A history of Caring

We are lucky to live in a community as caring as Ladysmith. Just how caring is reflected in a long history of philanthropic organizations in the town. To understand the origin of these organizations, we must understand the social context at the time they were formed.

Before the development of large-scale government and employer health insurance and other financial services in Canada which form the backbone of our social security system (prompted in part by the Great Depression in the 1930s), “‘Friendly Societies” played an important role in many people’s lives as membership provided support in times of unemployment, sickness and bereavement.

An early form of Friendly Societies in Europe were tradesmen’s Guilds set up in the Middle Ages (1100–1500s). Membership was restricted to persons qualified in and practising the particular activity relating to the guild (i.e., stonemasons involved in building the great cathedrals and castles, or coopers making barrels).

Expansion of Friendly and/or Benevolent Societies occurred in the 1700–1800s when the Industrial Revolution prompted large scale migration from rural areas to dense urban factory settings where poor housing, disease and hunger were contributing to significant social misery. Some of these societies were religion-based, while others were purely secular. Some were exclusive with regard to membership, while others were more open in their membership policies. In contrast to the very practical reasons for their existence, many had/have elaborate rites and costumes as a form of “branding,” celebrating their unique identity and providing a sense of belonging to the membership. Such societies formed the basis for a considerable number of Ladysmith’s philanthropic organizations.

On Vancouver Island in the late 1890s, when the focus of coal mining changed from Wellington to the Extension area and the settlement to be incorporated in 1904 as the City of Ladysmith came into existence, there were few state social safety nets in place. Workplace safety in the coal mines — the predominant employer in the town — was poor. Unions were weak and relatively unable to protect the workers. Accidents were common and, at times, disastrous. Early residents sought a measure of security and community through belonging to societies, many of which are still active in our community today; others have died out locally, but are still active elsewhere.

The Masons were an important society in early Ladysmith and continue to be so today. St. John’s Masonic Lodge No. 21 was formed in Wellington in 1893 and moved to Ladysmith in 1901. The Lodge is housed in the St John’s Masonic Temple located at 26 Gatacre Street in downtown Ladysmith. This handsome brick building was constructed in 1913 to replace an earlier wooden building, transferred in 1901 from Wellington, which burned down in 1912. The main principles of Freemasonry insist that each member show tolerance, respect and kindness in his actions toward others, practices charity and care for the community as a whole, and strives to achieve high moral standards in his own personal life. Membership of the Masons is restricted to men.

Also present in early Ladysmith was the Order of the Eastern Star, which female relatives of Master Masons could and still may join. Today this order is open to both women and men; boys may join the Order of DeMolay or the Order of the Builders; and girls may join the Order of Job’s Daughters or the Order of the Rainbow. The Ladysmith Museum holds a number of artifacts, which belonged to local members of the Masons and the Order of the Eastern Star.

The philanthropic arm of the Masons is the Shriners. All Shriners are Masons, but not all Masons are Shriners. To join the Shriners, Mason members must attain the degree of Master Mason. To date, research into the early history of the Shriners in Ladysmith has been unsuccessful. It is not known if a Shriners organization founded in Wellington transferred to Ladysmith along with the Masons or not. If there was no local club, prior to the Cowichan Valley Shrine Club No. 27 being formed in 1964 to which local Shriners now appear to belong, Shriners resident in Ladysmith were likely part of the Nanaimo Shrine Club No. 10.

Mid-Island Shrine Clubs belong to a wider Shriner organization founded in 1870, which provides health care for children via a network of twenty-two hospitals in the U.S., Mexico and Canada without regard to race, colour, creed, sex, sect, disability, national origin or ability of a patient or family to pay.

We in Ladysmith perhaps most readily recognize the Shriners by their wearing Fezes (Turkish style hats) and driving their iconic miniature cars during Ladysmith parades.

There are two organizations tied to the Shrine that are for women only: The Ladies’ Oriental Shrine and the Daughters of the Nile. They both support the Shriner Hospitals and promote sociability. Membership in either organization is open to any woman 18 years of age and older who is related to a Shriner or Master Mason by birth or marriage. The Daughters of the Nile were present in Ladysmith, but little has been found about them at time of submission of this article. Today there are Daughters of the Nile chapters connected to the Cowichan Valley Shrine Club No. 27 and the Nanaimo Shrine Club No. 10.

