their annexation will be but a question of time.”

Needless to say, Britain and Ottawa, wanting a British dominion stretching from the Pacific to the Atlantic, were extremely uncomfortable with this. During 1870 the Canadian Confederation was extended west through the incorporation of Manitoba (in its original form), and the HBC domains of Rupert’s Land and The North-Western Territory. The United Colony of British Columbia, crippled by debt and seeing confederation as a means to support, agreed to join Canada on July 20th, 1871. BC wanted a wagon road connecting to the east, but Ottawa offered something much better – a railroad. Article 11 of the Terms of Union, reads in part: “The Government of the Dominion undertake to secure the commencement simultaneously, within two years from the date of the Union, of the construction of a railway from the Pacific towards the Rocky Mountains, and from such point as may be selected, east of the Rocky Mountains, towards the Pacific, to connect the seaboard of British Columbia with the railway system of Canada; and further, to secure the completion of such railway within ten years from the date of the Union.”

This was a tall order – hugely expensive, and a massive engineering challenge. Also, there were questions of the route of the railway and where the Pacific terminus would be.  Ultimately, of course, the railway was built, but much later and not without a lot of squabbling, threats by BC to withdraw from the Confederation, and possibly some underhand dealing. It also did not take the expected route or end up with either of the proposed termini – but this is another chapter in our story – one which you can hear in an upcoming Historical Society talk on Zoom July 20th titled “Construction of the E&N Railway: Ladysmith’s role, and the History of our Railway Station”.

Ladysmith Railway Station

An open house at the railway station is planned for Wednesday, July 21, 2021, from 4pm to 7 pm so our community can judge what non-profit use the building can best be put to. Do come!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New talk & Open House: BC 150, Confederation and the Railway: How Ladysmith ties in to the tricky tale of the E&N

July 20th, 2021 is the 150th anniversary of British Columbia becoming the 6th province in the Canadian Confederation. The Ladysmith & District Historical Society marks the occasion with a ‘Historically Speaking’ talk titled “BC 150, Confederation and the Railway: How Ladysmith ties into the tricky tale of the E&N” which explores the promises, broken and fulfilled, leading to BC joining the Canadian Confederation in 1871 and the construction of the Esquimalt to Nanaimo railway between 1884-1886 with extensions to Wellington in 1887 and to downtown Victoria in 1888 original Ladysmith Station, not built until 1900, rapidly became ‘the’ hub of activity in the northern part of the line and remained so ‘till the demise of coal mining at Extension.  Put the present station building (constructed 1943) in context for your visit to the Ladysmith Railway Station’s Open House on July 21, 2021, from 4 pm to 7 pm.

Presented by Dr. Quentin Goodbody, this free talk is via ZOOM. https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81410416877
Meeting ID: 814 1041 6877

Ladysmith’s Early Neighbourhoods

Early Ladysmith BC Canada. Photo: Ladysmith Archives

Were there neighbourhoods in early Ladysmith?  That is a question asked by Ladysmith Museum curator Lesley Moore in a new “Historically Speaking” talk on Tuesday, June 15, 2021

at 7 pm. Sponsored by the Ladysmith & District Historical Society the presentation will be held via zoom and is free to the public. Email for your link museum@ladysmithhistoricalsoceity.ca

“We invite you to be part of the discovery,” said Moore who will be presenting images and maps and taking a look into early records of who lived where prior to the Second World War. “Apparently there was an “uphill gang” and a “downhill gang” with a “no man’s land ‘” in-between,” said Moore. “Was this a pattern of children playing or was this based on neighbourhoods?

How we describe where we live changes with circumstance and Ladysmith for its first fifty years had abrupt ups and downs, she adds.

What identifies a neighbourhood? Come and find out Tuesday, June 15th at 7 pm.

MDA King of Ladysmith talk

If you missed the Thursday, March 18, 2021 6:30-7:30 pm  Historically Speaking series “MDA King of Ladysmith” presented by author Daryl Ashby with guest Cindy Damphousse and Rob Johnson, you will be able to watch it on our YouTube channel. Watch for link coming this weekend.

Activity Report Jan/Feb 2021

It feels like Spring! Days are longer (Spring Equinox is March 20th): Snowdrops and Camelias are blooming, Daffodils budding and leaves bursting. Ya gotta love this time of year!

There is also a spring in our step as we are hopefully beginning to emerge from under the dark cloud of Covid-19.  Although an abundance of caution and continued adherence to Covid protocols are still required due to virulent variants, vaccinations are progressing and people are looking forward to getting back to normality later this summer.

