Ladysmith's culture and history is marked by the traditions of the Coast Salish (today, the Chemainus First Nations), the 19th century coal mining industry, and oyster farming.
Since the establishment of Ladysmith, local community groups have worked diligently to preserve the town's character. One key initiative was purchasing Transfer Beach in the mid-1960s and developing it as a park.
When a rich new seam of black gold was found in the Wellington area south of Nanaimo in 1898, coal baron (and future premier of British Columbia) James Dunsmuir identified Ladysmith Harbour (then known as Oyster Harbour) as an ideal shipping port.
Miners were encouraged to settle close to the harbour and commute to work via train. The town's name honours Ladysmith in South Africa, which in 1900 was a famed Boer War battlesite. Many downtown streets are named after British war heroes of the period, Robert Baden-Powell (later to found the scouting movement) and Field Marshall Horatio Herbert Kitchener included.
Obstacles and Oyster Farming
In the early 20th century, Ladysmith experienced hardship when 32 men were killed in a mine explosion in 1909 and a bitter miner's strike was crushed by military intervention in 1913. With the coal seams exhausted by the 1930s, logging became a primary industry following a freak windstorm that knocked down many trees above town.
Oyster farming, a low-key business in the area, took off in earnest during the Great Depression as ocean beds were seeded with Pacific oysters and Manilla clams by Walter Jones and Ed Timothy. The latter's family business, Timothy Oysters, continues to pluck bivalves from the tidal flats.
Ladysmith & District Historical Society
Begin exploring Ladysmith's back story at the Ladysmith & District Historical Society, which has a vast archive of photos and documents. The town's history is neatly summarized in Ladysmith: 100 Years, which is on sale here along with a society cookbook filled with favourite local recipes titled Cooking Up History.
Lace up the walking shoes and set out on a historical tour clutching a copy of the society's Heritage Walk brochure, which is also available at the Ladysmith Visitor Centre.
Main Street (aka 1st Avenue) and the Esplanade (Trans-Canada Highway) are lined with turn-of-the-19th-century heritage buildings. The miner's cabins in the 100 block of Buller Street are typical of the homes Dunsmuir provided for his workers. At the north end of town near the 1st Avenue roundabout, the Agricultural Hall has been a centre of the town's social life for over 100 years. Near "Aggie Hall" (as it's known locally) is a set of artifacts highlighted by an enormous ship's anchor.