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Barraclough: Joseph Muir interview, 1963Nanaimo Historical Society Fonds
Series 2 Sound Recordings
Transcribed by Lois Park, November 2008
Joseph E.L. Muir - Born in Nanaimo June 20, 1875 Died Oct. 24, 1963
– Recorded within the Bastion Nanaimo May 15, 1963
– Interviewer Wm. Barraclough
We are recording the voice of Mr. Joseph E. L. Muir of Nanaimo, this 15th day of May 1963, a living memory for Nanaimo Historical Society. Being interviewed by William Barraclough within the walls of the old Hudson Bay Company Bastion. Mr. Muir is popularly known as the Keeper of the Bastion. Introducing Mr. Muir.
Wm. Barraclough: Mr. Muir, may we first ask where and when you were born?
Joseph E. L. Muir: I was born in Nanaimo on Albert Street in 1875, where the doctor’s offices are located now.
Wm. Barraclough: Mr. Muir, tell me about your father, Archibald Muir, leaving Scotland for Vancouver Island?
Joseph E. L. Muir: My father was 18 years of age was employed in Scotland by the Hudson Bay Company to accompany John [Mercuier?], his uncle and their families to Vancouver Island to open coal mines. They left Scotland in 1848 on the barque Harpooner and arrived in Victoria on June 1, 1849 and left directly [there is a pause in the tape] to open the coal mine named the Muir Shaft.Wm. Barraclough: Mr. Muir, who else was aboard the Harpooner?
Joseph E. L. Muir: Dr. Benson who was employed by the Hudson Bay Company as doctor and clerk. And also was Captain Grant who came out to Victoria to make a fortune but he couldn’t find any land near Victoria, it was all taken up so he had to go to Sooke, twenty-two miles away and he took up a thousand acres. In the meantime, Captain Grant went down to the '49 gold strike in California but returned back disgusted, so he sold his thousand acres to the Muirs’ and he left for Scotland.Wm. Barraclough: About that year, 1849, another important person came out to Vancouver Island, tell us about that.
Joseph E. L. Muir: That was Governor Blanchard, see Vancouver Island was the first crown colony west of the Great Lakes and Governor Blanchard was the governor. He only stayed a couple of years, 1851, and on his return to England he took back a petition from the settlers asking for a Legislative Council. On that petition, there were fifteen names, there were six Muirs’ signed it.Wm. Barraclough: And the first meeting?
Joseph E. L. Muir: The meeting was held in 1856.
Wm. Barraclough: For Vancouver’s?
Joseph E. L. Muir: Victoria, BC, Vancouver Island had a legislative assembly.
Wm. Barraclough: Mr. Muir, when the Muir family came here first, I understand they went to Fort Rupert to open the coalmines for the Hudson Bay Company?
Joseph E. L. Muir: When they arrived in Victoria on June 1, the first thing they done was go directly to Fort Rupert to open coalmines. They opened the Muir shaft there in 1849 but the coal did not prove out so good but on the, when their time was up, they returned to Victoria and in the meantime bought out Captain Grant's 1000 acres at Sooke.Wm. Barraclough: About Coal-Tyee?
Joseph E. L. Muir: An Indian named Coal Tyee went to Victoria to have his gun repaired, while watching the blacksmith burning coal, he said he knew where there was lots of black rock. So Hudson Bay went to Nanaimo to investigate and they found coal there. So they sent John Muir up with Robert Muir and my father Archibald and they opened the Muir Shaft right where the Bank of Commerce [ed. 150 Commercial Street] stands today.
Wm. Barraclough: There was another seam of coal discovered in Nanaimo.
Joseph E. L. Muir: Yes, a seam of coal was named Douglas after Governor Douglas and at the Douglas mine, my father was employed by contract to mine out the coal for the company and he hired two boys, one named [Billy Wall?] and one named [Joe Moher?] as trapper boys to trap doors and were paid fifty cents a day.
Wm. Barraclough: About 1853, after they found the coal, the Hudson Bay Company changed their plan of importing miners, Joe?