A society of significant importance in early Ladysmith was the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF), the historic command of which is to “visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan.” Evolving from earlier Orders of Odd Fellows first founded in England during the 1700s, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) is a non-political and non-sectarian co-ed international fraternal order founded in North America 1819. The Odd Fellows was, in 1851, the first fraternity in the US to include both men and women. The organization is also known as “The Three Link Fraternity,” referring to the Triple Links Logo – containing the letters F, L & T (Friendship, Love and Truth).

IOOF Harmony #6 Lodge was established in Wellington in 1883 and appears to have subsequently transferred to Ladysmith about 1901. The lodge was located on Roberts Street, in the upper story of the Opera House/Movie Theatre. This building burned down in 1932. The site today is occupied by the Telus building.

Initially designed as the female auxiliary of the IOOF, but now allowing both female and male members, The Rebekahs were also present in Ladysmith. Laurel Rebekah Lodge No. 9, IOOF, was instituted at Wellington on November 7, 1895; the charter was relocated to Ladysmith on June 12, 1901. The general duties of membership are “To live peaceably, do good unto all, as we have opportunity and especially to obey the Golden Rule: Whatsoever ye would that others should do unto you, do ye even so unto them.”

An impressive OddFellow/Rebekah memorial in Ladysmith Cemetery was consecrated on August 9, 1953. The inscription etched in granite reads “To The Sacred Memory Of All ODDFELLOWS AND REBEKAHS: Erected by Harmony Lodge No. 6 and Laurel Rebekah Lodge No. 9, 1953.” The Oddfellow three ring symbol is at the top centre of the monument: on the north side the letters IOOF and on the south side the letters FLT (standing for Friendship, Love and Truth) are evident.

The Ladysmith Museum was recently gifted a medallion denoting a Rebekah past Grand Noble, but whether this belonged to someone from Ladysmith is not known.

Directly related to the coal mining history of our region is the Ladysmith Healthcare Auxiliary. In 1909 a group of ladies, possibly called “The Miners’ Ladies Auxiliary” gathered to donate their services – possibly  to provide succor in the aftermath of the Extension Mine Disaster of October 5th of that year in which 32 men died. After construction of the Ladysmith General Hospital in 1911/12 (which was financed by and administered under the Miners Accident and Burial Fund) this group became “The Ladysmith Hospital Auxiliary.” Subsequent to the change from a full service hospital facility to a community health care centre, the auxiliary in 2006 changed its name to the current Ladysmith Healthcare Auxiliary (LHA).

The LHA makes significant donations of funding for medical equipment to island hospitals now serving Ladysmith citizens. Numerous other entities providing health care services to our community also benefit from LHA funding. In 2018 the organization donated more than $250k to support local healthcare facilities and health and wellness programs. The LHA operates the Thrift Store at the corner of 1st Avenue and French Street and a gift shop now located in the Healthcare Centre. Other LHA activities include Knitters & Crafts, Meals on Wheels, Youth Volunteers, maintenance of the Doris Gallagher Memorial Gardens located behind the Ladysmith Community Health Centre at 4th Avenue and Symonds, provision of High School Bursaries, Patient Comforts and a Senior’s Lifeline service in partnership with Philips Lifeline.

A regionally extant benevolent organization, which was present in early Ladysmith, but is no longer is the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire (IODE). The Order was founded in 1900 in Montreal at the time of the Second Boer War. Steeped in Empire and Patriotism, the IODE soon became an effective means of supplying comforts to the soldiers in the field.

The Order’s first great undertaking after the end of the Boer War was “the search for the graves of those brave Canadians who sleep on the veldts of Africa.” These graves they marked with fine headstones of Canadian grey granite, and the Order later started a fund to keep the graves green for all time.

Despite the connection between the IODE, the Boer War, the siege of Ladysmith and the naming of our town, it wasn’t until October 8, 1914, that an IODE chapter was formed in Ladysmith in response to the outbreak of the First World War. The 25 founding members chose the motto “strength and honour is Britain’s glory.” This chapter was one of many formed across Canada in a wave of patriotic fervour to aid with the war effort. In addition to assisting the Red Cross with provisioning, attention was focussed on supplying comfort kits containing knitted and sewn articles, jam, candies, cigarettes etc. to soldiers departing for and already in Europe.

