Ladysmith History

Original Inhabitants

The original inhabitants of Ladysmith were the people of the Stz’uminus First Nation, who used the Ladysmith Harbour area for fishing and food gathering. When the Europeans arrived, a large part of the territory of the Stz’uminus people was taken and today, they reside within four reserves, two of which border Ladysmith Harbour. Today, the Stz’uminus and the Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group play an important role in restoring the Harbour to its original condition. They partner with the Town of Ladysmith, to bring opportunities to ensure the continued prosperity and well-being of all people living in this region.

The Name of Ladysmith

The Town of Ladysmith, originally Oyster Harbour, was incorporated in 1904 by James Dunsmuir, who built the town to provide housing for the families of employees of his coal mines, located in nearby areas. The name Ladysmith was attributed to Oyster Harbour in honour of the end of the 118-day siege of the town of Ladysmith, South Africa, during the Boer War.

James Dunsmuir

James Dunsmuir

Copper and Ore

Around 1898, copper was found on Mount Sicker (14 miles south). Ore was brought via the E&N Railway to the smelter at Ladysmith, which ran from 1902 to 1912.

Ladysmith Harbour ca 1920s
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Strike, Emigration & Depression

In 1913-14, there was a strike at the mines, with much damage to machinery and houses, and conflicts between strikers and non-strikers, resulting in parts of the population and businesses leaving Ladysmith in search for better opportunities. In the 1930’s on top of the country’s depression, there was a drop in the demand for coal, being replaced by fuel oil in ships. The nearby mine was forced to closure, and Ladysmith saw its people leave town, leaving their homes behind with unpaid taxes.

mining strike Ladysmith

Damage done to home during Miner’s Strike at Ladysmith, B. C. – 1913 Shown in photograph are two policemen.
Courtesy of Ladysmith & District Historical Society

Logging & Lumber Milling

The coal industry was replaced by the logging & lumber milling business after a violent windstorm blew down thousands of trees in the forest behind Ladysmith in 1933. The forest, that belonged to the Rockefeller Foundation, was sold to the Comox Logging and Railway Co., and this new industry was maintained until about 1986. Today, two sawmills still exist and logs are exported through the harbour throughout the west coast.

Logging and Ladysmith Slide Show
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Preservation of Heritage & Best Street in Canada

Today, as a vibrant tourist stop, the award-winning Town of Ladysmith proudly maintains its architectural heritage and streetscapes, and ensures that all development related plans, policies preserve its legacy. The community of Ladysmith is thriving with young and established families as well as retirees, and most of the descendants of the original families are still around, keeping its history and heritage alive. In 2017 Ladysmith’s historic First Avenue was named the best street in Canada by the Canadian Institute of Planners.

Ladysmith Downtown
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