Thirty Years ago, a group of concerned citizens noticed that the appeal of the First Ave business district had suffered over the years. Many of Ladysmith’s earliest buildings intact, some moved from other locations in early 1900, and little new construction since WWI, the streetscape was predominantly that of an Early Twentieth Century Town. Downtown was waiting to be restored to its glory of the past, to be successful for the future. Mayor Kay Grouhel’s initial downtown improvements of sidewalks, concrete curbs and planting of trees had started in the 1970s.
On February 3 1986 Council, under Mayor Alex Stuart, voted unanimously to start the Revitalization of Ladysmith’s Downtown Business District. Mainstreet coordinator Elizabeth Low initiated the process, focussing on corners with the installation of exterior planters, ornamental lights, stairs down to the sidewalks, and the creation of some inviting ‘meeting places’.
The Downtown Merchants Association under President Nita Grant was able to achieve the full cooperation and consideration of business owners and operators to new guidelines designed to bring visual harmony to the downtown core. Residents and work crews rallied together in a spirit of renewal that would have a positive impact on the whole Town.
New guidelines to restore the original ‘charm of the past’ were applied to make sure that Ladysmith’s Heritage Resources, like a time capsule, would be maintained. Future new constructions, materials used, style details and paint colours were all discussed. Exterior changes, both structural and aesthetic from 1986 on would require design approval.
The resulting Heritage Revitalization Advisory Commission, HRAC), took this, and many other related projects since, to meet these objectives. Examples are the restoring of “Aggie” Hall, the metal photo collage outside the Royal Bank, the historic building plaques around Town, and the unveiling of the Transfer Beach Pictorial in June 2016.
Phase I focussed on First Ave and was completed on time with a great celebration on July 25, 1986. After finishing the successful cleanup and improvements, the 2nd phase, focussing on building facades, was well underway. Many businesses participated, continuing into the following year. Up to 10 businesses were designated “Qualifying Heritage Buildings” and were eligible for grants under the BC Heritage Trust.
The Legion was painted top to bottom and a huge blue awning was installed. Other buildings, like Lee’s Goldsmith and Johnson’s Shoes, followed under the program with new windows and doors, adding cornices along the top, using earth-toned materials, and muted shades of paint.
The Downtown Revitalization Project, due to the willingness and participation of Ladysmith business owners, revitalized the economy of the commercial downtown. Ladysmith was named ‘One of Canada’s 10 Prettiest Communities’ by Harrowsmith Magazine in 2000. Among others, HRAC remains an important commission helping to keep Ladysmith’s Heart beautiful and preserving its heritage well into the future.
Contributed by: Bernardien Knol,LDHS Museum Curator