Membership of the IODE crossed societal/racial boundaries. Noted in a November 1914 report on IODE activities since the declaration of war “Remarkable among the various groups of women united in this service are the Native Indian Women …. who have contributed the wool used, carded it themselves, and have sent large consignments towards the ‘Field Comforts.’ The Cowichan Indian Women and the Kuper Island Indian Women (who wove their tribal name into each sock) have all associated with this patriotic movement.”

The Ladysmith Museum houses a silver matchbox “presented by Ladysmith IODE for active service, 1919.”

Research to date has failed to come up with information on the later history of the local IODE chapter.

An organization that was in Ladysmith, but about which the author has found little local information, is the Ancient Order of Foresters (AOF). The Order continues to exist, but not locally.

The AOF is one of the oldest of the Friendly Societies. Founded in Yorkshire England in 1790, it was already unequivocally a benefit society by the early nineteenth century and probably was so from its earliest beginnings — stemming from medieval forester guilds. The Ancient Order of Foresters became a registered Friendly Society in 1834. In 1874 the American and Canadian Foresters seceded from the Ancient Order of Foresters and set up the Independent Order of Foresters, which today is based in Toronto and operates an insurance business under the brand name Foresters Financial.

The AOF flourished in the 19th century, engaging in general charity as well as providing financial support for its members. Initially restricted to men, in 1892 membership in the Order was opened to women with the formation of female courts (the word “court” is used instead of “lodge”). Both men and women were entitled to become members provided that they were in work, over the age of eighteen and that their application had been proposed and seconded by a member of the Order. Juvenile Foresters had to be between four and eighteen years of age.

Members paid a monthly contribution which was apportioned to various funds, chiefly the Sick & Funeral Fund, the Management Committee (the salaried administrative body) and the Benevolent Fund. Men who had families or other dependants, and were the main wage earners, could pay a level of contributions which ensured that their families would be supported if they should die or become sick or unemployed.

The presence of the AOF in Ladysmith is indicated by two artifacts in the Museum. A handsome axe, the head of which is painted with “AOF Court 9829” and a completed application form for William John Weaving , a 12-year-old resident of Ladysmith to join Court Quadra No. 4 AOF Juvenile Friendly & Benevolent Society in May 1923. More research is required to put both artifacts in the context of local “courts.” Somewhat enigmatic is that these artifacts refer to the “Ancient” Order, given that the North American Foresters had seceded from the “Ancient” and set up the “Independent” Order in 1874.

Secretive in its rituals and symbolism and somewhat exclusive in its membership policies, The Native Sons of British Columbia (NSBC) was founded in 1899 “for social and recreative [purposes] and for mutual help.” A copy of the constitution of the NSBC dating from 1928 states the organization “seeks to advance the interest and promote the welfare of British Columbia, Canada and the Empire … to assist the Native born in establishing themselves and bettering their conditions in their Native Land, to the end that they may successfully perform their inherited duty of carrying on the splendid work commenced by their forefathers; to encourage a greater respect and appreciation of the deeds performed by the discoverers and the pioneers of this Province, and to ensure the emulation of their fortitude and progress in vital questions of the present and future … this organization is not parochial in its endeavors. It seeks to benefit all and to encourage a co-operation and harmony, which will mean PROSPERITY FOR BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA AND THE EMPIRE” (emphasis theirs). The society’s image suffered due to an anti Asian stance during the 1920s–40s.

The Ladysmith Douglas Post No.7 of the NSBC was formed in the 1920s and was active until 1942. After an hiatus of  three years the post reopened, but later closed again — year unknown.

A sister organization with similar objectives, the Native Daughters of British Columbia (NDBC), was founded in 1919. NDBC Dunsmuir Post No. 7 was established in Ladysmith in February 6, 1931, and closed in 2010.

Apart from a focus on preservation and glorification of the pioneer history of the province, the twin societies (NSBC and NDBC) were involved in philanthropic activities, including funding bursaries, contributing to hospitals and other charities. The Daughters for many years held an annual New Years Eve Dance. They published a Centennial Cookbook in 2004. Their hall on First Avenue, purchased by the NSBC in 1931 and taken over by the NDBC in 1942, is now Eagles Hall, the building having been sold to the Fraternal Order of Eagles in 1993.

The Museum contains quite a number of ceremonial artifacts relating to the NDBC.

Histories compiled by Quentin Goodbody

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