With its unusual exterior details––unusual at least by today’s standards––Ladysmith’s Traveller’s Hotel is hard to miss. Located in the downtown core, this heritage building displays brick swastikas built into the façade. Dating to 1913, the building demonstrates Ladysmith’s pre-war prosperity and the original meaning of the swastika, before Adolf Hitler usurped it.
Built in brick and standing three-storeys tall, the Traveller’s Hotel exemplifies the Edwardian style, particularly that of a commercial building during this period, with its symmetrical aesthetic and brick façade. The building also hearkens back to Victorian architectural aesthetics with its heavy exterior cornices. Its careful details demonstrate the economic prosperity that the town had enjoyed in the preceding decade. Between 1900 and 1912, when the town was a major coal hub, Ladysmith’s economy experienced a boom due to the great quantity of coal that was shipped in and out of the town.
In addition to hearkening back to times of earlier prosperity, the Hotel stands testament to the social and economic functions of hotels in earlier periods. While hotels at that time, like hotels today, often housed short-term guests, they also offered long-term living situations, and their restaurants and bars were places where people could gather together to socialize.
But the building’s most prominent evocation of earlier times is undoubtedly its pre-war exterior decoration––the swastikas. While we don’t see too many heritage buildings sporting swastikas these days, the swastika during this period was a common symbol of peace and prosperity. In fact, the swastika is an ancient religious symbol from Asia dating back at least 11,000 years that the Nazis appropriated during the 1920s. Originating from a Sanskrit word, the swastika initially was a symbol of good luck.
Despite concerns during World War II about the symbol’s link to Adolf Hitler and Nazism, the swastikas have remained on the building as a remnant of pre-Hitler associations with these symbols. The building thus stands as a unique reminder of this symbol’s history prior to Nazism.