John Bickle was born in Tavistock, Devonshire, England on October 22, 1863 to Thomas Bickle and Louisa Tilley and came to America in the late 1800’s. He met his future bride, Elizabeth Parkes on the ship from England to New York but their union had to wait. Elizabeth’s family from Birmingham settled in Trenton, New Jersey while John worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad for $1.00 per day. Finding the wages and conditions so poor, John returned to England where, conditions were more favorable due to the Franco Prussian war which was raging then. He soon found employment as a miner and became active in the labor movement.
At the urging of his brother Thomas to come to Wellington, John again set sail for North America. Arriving in Montreal and crossing the continent by train, he met Elizabeth in Vancouver where they were married on September 5, 1894 before continuing on to their new home in Wellington. After spending one day working in the mine, John went to work for Simon Leiser Company before establishing his own business as a general merchandiser in Wellington. This store was dismantled and moved by flatcar to Ladysmith where it was rebuilt in 1901. While the store was being reconstructed at the corner of High Street and 1st Avenue where the post office now stands, John operated a store in Extension.
Business prospered during the first decade of the century. Orders were taken and deliveries made. Louis Cellie took and delivered orders to Extension with his white horse and wagon. The great strike of 1912 -14 however shattered Ladysmith’s economy and John experienced the problems of running a business under such conditions. Sympathetic to the miners, he would extend credit and although many honored their commitments when things improved many left town owing bills.
John and Elizabeth had three children, Rebecca Elizabeth Louisa (born August 8, 1896), Ellenor Vera Sarah (born October 24, 1899) in Wellington and John Austin Thomas (born November 29, 1904) in Ladysmith. Rebecca or Ruby as she was known married Jay McCormack in Ladysmith on September 18, 1917 and eventually moved to Ellensburg, Washington. Vera married John Bain Lampert and they resided in Vancouver. Son John became a doctor, marrying Robina Hamilton. He passed away in Parksville on November 29, 1984. Both Ruby and Vera were teachers. Ruby taught at the Diamond school while Vera during the summer holidays would collect outstanding accounts for her father’s business.
The famous Ladysmith “gold rush” was initiated by John Bickle and another local, Walter Miles. Hotel proprietor Lodwich Jones had hired a fellow to re-gild the gold mirror hanging over his bar. When John and Walter spied the stray gold speck outside it sparked a frenzy. Claims were staked and chunks of Gatacre Street were ripped up before the source of the “strike” was discovered.
Keenly interested in city life in Ladysmith, John became an Alderman in 1913 serving in this capacity until elected Mayor in January, 1915. He was also a member of the Ladysmith School Board for several years and an active member of the Board of Trade for the City. In fraternal circles, he was a member and past master of St John’s Lodge, No. 21 A.F. & A.M., Ladysmith as well as a member of the Keystone Chapter in Nanaimo. He was also a Shriner and a past Preceptor of the Knights Templar.
John ran unsuccessfully as an Independent socialist in the 1920 provincial election losing to the Federated Labor candidate, Samuel Guthrie.
Except for a two year stay in Victoria around 1923, John carried on his Ladysmith business for nearly 40 years before his retirement in March, 1943 when his business was sold to J. W. Rogers.
John was not to enjoy his well earned retirement for long. He died at home in Ladysmith on December 16, 1946 following a lengthy illness. He was 83 years of age. Funeral services were held at St John’s Anglican Church. Elizabeth moved to Ellensburg, Washington following John’s death where both daughters lived. She passed away on August 10, 1951 at 85 years of age.