Ladysmith has had and can still point to its share of old character buildings. If walls could talk some would make Madonna blush, particularly the hotels/beer halls of the early 1900s.
The Chronicle building, gone now from its location on Roberts Street at 2nd Avenue, didn’t have a licence to serve booze but that could not have mattered at the time because there were more beer bottle caps within its walls than you will find today at the Junction Bottle Depot. Maybe the goal was to stuff enough bottle caps through the knot holes into the walls to serve as insulation. Goodness knows, there was no other insulation in that building.
Mayors and aldermen dropped in to talk of their hopes and dreams for the town. The late mayor Bob Stuart was a frequent Sunday morning found-in. Fire Chief Bill Grouhel arrived most Tuesday nights as the paper was being prepared for press. The good Reverend Mugford tried to keep everyone on the straight and narrow. Elmer Blackstaff was another frequent visitor as were members of the local constabulary who knew late-night coffee was on at The Chronk. Many of the RCMP officers serving Ladysmith in those days had hockey backgrounds and when former National Hockey League great Babe Pratt, in the role of ambassador for the Vancouver Canucks, was invited to come to town and hold a hot stove league session at The Chronk, law and order on the streets may have been temporary under-served such was the attendance.
The sway-back roof of the building was a concern and after an extremely heavy snowfall in 1975, master-builder Lloyd Fair was asked to check it out. Contrary to its appearance he pronounced the building safe, saying an aircraft could land on the roof. So it was to be that 15 tons of newsprint would later be stored within its walls in preparation of a pulp mill strike. The Chronicle had said goodbye to the building in 1978, moving to the empty Overwaitea building on High Street in order to accommodate the installation an 80-foot long web newspaper printing press.
But memories of the old building linger because through good and bad times it had character where the new building did not. John McNaughton could speak of the bad times because he operated The Chronk from the old building for 30 years. When he sold the paper, in 1974, when interest rates were in the 18-percnt range, he said he made more money from interest than he did from the newspaper. But he didn’t mind, he said, because the little paper had fed and housed his family.
In keeping with character it was from the old building the Chronicle’s now famous “banana edition” emerged. Following Christmas, in 1974, snow almost buried the Island but for one reason or another there was none in the Ladysmith area. Featuring a big, yellow banana across its front page, the Chronicle proclaimed Ladysmith to be the banana belt of Vancouver Island. The next morning as the newspaper was being distributed it snowed nearly a foot. Even CBC-radio took notice, bringing a little attention to the town. Grocer Keith Gourlay had fun with it, announcing he was shovelling bananas from his sidewalk, not snow.
Character? The old Chronicle building had it to spare –enough coal dust in the attic to fuel the logging trains of the day, lumber so aged you couldn’t drive a nail into the walls and the latest in wind tunnel technology ( AKA knot holes in the walls through which the winter winds threatened to freeze you like a popsicle).
Contributed by Rollie Rose
Images added by LDHS from their files