>Ladysmith, British Columbia, voted by Harrowsmith Country Life magazine as “one of the 10 prettiest towns in Canada,” lies on the eastern slopes of Vancouver Island facing the harbor, Stuart Channel and the Gulf Islands beyond.
Because Ladysmith is located slightly removed from Stuart Channel -- the main thoroughfare used by boaters traveling the protected inside waters to Dodd Narrows, Nanaimo and points north -- this award-winning town often gets missed by boaters bound for larger, better known destinations. However, if boaters would just veer west slightly on their way north, they’d find a protected 3-mile long harbor with four marinas and a lovely revitalized town inhabited by friendly people who are so proud of their history that they put it on display for all to share.
Welcome to the town with the brand-new gate that says, “Ladysmith -- Heritage by the Sea.”
Getting to Ladysmith
Ladysmith (population 7,000) sits right on the 49th parallel that forms most of the border between the United States and Canada, except where the boundary takes a turn at its western end, allowing all of Vancouver Island to remain Canadian.
If you follow the coastline north 6 miles from Chemainus, British Columbia, you will head straight into Ladysmith Harbour. Charts 3443, 3463 and 3475 aid navigation in this region.
Easily visible from the water, Ladysmith is an attractive sight to boaters as they enter the harbor mouth. Originally called Oyster Harbour, the waters here are reputed to be the warmest saltwater swimming spot north of San Francisco.
As a port, Ladysmith has few obstacles other than Nares Rock and Coffin Island, extending north of Sharpe Point, and the Cluster Rocks lying close to the Dunsmuir Islands on the northeast side of the entrance. In season, you’ll see many yachts tied to a float inside the southernmost Dunsmuir Island (locally called Ovens Island), which is a Seattle Yacht Club outstation.
While navigating the harbor, boaters should keep an eye out for the tugs, barges, boomboats and logbooms that travel to and from the two large sawmills on the southwestern shore. Within the harbor limits, boaters are asked to go slow and keep their wake to a minimum.
Ladysmith has a choice of four marinas offering visitor moorage.
Ladysmith Maritime Society Docks
The first visitors’ floats boaters see upon entering the harbor are the Ladysmith Maritime Society docks, located on the southwestern shore between Slag Point and the public fisherman’s wharf.
The Maritime Society docks have power and water, and room for about six to eight boats. Moorage rates are reasonable and operate on the honor system.
Heritage vessels of many descriptions are on display, with the tug Saravan and the restored water taxi Kirkaguard serving as two fine examples. To check if there is room at the dock, call Wharfinger Jim Doherty at (250) 245-1146.
Ladysmith Fisherman’s Wharf
The three fingers of the popular public docks have power and water, and they are breakwater protected. Mostly commercial anglers use these docks, but visitors will usually be able to find a slip, or at least double-park alongside a friendly angler long enough to go ashore and shop.
A path leads from the docks through a wooded area and is a pleasant walk up the hill. Alongside the docks is a large boat ramp and plenty of parking for trailerboaters looking for an easy starting point to the nearby Gulf Islands.
The town begins just over the highway (or Esplanade, according to local maps). First Avenue is the main shopping street lined with brightly painted and refurbished 1900s buildings. It is about a half mile from the docks.
Within town, you’ll find everything you need to provision the boat in the way of groceries and marine equipment. Plus, there are many other interesting shops, restaurants and galleries.
For fun, take Gatacre Street up the hill and you will pass by the Black Nugget Museum. It is a private museum well worth the small entry fee to see what it was like to live in Ladysmith, circa 1900. There’s a restored barroom, a display of early coal mining, a sitting room and a bedroom decorated in authentic period furnishings and lighting.
Ivy Green Marina
Farther into Ladysmith Harbour, past the two large lumber mills on the southwestern shore, is Ivy Green Marina. According to manager Bill Dawson, the marina makes space available for visiting boats in slips vacated by the marina’s permanent residents. The wharves have power and water.
At the head of the dock is a cozy coffee shop, called the Sea Galley, and Oyster Harbour Marine Services run by Terry and Jim Porter. The Porters’ lift can handle up to 30-footers, and their shop is stocked with marine parts and has a chandlery section.
At the end of the northernmost finger at Ivy Green sits Ladysmith Yacht Club. The clubhouse floats high out of the water on two enormous converted propane tanks. There is some reciprocal mooring extended to visiting boaters from other clubs.