Joseph E. L. Muir: Yes, Governor Douglas changed his policy, instead of hiring single men from Scotland and North Ireland he decided to hire and engage married men to colonize the country. So he brought out twenty-one married men, their wives and forty-two children on the barque Princess Royal. The Princess Royal left England on a six-month voyage and landed in Esquimalt and the passengers were transferred to Beaver [?] and they landed in Nanaimo on the 27th of November 1854. And among the passengers were Mr. & Mrs. Joseph L. Bevilockway and two days later a daughter was born, named Julia, and that is my mother.
Wm. Barraclough: Mr. Muir, tell us something about the Bastion.
Joseph E. L. Muir: Well, the Bastion was erected in 1853 and it is built of square timbers and the builders were two French Canadians by the name of Labine and Fortier. The building consists of three storeys and a basement. The top storey is twice the size of the bottom storey; it was also built by the Hudson Bay Company to protect the white people against the Indians and to also protect these Indians against the northern Indians.
Wm. Barraclough: That would be the?
Joseph E. L. Muir: Haidas
Wm. Barraclough: Haidas.
Joseph E. L. Muir: ...and the northern Indians.
Wm. Barraclough: and the northern Indians. Have you, can you remember seeing many of these Northern Indians in the Nanaimo Harbour?
Joseph E. L. Muir: Not so many as I would know but I heard my mother say though’ that they came down in canoes, fifty of those big canoes and they howl out on the bay all night.
Wm. Barraclough: Joe, the Bastion has been moved from its original site?
Joseph E. L. Muir: Yes, when John Hilbert became Mayor, the city borrowed up $50,000 to fix, repair the streets in Nanaimo. Of course, one of the streets, Bastion Street, had a lot of rock there so they had to remove that because you couldn’t get by it. So they decided to pull the Bastion down. Only Chief of Police Stewart, he refused to let them tear it down, so Mayor Hilbert had $175 voted by the city to pay to move the Bastion. It was moved the opposite corner where it stands now, about twenty-five feet away. Later Chief Stewart used the Bastion for lock up.
Wm. Barraclough: You have many valuable items in the Bastion, museum pieces, but I understand the most valuable of all is the Hepburn stone? Will you tell us about that?
Joseph E. L. Muir: The Hepburn stone was located on Hepburn’s place on Nanaimo River and while digging a well twenty two feet deep they discovered a stone.
Wm. Barraclough: This Hepburn stone is several times larger then the human head.
Joseph E. L. Muir: That stone has human features and weighs 85 pounds and resembles the same period as the [predators?]
Wm. Barraclough: Some time later the Native Sons acquired the Bastion as meeting place.
Joseph E. L. Muir: Yes, in 1900 the Native Sons post was formed. Post # 3, Native Sons of British Columbia. In the meantime, they had stopped using the Bastion for a lock up, so we purchased the Bastion in 1906 and now it is a meeting place for Native Sons and the Museum.
Wm. Barraclough: While I was in the Bastion today, Joe, you showed me a very famous picture.
Joseph E. L. Muir: The picture of the fort in 1882 with all the guns projected out of the portholes. She was a dangerous place for the natives those days. [Chuckles]
Wm. Barraclough: In the summertime now, you seem to have a lot of visitors.
Joseph E. L. Muir: Oh yes, a lot [inaudible] I had my photo taken a dozen times a day in the summertime so I am photographed all over the world today.
Wm. Barraclough: When we held the 100-year celebration of the landing of the passengers of the Princess Royal, that would be in 1954, I noticed Mrs. Muir wearing a beaver hat that is something very, very rare. Can you tell us about that, Mr. Muir?
Joseph E. L. Muir: It was a ceremonial hat; the Hudson Bay in old days was very, very rare.
Wm. Barraclough: The first houses the Muirs’ built in Nanaimo, Joe?
Joseph E. L. Muir: The first houses built in Nanaimo by the Muirs’ were built of logs and the roofs were made of bark and they were situated near the Bastion now.
Wm. Barraclough: But that was before the Bastion?
Joseph E. L. Muir: Oh, yes, of course, there was no Bastion there when the Muirs’ came.