The LDHS, like everyone else, has been affected by Covid. Instead of slowing us down though, the society has been working in different ways, and a lot has been going on. Thanks have to be given to the Federal and Provincial governments for grants to assist with covid-related costs; this has allowed us to switch gears to meet the Covid challenge.

 Archives

A reduced roster of volunteers has continued working  behind closed doors under strict Covid-19 protocols doing archival work, servicing queries from the public by phone or email and conducting research on society contracts and historical subjects of their own choosing.  Housekeeping on the electronic database and computing system has been ongoing.  An inventory of the computer hardware and software was conducted and a strategy for replacement and upgrading implemented.

Museum

A new exhibit, ‘Prime Predators of Vancouver Island’, opened on Family Day February 15th. Twenty-three intrepid visitors came in that day despite the snow. 190 people have viewed the exhibit between February 15-28th, all visits in strict Covid compliance with limited numbers, bubble spacing and strict sanitizing between groups.

The Prime Predator exhibit is a new departure for the museum. Not only does it celebrate and inform about our natural heritage, but it also fulfills a public service by providing information on what people should do if they, say, encounter a cougar or bear on the trails behind the town. Watching kids stare open-mouthed at the cougar, or howl along with the wolves (you can listen to animal sounds by pressing a button), and the “I didn’t know that”s from the adults reading the storyboards has made the six months of hard work preparing the exhibit more than worth it! A huge thank you to the volunteers that made this lovely exhibit possible.

The gallery area upstairs in the Museum is hosting ‘Red Flag Red Flag’, a fibre arts exhibit on Climate Change in the form of multiple triangular pennants, each one a handcrafted design reflecting the effects of Climate Change on our world. Thanks to Val Galvin for curating this exhibit.

During the  winter Museum volunteers have been battling a leaking roof and flooding due to poor perimeter drainage – this requiring shop-vacuuming water, sometimes several times a day, during rainy periods. We are delighted to inform that the LDHS was successful with a CERIP (Community Emergency Recovery Infrastructure Program) grant application (Unique Heritage Infrastructure) and has been awarded $89,000 to repair the roof, fix perimeter drainage and conduct renovations within the building to improve visitor flow, accessibility, space usage and artifact storage. Preliminary discussions regarding the work have been held with the Town of Ladysmith which owns the building.

Industrial Heritage Preservation

The Industrial Heritage Preservation Group has, perhaps, suffered most from the effects of the Covid lockdown as operations at the harbourfront CL&RCo railyard have been in limbo for much of last year and have yet to start up again. Once the volunteers are vaccinated and have built up immunity we can contemplate Saturday morning workbees again. There are lots to do!

We have purchased paint for Loci 11, the Humdergin and Box Car. Hopefully good weather and relaxation of Covid protocols will coincide and let us get on with completing the restoration of these rare artifacts.

A focussed fundraising campaign is being designed targeting purchase/fabrication of key pieces that are missing from Loci 11.  We are eying her 100th birthday in 2023 and would like to have the engine ‘as complete as possible by that date for a grand unveiling.

The loan agreement between the LDHS and the Museum of Port Alberni for the Plymouth 107 gasoline engine has been finalized. We look to the imminent signing and transfer of this engine to Ladysmith. You may remember the dual purpose of getting this engine back: not only did it work at the CL&RCo yard in Ladysmith and thus is of local heritage interest, but also when repaired to running condition it can be used to shunt rolling stock around the trackage – including pulling Loci 11 in and out of her shed.

Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful with a joint LDHS/LMS CERIP grant application for $ to restore the Loci Shed and Car Shop. The south doors to the Loci Shed are in poor shape, and due to safety concerns, cannot be used. We have a tentative arrangement with VIU to assist with the reconstruction of the doors – once we get lumber and $ together to cover costs.

The IHPG continues to work on a proposal for space in the now almost earthquake-proofed Machine Shop as part of the Town’s planned Arts & Heritage Hub component of the Waterfront Development.

The LDHS and the LMS are working together regarding preserving and promoting Harbourfront Heritage. Significant progress has been made on developing a clear understanding of each society’s vision, needs and wants and how best to present these in a unified fashion. Quentin Goodbody and Marnie Craig have been appointed as LDHS and LMS representatives respectively on the newly struck Arts and Heritage Hub Design Steering Committee which is scheduled to hold discussions about how last year’s award to the Town of $3.4mm for Arts & Heritage Hub development will be best spent. The Society is committed to working with stakeholders toward an appropriate balance between retention of heritage features and development of the site.

Communication and Membership

The Society has been focused on increasing communication with members, the general public, other local societies, and the east-central  Vancouver Island heritage community. All this aimed at raising the profile of heritage and the Society and extending its reach to the public.