Page Point Inn and Marina
Directly across from Ivy Green Marina is the Page Point Inn and Marina (originally the Mañana Lodge) where there is 1,400 feet of moorage with power and water available for visitors. The lodge, which was built in the late 1940s, overlooks docks and a fuel station. Other facilities include showers, restrooms, laundry facilities, a craft and gift shop, light groceries, fishing supplies, licenses, charts and a picnic area.
A steady stream of boaters comes here to fuel up at the harbor’s only fuel dock and to stay overnight at the docks and in the bed and breakfast-style inn. Most visitors dine at the renowned Page Point Inn Restaurant, where award-winning chef Ian Ter Veer offers a unique style of Pacific West Coast cuisine.
Our crew enjoyed one of our favorite meals of all time on the Inn’s newly refinished deck overlooking Ladysmith Harbour, complete with a spectacular sunset. This culinary experience comes highly recommended.
The Inn also has a pub-style fireside room featuring draft ales of the world, specialty teas and coffees. Visiting boaters will share their moorage with Dame Pattie, the elegant 1967 Australian 12 meter America’s Cup Challenger.
When in Ladysmith
No matter which marina you choose to moor at in Ladysmith Harbour, you can take a dinghy to the public docks and, from there, either catch a cab up the hill or take a pleasant half-mile hike to the town center. The center is a great place to shop, dine and see the picturesque town -- rich in historic buildings painted bright colors.
In 1986, through the support of provincial and national agencies and the business owners themselves, Ladysmith undertook to revitalize its downtown, rehabilitate the aging structures and improve the streetscape. This heritage revitalization project exceeded all expectations and has been highly successful in attracting new businesses and tourists to this historic town.
In fact, the project is still a work in progress. Lately, a section of highway at the foot of town has been rebuilt with a grass- and flower-covered median and colorful banners flying overhead. The highway entrance at the north end of town has a new welcome gate and a new garden park under way. Along First Avenue, a newly added roundabout sports an old anchor as its centerpiece -- a reminder of Ladysmith’s maritime history.
In the near future, there will be a waterfront walkway added that will take you to the south end of town and Transfer Beach Park. This park is a very popular spot to swim, picnic, play sports like volleyball and basketball, and rent kayaks. A new addition to the park is an outdoor amphitheater that seats 2,000 people for live music and performances beside the sea.
The town’s interesting history begins with coal mine owner James Dunsmuir, who needed a shipping port for the coal taken from his Extension Mines in Nanaimo. Dunsmuir created an instant town at the turn of the century and called it Ladysmith, after the South African community rescued from the Boers in the year 1900. The new town was officially incorporated in 1904.
The “Lady Smith” was actually the wife of Sir Harry Smith, who was an adjutant general in the British army. He chased retreating Americans to Washington, where he torched the U.S. Capitol building in 1814, in retaliation for the burning of the city of York in Canada.
Though Ladysmith is one of the most peaceful towns you could imagine, the military presence lives on today in its streets, which are named after British generals who distinguished themselves in the Boer War in South Africa.
The coal boom lasted three decades. At its peak, Ladysmith boasted over 15 hotels, many businesses and even a house of ill repute. Coal was everything to the town, until a series of disasters occurred.
Thirty-two miners were killed in a mine explosion in 1909, and in 1912, Ladysmith miners launched a strike against Dunsmuir that lasted until World War I. In 1931, the seam at Extension dried up, and the mine was closed. Economically, this proved staggering for Ladysmith, and for the next five years, the town’s population spiralled downward.
The forest industry added new life to Ladysmith when the Comox Logging & Railway Co. opened up operations here. Within two years, the company payroll numbered 300 people and Ladysmith was reborn.
When the forest industry declined in the mid-1980s, Ladysmith took steps to rejuvenate the town to its present form as a vibrant seaside tourist destination.
Today, Ladysmith has become such a popular place to live that the population has nearly doubled since the mid-1980s. It is a town that has flourished and waned and bounced back repeatedly. It’s a story the whole town is proud of -- and it shows in Ladysmith’s heritage by the sea.
|This article first appeared in the March 2002 issue of Sea Magazine. All or parts of the information contained in this article might be outdated.|