Wm. Barraclough: Nanaimo was famous for building sailing ships in the early days, there was one very famous ship built here, the barque Nanaimo. It was the largest sea going vessel built in what is now British Columbia. I will give you a few statistics of it – the length was 155 feet, the beam was 34 feet built of Douglas fir and registered as 450 tonnes. It was capable of carrying 800 tonnes of coal or lumber from Nanaimo. It was launched in October 31, 1882 at 6 p.m. Now, Joe, I understand you were aboard the barque Nanaimo the day it was launched.
Joseph E. L. Muir: Yes, I was aboard with other boys, two or three four times, but we were off when she was launched and I was sorry I didn’t stay on board.
Wm. Barraclough: Who built the barque, Joe?
Joseph E. L. Muir: The barque was built by Carpenter, he owned the Nanaimo Mill at the time, and she was built right at the mouth of the Millstone River. Captain Dodd [Wilks?] was the second officer aboard the famous Beaver, the first steamboat around Cape Horn and landed in Fort Vancouver in 1835.
Wm. Barraclough: I notice you have a very fine painting in the Bastion of this barque Nanaimo
Joseph E. L. Muir: Yes, we have a painting of the barque Nanaimo, it was painted in Hong Kong in full sail and it was presented to us by Mrs. H. L. Horne of Wallace Street.
Wm. Barraclough: Where did you first attend school in Nanaimo, Joe?
Joseph E. L. Muir: On [?] Street and the teacher was [Ms McDougall?]. Afterwards [Mrs. Haslam?].
Wm. Barraclough: Part of the building is still standing?
Joseph E. L. Muir: Oh, it is a [hole?] there, [inaudible?]
Wm. Barraclough: You were saying the town site it was surveyed out before the City of Nanaimo.
Joseph E. L. Muir: Yes, Newcastle town site was a town site before the City of Nanaimo. I, myself, remember when the town site was occupied by the [?] Indians.
Wm. Barraclough: Joe, a very historical building – the Franklyn House.
Joseph E. L. Muir: Yes, I remember the Franklyn House, it was built where the City Hall now stands, it fact they own all that property up there and it extended down to the waterfront. It was water front property.
Wm. Barraclough: And the house was?
Joseph E. L. Muir: The house was built of red brick from England and redwoods from California.
Wm. Barraclough: Mr. Muir, what fraternal orders have you belonged to?
Joseph E. L. Muir: I belonged to the Masonic Order, when I joined in 1900 and Billy Lewis who celebrated his 100 years next July was the lodge master when I joined.
Wm. Barraclough: And you have been a member ever since?
Joseph E. L. Muir: I have been a regular member ever since.
Wm. Barraclough: and then...
Joseph E. L. Muir: and besides that I am [inaudible]
Wm. Barraclough: In 1900, when the Native Sons were formed here you were elected Chief Factor and again?
Joseph E. L. Muir: Yes, I was really the organizer of Post # 3 in Nanaimo and I was elected Chief Factor at the beginning of 1900 and now I am Chief Factor again in 1962.
Wm. Barraclough: Now, Joe, one of the most amazing things you have told me about is working over the famous Chilkoot Pass packing supplies on your back to the summit. Now can you tell us about that?
Joseph E. L. Muir: I did the Chilkoot Pass back in 1898 when I was young and strong
Wm. Barraclough: and enjoyed every minute of it?
Joseph E. L. Muir: and enjoyed every minute I was on the trail.
Wm. Barraclough: and what was the weight of a pack?
Joseph E. L. Muir: Generally 100 pounds.
Wm. Barraclough: That would be...
Joseph E. L. Muir: Two sacks of flour.
Wm. Barraclough: and how many trips a day would you make?
Joseph E. L. Muir: Well, sometimes half a dozen if you had the packs.
Wm. Barraclough: Now you were saying about the way up, chopping steps out in the ice?
Joseph E. L. Muir: Well, you see climbing up the Chilkoot Pass is straight up and down and there was always two men employed to cut steps in it so you could walk up and while one day they would be working on the side not used and you would use the side the next day.
Wm. Barraclough: Well, who paid these fellows chopping the steps?
Joseph E. L. Muir: Well, those that used the trail.
Wm. Barraclough: How many would there be?
Joseph E. L. Muir: Oh, eight hundred a day.
