Ladysmith had a different profile in the 1970s. Population was around 3,000 souls, most still involved one way or another in the forest industry. Logging trains unloaded at the Ladysmith waterfront log dump, where the logs slid down a ramp into the water. But the trains were not to last and were replaced by highway trucks later that decade.
Crown-Zellerbach was the main employer, its train repair centre housed in that big building that today still dominates the waterfront uplands. The company office featured an attention-grabbing stone wall, all of it long since gone as a result of highway widening.
The downtown had a theatre, a men’s and a ladies’ clothing store, a laundry, a laundrette, a furniture store, the Ladysmith Trading Co., a bowling alley, a jeweller, a shoe store, a hardware store and a Stewart-Hudson hardware and lumber outlet.
Coronation Square opened in 1974, with Safeway as its main tenant. With the arrival of Safeway, the small, Overwaitea store on High Street was closed. Thirty years later Overwaitea, re-appeared under the name of Save-On, the result of a Canada-wide grocery store merger.
In a round-about way, Ladysmith had its fingerprints on that merger. Alex Campbell had sold his 49th Parallel Grocery to Wayne Richmond and moved on to Victoria where he purchased a closed Safeway store and founded Thrifty Foods. Thrifty Foods sold to Solby’s a few years ago and Solby’s recently bought Canada Safeway. A Competition Bureau condition of sale was for Soldby’s to give up four of its Vancouver Island Safeway stores, which were purchased by Overwaitea (read Save-On). For Ladysmith and Overwaitea, it was full-circle.
Kay Grouhel was mayor and while mayor she was elected the first female president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities. She was seldom lost for words, spoke with authority and she was always good for a news story. She was dubbed “Concrete Kate” after introducing angle parking on First Avenue.
The cast of characters was long in those days. Chuck Irving gave the Post Office a long-since lost face (and a song or two), up the street the Growl that Walked Like a Man, grocer Keith Gourlay, couldn’t hide the fact that at heart he was really a pussy-cat.
Bob Geering moved to Penticton after the family store burned, RCMP Sgt Ken (Sudsy) Sutherland took retirement here and became a city alderman, Jon Strom opened the Coronation Square Pharmasave drug store (now Rexall) and the Dalby brothers, Ralph and Howard, serviced most of the marine industry.
The more interesting stores included Ladysmith Trading, owned by Jack and Daryl Rogers; Clarence and Ray Knight’s store and Bob Stillin’s hardware, located where the Fox & Hound pub is now. If you couldn’t find what you wanted in one of those stores, it likely wasn’t to be found on the island.
There are other names to mention and stories to tell, but here’s one for now: John Trueman Wilson, former city councillor and B.C. Tel/Telus lineman for Ladysmith before he retired, faced many odd situations while tending to the town’s telephone system, but none more creepy than what he found under the old Chronicle building, then located at Roberts and 2nd Avenue. Crawling under the building on his belly with only a foot of headroom, he looked up in the semi-darkness to find two eyes staring at him. It was a petrified cat. Exit John Wilson, in a hurry.
contributed by: Rollie Rose
Images added by LDHS from their files