The LDHS website has been revised and populated with a lot of additional material. The Facebook page is very active with 900+ followers.

Despite the impressive Facebook numbers, our membership remains low – partly due to people forgetting to renew at year-end.  I encourage you to renew either via the website link or contact the Archives (250 245 0100) to arrange payment and receipt. The fee is VERY reasonable – $15.00 per annum for a single, $20.00 for a Family – and goes toward funding activities.

Heritage Week 2021 (February 15-21)

Snowfall at the beginning of the week stopped people from moving about. This prompted extending planned activities to February 28th.

A Covid-friendly outdoor family activity put on jointly by the LDHS and LMS consisting of a ‘Heritage Treasure Trail’ proved very popular. The trail started at the Museum, wound its way through downtown and ended up at the LMS Marina Welcome Centre, with rhymed clues to heritage features along the way and treats and a vintage boat display at the Marina. 257 actually did the Trail; astoundingly the Facebook introduction to the Trail with map and clues drew 4800 views, and the slideshow with answers and information on each of the artifacts was visited 2200 times.

The Annual Ladysmith Heritage Awards ceremony was done by Zoom on Sunday, February 21st. A star-studded cast of recipients included Barrie McDonald, Pamela Anderson, Luke and John Marston and The LMS Heritage Vessel Restoration Group. MC’d by Quentin Goodbody, Mayor Aaron Stone and Chief Roxanne Harris helped give out the awards. Special guests included MP Paul Manley and MLA Doug Routley.  35 computers and devices were logged into the awards on Zoom.  The awards were live-streamed on Facebook , recorded, and as I write this has been viewed 932 times.

Historically Speaking Talks Series

The YouTube recording of Gary Allan’s December 10th talk titled “The Role of Wolves: the lives of wolves, traits, culture and ecological value as an apex predator ” has been viewed 250 times.

Erik Piikila gave a talk in January titled “Ecosystems in the past, changes, and today. Effects of railroad logging, Lessons from the past for Climate Change and Forest Management” which was well received and prompted much thought. His talk has been viewed 243times on the Society’s Youtube channel at the time of writing (March 4th).

Daryl Ashby and Rob Johnson are scheduled to present ” MDA King of Ladysmith” at 6.30pm March 18th. The Zoom link is:  https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81410416877

Don’t miss it!

People and Place Neighbourhood Project:

The final project report, spearheaded by Lesley Moore with help by six volunteers and funded by The Heritage Legacy Fund (administered by Heritage BC) was submitted at the end of  December 2020. The research focused on identifying cultural diversity in early Ladysmith and determining whether there were neighbourhoods delineated by race, nationality, religion, creed and how these varied through time. A Resource Kit presents the project results: it includes an illustrated settlement timeline 1889 to 1939,  townsite maps showing the ebb and flow of Ladysmith population, and evidence of neighbourhoods found in aerial photos, panoramas and streetscape photographs, all arranged chronologically. The kit, kept in the Reading Room of the Archives Building, will be available for use by researchers, community groups, museum outreach programs and Ladysmith schools’ Social Studies and Human Geography classes once pandemic restrictions ease.

CVRD Heritage Inventory Project:

This project involved visiting all the Museums and Discovery Centres between Mill Bay and Nanaimo and talking with staff to understand the focus and ‘modus operandi’ of each facility. Shirley Blackstaff, Marina Sacht and Quentin Goodbody completed a report and submitted it to the CVRD in March 2021.  This inventory is useful for the One Community Project reported below.

“ONE Community’ Project:

Funded by The Heritage Legacy Fund of BC (managed by Heritage BC), the first of two scheduled Zoom workshops was held March 1st with 19 representatives of museums, discovery centres and cultural groups in the area between Mill Bay and Nanaimo. The project has the following aims:

  • Getting to know each other within the heritage community
  • Developing a mid-Island Heritage network
  • Improving awareness and understanding of cultures within our community
  • Developing a strategy to raise the profile of Heritage
  • Developing marketing opportunities, emphasizing Heritage Tourism
  • Leveraging national, federal, provincial and municipal assistance

The second Zoom workshop is scheduled for March 15th.

The Beat Goes On – Music in Ladysmith:

This contract, with the Virtual Museum of Canada, will tell the Town and District’s history through music of the era. An explanation of the project will be posted in the near future on the Website. Volunteers with enthusiasm would be most welcome!! Musical bent would be very useful but is not a requirement.

