Keeping our Heritage Alive

The following article appeared in the September 16th, 1997 issue of the Ladysmith-Chemainus Chronicle.

When Kit Wilmot left England in 1989 to come to Ladysmith to be near his son Chris and his family, he had no idea he would become the caretaker of the town’s historical society.

But that’s how things have turned out.

Since Viola Cull died about four years ago, Kit has kept afloat the good ship, the Ladysmith Historical Society, but barely. His only deck hand has been Irene Wyndlow, from North Oyster. The society once had 26 members and was known as the Ladysmith New Horizons Society.

For a town with the rich history of Ladysmith, it is illogical that there isn’t an active group dedicated to documenting its past. But that’s the way it is; in fact, says Kit, the Ladysmith Historical Society isn’t even registered.

“No one ever got around to it, I guess, but there must have been good intentions because we do have a constitution. But, in fact, we exist in name only.”

The gathering of the town’s history sort of peaked at least publicly, in the 1980s when Viola Cull published two books. The Chronicles of Ladysmith, in 1980, and Ladysmith’s Colorful History, in 1985. Before she died, she talked of a third book, but with failing health and poor eyesight, she was never able to get to it.

Kit says reports that Viola left a lot of material for the third book are inaccurate.

“There’s nothing, only material supplied for the last two books.

We returned to owners as much of the material as we could. We even held an open house for people to come and pick up photos and other things, but only a few bothered to show up..”

Since he came onto the scene, Kit has sorted manuscripts, piles of papers, and photos, most of which was submitted for the books, but he says his main interest has been to document the history of the downtown buildings.

He has also created a wealth of files.

He has a file of between 9,000 and 10,000 names, all indexed, and he has another indexed file of subjects.

In addition, he has put together a 300-page scrapbook which contains news articles about the town.

The auld Chronic has helped to this end, being a constant source of information, past and present.

Why does he plug on, alone in this endeavor?

“It’s my hobby. I am aware I am a relative newcomer, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone else interested in doing it.”

You might wonder if he had a background in history, while in England.

“No, he says, “for 25 years I worked in cement manufacturing then I became responsible for a preventative sewage maintenance program for the Thames Water Authority in London.

“But since I was a kid, I have always made lists of things and indexed them.

“Also, before I left home I was involved in translating some court documents that had been written in medieval English and Latin. I found the task interesting.”

As a result, the jump from working with court records dating back to 1500, to the history of Ladysmith, starting around 1900, didn’t really faze him.

“After I got settled here, I started to become interested in the town’s history and I was soon directed to Mrs. Cull.”

Would he like some help now and would he like to see the historical society become active again?

“It would be nice to get it going again,” he smiles, “but so far, no one has stepped forward and indicated an interest.”

Chronicle Editor John McKinley wrote a story about the society a few years ago, mentioning that is had only two names on its membership roll.

“One lady rang me up to say her group, in Nanaimo, has catalogued the headstones in the Ladysmith cemetery. She’s away on a holiday right now, but I expect to see the catalogue when she returns in October.

” I know the town maintains a record of gravesites, but this is a catalogue of headstones and inscriptions.”

Anyone wanting to assist the society can reach Kit at 245-7611.

Maybe one day a revitalized society might one way or another get together with Ray Knight. This man has more knowledge of Ladysmith’s history than anyone in town.

But something should be done soon, because none of us grow younger with the passing days.

Article contributed by Rollie Rose

Kit passed away July 3rd, 2012 and is buried in Ladysmith Cemetery.

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