Ladysmith has long held pride in its cultural and historical roots. Strict policies and
guidelines protect the town’s heritage, and the result is that it stands out amongst many
other municipalities on Vancouver Island for its charm. Dotted with brightly-coloured old
buildings, Ladysmith is a stop for many curious travellers, and for those hungering after
the town’s famous cinnamon buns.
The story of Ladysmith can be told in part not only through its many heritage buildings
but also in the artifacts that are scattered around the town’s centre. “Heritage Walks”
lead visitors through the industries that were partly responsible for shaping the
township. An ore car dating to 1902 points to Ladysmith’s history in mining. A 1923
locomotive is evidence of the town’s participation in the logging industry––the engine
was bought by Comox Logging in 1937 and used to transport logs to Ladysmith from
Nanaimo Lakes. An anchor belonging to an early sailing ship reminds viewers of
Ladysmith’s longstanding marine industry, one that, in fact, stretches back long before
the arrival of European settlers.
Home initially to the Stz’uminus First Nation, who had lived in the region for thousands
of years harvesting the area’s rich fish and shellfish deposits, the region that later
became Ladysmith changed dramatically with the arrival of European settlers. In 1884,
the E and N Railway privatized much of the Stz’uminus traditional land, and with it, the
resources off which they had survived.
The town saw a boom in 1901, when many buildings previously existing in Nanaimo
were transported to Ladysmith. This relocation of Nanaimo’s businesses instigated a
surge in new construction and the development of what is still today Ladysmith’s
downtown core. Among the oldest buildings in town, the Anglican Church was one such
structure moved from Nanaimo (Wellington), opening its doors in Ladysmith in 1900.
The Ladysmith Inn, initially called the New Western Hotel, also dates to 1900.
Interestingly, in its early days the inn used a small creek running beneath the building to
cool beer. The Old Telephone Office dates to 1903, and has undergone many business
incarnations over the years, including its time as a cigar factory in the 1920s and 30s.
The striking 1908 post office is virtually unchanged since the days of its construction. At
the time, it was the most expensive building in town, costing a staggering $45,000
Ladysmith’s rich offering of cultural history has not gone unrecognized––it was a winner
in the 2017 Great Places in Canada awards. In their statement, the jury was particularly
impressed by the town’s First Avenue, which it noted “exhibits all of the qualities one
would expect from a great street: visually-interesting building facades, generous
sidewalks, attractive landscaping and artistic details, places to rest, and places to
gather.” To top it off at the end of every year, the town also hosts a much-loved Festival
of Lights at Christmas time that has lit up Ladysmith’s centre for 30 seasons.
Today, the area’s first peoples live primarily in four reserves, two of which lie near to the
Ladysmith Harbour. In partnership with the town of Ladysmith, the Stz’uminus First
Nation is working to restore the harbour’s now depleted marine life, as well as to rebuild
their Nation through strategies such as education and economic development.