To wrap up:

Despite Covid-19 difficulties, the Society is very active. Grants from Provincial and Federal governments have defrayed our inability to hold fundraising events. This has allowed us to expand into different areas of activity Like everyone else, we are eagerly awaiting an end to Covid restrictions, but must bide the time ‘till it is appropriate for things to open up. That being said, there is plenty of opportunities for volunteers to assist with current projects (such as The Beat Goes On) without having to gather in person. We look forward to hearing from you!

 

Respectfully submitted by Q Goodbody, President LDHS

Ladysmith Railway Station

Ladysmith Railway Station

What are some of the uses that you would like to see the Ladysmith Railway Station available for?  The LDHS wants to hear from you!

On February 18, 2021, the Ladysmith & District Historical Society and the Island Corridor Foundation (ICF) executed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to give the LDHS a one-year option on the station to explore the potential uses of the Ladysmith Railway Station.

The MOU gives the society a one-year option on the Ladysmith Railway Station. “This will permit the society to initiate a review of how best the building can serve the community’s non-profit sector. Once an acceptable use is defined, the ICF is willing to consider a long-term lease of its property for a nominal fee, this tenure being important for fundraising efforts to support required rehabilitation of the building,” says LDHS President Quentin Goodbody.

“The Island Corridor Foundation believes these historic buildings are part of the communities where they are located, and it is the people of those communities, in concert and consultation with local and First Nations governments, who are in the best position to determine the future use of these buildings. We applaud the LDHS for taking on this initiative and look forward to working with them to bring the station back to life,” says Larry Stevenson, Chief Executive Officer of ICF.

The ICF has undertaken to incur the cost of a new roof during the 2021 calendar year. The historical society is grateful to the ICF for this opportunity.

“It gives us a full year to collaborate with stakeholder groups and community organizations to explore the opportunities associated with Ladysmith Railway Station building,” says Alex Stuart, who, along with Bill Drysdale, is co-chair of the LDHS Train Station Committee.

Although the original E&N Railway Station burned down and was replaced with the current building in the 1940s, there is a lot of history there.

Drysdale, Chuck Forrest and other volunteers have been clearing out the brush, picking up litter and painting the building for the past five years, recognizing the potential value of the vacant station. “We do intend to bring that building back to life,” says Drysdale. A new roof will go a long way towards it being resurrected.

Ladysmith and Courtney are the only vacant stations along the E&N rail line. The stations range in use but have one thing in common — they are not for profit.

What are some of the uses that you would like to see the Ladysmith Railway Station available for? That’s a question the LDHS will be asking a lot this year. Email your suggestions to info@ladysmithhistoricalsociety.ca or phone 250-245-0423.

 

Ladysmith & District Historical Society Receives $89,000 Grant to Repair / Renovate the Ladysmith Museum.

The Ladysmith & District Historical Society is thrilled to announce that it has been granted $89,000 by the Province of British Columbia through the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development as administered by Heritage BC  for repair and renovation of the Ladysmith Museum on First Avenue. This funding, gratefully received, comes through the Unique Heritage Infrastructure Stream of the Province of BC Community Economic Resiliency Infrastructure Program (CERIP).

The LDHS is very grateful to the Province for this significant grant which will allow us to address issues with the building and also improve its functioning as a Museum and community facility,” said Quentin Goodbody, President of the LDHS.

“The money will go toward roof repair, gutter installation, improvement of perimeter drainage and minor renovations to improve space utilization and accessibility. Not only will our community benefit from an improved museum building, but also from the employment that the project will entail.”

The work is anticipated to occur during 2021.

museum in Ladysmith

Ladysmith Museum will be undergoing much needed repairs. 

The Ladysmith & District Historical Society can be contacted by email (info@ladysmithhistoricalsociety.ca) or phone (250 245 0100).

Remembering Isabelle Ouelette

Life-member of the Ladysmith & District Historical Society (LDHS), Isabelle Ouelette worked tirelessly to capture the stories that brought history to life. If Isabelle didn’t know it, it likely was not worth knowing.

Ed Nicholson, another champion of history, spent many hours in the Archives, researching projects with Isabelle.

Here are some of his memories:

Isabelle Ouelette (centre) at book launch of The Gap.

If you have visited the Ladysmith Historical Society Archives (under Tim Horton’s) at any point in the past twenty years, you have probably met Isabelle Ouelette. That is because if the Archives were open, Isabelle was usually there, and once you met her, you are unlikely to forget the experience.

I first met Isabelle in the summer of 2009. My wife and I had retired from our ten years in China and decided to return to the town where my family had first settled in 1899. I had spent part of my childhood in Ladysmith and still had relatives here, so we bought a house in Sunny Saltair and set about getting reacquainted. I had always loved history and was anxious to explore my family roots, so joining the LDHS was a logical beginning. My first cousin, Ruth Weeks, was already a member, so she took me down to the Archives to meet Isabelle.

