A talk with our first native daughter

The following article appeared in the December 12th, 1995 issue of the Ladysmith-Chemainus Chronicle.

Louise Erskine does not look 91 years old. Nor does she have the memory of a 91-year-old.

This gracious lady, who now lives in the Ladysmith General Hospital Extended Care facility, has nearly total recall of her childhood.

Ask her just about anything of Ladysmith, since the time she was four years old, in 1908, and she can tell you.

Mrs. Erskine was the first white female child born after the town incorporated in June, 1904. She was born July 19 that year.

What’s changed in town since then?

Well, in her lifetime she saw the first automobile roll into Ladysmith and the arrival of electricity.

She will tell you that when tap water was introduced to the population, it made a vast difference.

“Before that we were on wells. Tap water contributed to cleanliness in the home and it was a real improvement to our lives.”

She saw radio, the telephone and television come to Ladysmith.

“Electricity was great, just being able to turn on the lights was magnificent, instead of using coal-oil and gas lamps.” she recalls.

“In those days Ladysmith was made up of families from Finland, Belgium, China, Austria, Scotland, and Italy, all of whom came here to work in the coal mines. Each nationality had its quarter and they struck pretty much together.”

Mrs. Erskine also has memories of the miners’ strike, starting in 1912, when soldiers came to keep the peace.

The army surrounded my mom and dad’s hotel (The Queen’s) while searching the town for ammunition.

queens-hotel
Queens Hotel – Ladysmith

“The soldiers didn’t change our lives very much, but they did others.”

Mrs. Erskine, born Louise Delcourt, married Jim Erskine when she was 20 and had two children, Robert (Doreen), and Geraldine (Mrs. Stan Rukin), both of whom live in Ladysmith.

erskine-wedding
May 10, 1924 , Jim and Louise Erskine on their Wedding Day

She has 10 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren.

Another early memory was her parents buying a piano, in the1920’s from Fletchers in Nanaimo.

Mr. Fletcher came to Ladysmith every month to pick up our $1 payment.” she recalls.

She can tell you, also, the names of 17 hotel/pubs in Ladysmith in those early days —the Portland, Pretoria, New Western, now the Ladysmith Inn, Temperance, across from the Post Office; Europe, now the Islander; Travellers, the Ross, where the Lung Fung Restaurant now stands; Columbia, Abbotsford, Bayview, Kings, Queens, Pilot, Cecil Jones, Grand and the Frank.

“Those coal miners were thirsty when they came home at night,” she laughs.

Ladysmith was that area between Symonds and Methuen Street and the Esplanade and Sixth Avenue.

There was a stable in town, Siler’s Livery, where the library now stands, and there were three silent movie houses, each of them featuring a piano player.

Johnny the Jazz was one of two shoemakers and Ladysmith had a single police officer, Tom McConnell, who carried a big, baseball bat instead of a gun. He was hired by the city before Charlie Allen Sr. The provincial police followed Allen.

Kids were home by curfew or Constable Tom went looking for them.

“My husband used to call it a one-horse town,” she laughs, and while that may or may not have been true, the same cannot be said of the cattle,, of which 50 to 100 often used to be driven up the main street.

Jim Erskine was a fine boxer, and was chosen in  Scotland to go to the 1920 Olympic Games in Belgium.

“His mother died that year, so he didn’t go. Instead he came to Canada ” says Mrs. Erskine

He was later invited to spar with world champion Jimmy McLaren when McLaren came here to fight an exhibition match with B.C. champion Johnny Morgan, who lived in Ladysmith Eventually, Mts. Erskine talked her husband out of the ring.

Erskine-1949
Jim & Louise Erskine 1949

Time has flown by now and Mrs. Erskine says most of her friends have gone.

She is happy that close friends Elsie Cullen, Mary Rogers, Sarah Robertson and Thelma Gregson are all still with her.

What does she think of Ladysmith today?

“I am just amazed at the growth and change.”

 

A few years ago, one of the new streets in town was named after the Delcourt family and this was one of her greatest thrills.

She’s a fine lady and if you are at the hospital and are interested in history drop by and say hello.

She has a treasury of memories yet to tell.

Contributed by Rollie Rose

Photos added by LDHS from their files

Louise passed away in 2001 and her husband, Jim preceded her in 1992. Both are buried in Ladysmith cemetery.