Isabelle and Ruth were old friends, and at first, Isabelle seemed quite pleased to meet another Nicholson — especially as my aunt Myrtle had been her favourite teacher in Grade 5. In fact, whenever Isabelle introduced me to long-term residents she would say, “This is Ed, one of our new volunteers. He’s Miss Nicholson’s nephew!”

At first, I was a little intimidated by Isabelle. Show up for your volunteer shift at 9:10 in the morning, and you would be greeted by “What took you so long?” or, if she was in a better mood, “Well, look what the cat dragged in!”

Isabelle Ouelette with former Ladysmith Mayor Rob Hutchins at a ribbon cutting for The Ladysmith Archives

But once I got to know her, I discovered that was how she greeted most of the people she regarded as friends, and she had a lot of those! In fact, as long as you were there to volunteer or ask questions, you were most welcome at the Archives.

Isabelle not only knew a lot of people, she knew a lot about the town. She wasn’t one to flaunt her knowledge, but if you asked her a question about Ladysmith, she usually had an answer. And if she didn’t, she would pick up the telephone and call the person who did! I think her many years of working in the town as a telephone operator had given her a basic understanding of how the town was “networked.”

If, for example, you needed to know something about events happening in town, she would pick up the phone and call “Ann at the Rec Centre” or “Barb at the LRCA” or “Nita at Grant’s.” As a very last resort, she might say, “Well, you could always ask Rob Johnson. He always knows something, even if sometimes he gets it wrong!”

Isabelle also possessed an insatiable curiosity. The desire to find out something about the town’s history and then to make certain others learned about it as well resulted in her taking a leadership role in getting this knowledge into print. Isabelle was the major force behind the effort to produce two cookbooks containing family history, photos and the favourite recipes of more than 160 of the families that have contributed to our town’s success. She called, coerced and eventually collected the raw material for the two cookbooks and then convinced other society volunteers to help the families with the editing and assembly of their contributions. Although she was pleased to succeed in getting the two volumes published, I think she was even more pleased with the fact that nearly all of the stories were written or at least narrated by the family members themselves.

Isabelle also had a personal connection and deep respect with both the Métis culture and First Nations traditions. I met with Isabelle and many elders from the Stz’uminus people on a number of occasions while learning about their history. From Isabelle, I learned the importance of the choice of food offered in meals and meetings, as well as the role of simple gifts, like tobacco, to show my respect to honoured guests. Isabelle was deeply concerned about the survival of Stz’uminus history and the importance of helping our neighbours to tell their own stories.

Isabelle loved her TV shows, but she was also well-read. She didn’t consider herself a writer, but in publishing the story of the Gap, she made sure that the full story was told. I could never get her to write down her own stories despite her phenomenal memory, and it was like pulling teeth to get her to talk into a video camera, but I will never forget the summer afternoon when I talked her into taking me on a tour of the town. I would drive for a block and then pull over to the curb so I could write down the oral history pouring out of her memory banks. How I wish now I could have talked her into a second trip down First Avenue, with Marina Sacht recording it all from the back seat!

Isabelle, to use her way of saying it, was never one to “blow her own horn.” She also never “suffered fools gladly,” “had time for uppity people” or those who “never knew when to stop yappin’.” You were also not in her good books if you “screwed up,” “slacked off” or were someone who “was all talk and no action.”

I am sure that many of her own family could tell us about the inherent danger in “crossing swords with Grandma.” But I am equally certain that they had little difficulty seeing the warm and loving person just beneath the gruff exterior. The Isabelle I came to know had a huge heart and a wicked sense of humour, expressed with a raucous laugh and smile that could light up the darkest room. Isabelle could be cranky and stubborn, but put her in front of a group of primary students visiting the Archives with their teacher and she would melt before your eyes.

You know, I can imagine Isabelle reading this and telling me, “That’s a load of BS!” But I will use her own words to prove her wrong. Here is what she wrote in the preface to Cooking Up History Volume 2 in 2010: “At one time I could walk down First Avenue and recognize nearly everyone I met. Today, there are many new faces, and I do not always recognize the children and the grandchildren of my fellow residents, let alone the new arrivals. I have lived in Ladysmith for over seventy years, but despite the rapid growth in recent years, it has managed to retain many of the best qualities of small-town

living.”

Isabelle loved her hometown — and Ladysmith loved her back.

— Ed Nicholson

As Seen in TAKE 5/FEB 2021