Wm. Barraclough: and how much would you pay them?
Joseph E. L. Muir: Well, you’d be lucky if you gave them ten cents.
Wm. Barraclough: Ten cents each a day.
Joseph E. L. Muir: Yeah
Wm. Barraclough: and that was revenue for them.
Joseph E. L. Muir: Yeah.
Wm. Barraclough: Now tell us about the bad slide where so many lives were lost.
Joseph E. L. Muir: Well that was, you see it was spring time and come spring time when the second snow comes, on top of the first snow, that is the snow that slides. Well this day there was a slide there and abut seventeen feet of snow when you got down to the bottom and there were a number of men 60 or 70 of them working on a tramway and they were coming down, well they all had a hold of a rope so they wouldn’t lose one another but the slide, the snow slide caught them and they were all buried there.
Wm. Barraclough: How many were there?
Joseph E. L. Muir: About sixty or seventy.
Wm. Barraclough: Sixty or seventy men.
Joseph E. L. Muir: Yeah
Wm. Barraclough: And you saw the slide?
Joseph E. L. Muir: Yes, I saw the slide.
Wm. Barraclough: About the signs?
Joseph E. L. Muir: The signs came from all places undertakers signed sheepskin.
Wm. Barraclough: Now another story about is about Dead Horse Gulch. Have you a story on that?
Joseph E. L. Muir: Well, you see when a horse, they worked them as hard as they could when they dropped they just let them lay there they didn’t move them, you walked through sheep’s [inaudible] you walked on Dead Horses, in the middle of the street.
Wm. Barraclough: How many, any idea how many horses?
Joseph E. L. Muir: Oh, it was a lot, there was a tonne of horses there they just packed them all they could you know when they dropped there and probably not enough to eat too.Wm. Barraclough: Mr. Muir, you remember seeing Robert Dunsmuir?
Joseph E. L. Muir: Yes, I have seen Mr. Dunsmuir lots of times. He use to drive a pony and a go-cart and I lived just above him on Albert Street and on Dunsmuir Street that’s where he kept his horses and stable.Wm. Barraclough: And the house now?
Joseph E. L. Muir: The house now is moved up to Selby Street, I think it is still there but I think it is all boarded up now.
Wm. Barraclough: Any other Dunsmuir’s?
Joseph E. L. Muir: Well, Alec Dunsmuir was the first white boy born in Nanaimo.
Wm. Barraclough: Whereabout’s?
Joseph E. L. Muir: He was born in [Batchelor?] Street in 1853.
Wm. Barraclough: You also knew James Dunsmuir?
Joseph E. L. Muir: Yes, I knew James Dunsmuir, his daughter was in the Bastion not so long ago and told me that house in Departure Bay was built where she was born in.
Wm. Barraclough: Yes, yesterday I saw his house and there is not very much of it left standing. How about sailing ships in the early days in Nanaimo?
Joseph E. L. Muir: Well in the early days in Nanaimo there were lots of sailing ships between here and Departure Bay taking coal and sand stone to California. We supplied California with all the coal until they had the oil, you know.
Wm. Barraclough: Yes and the sand stone?
Joseph E. L. Muir: The sand stone had to go to Hughes to build the mint in San Francisco.
Wm. Barraclough: and the ships returning?
Joseph E. L. Muir: Brought with them ballast, you see, and from foreign companies they bought ballast and amongst the ballast would be shell and [losamin?] and pitch and other things like that and when we were boys in the school everyday we would run down to the dump and dug up shell and pitch and all that stuff and we would get a tin of cord, a good coal oil can of [losamin?] we might get two bits worth if we sold it.
Wm. Barraclough: You were mentioning stone from Nanaimo going down to San Francisco, where did it come from?
Joseph E. L. Muir: Newcastle Island
Wm. Barraclough: Newcastle Island, okay, up on the sailing ships returning from California to Nanaimo.
Joseph E. L. Muir: Well, the ships from San Francisco returned with rock ballast and the ballast was taken from Telegraph Hill and dumped here on the beach and when people come from San Francisco I always tell them that they can walk on Telegraph Hill in Nanaimo. So you have got [?] for a distance.Wm. Barraclough: Joe, you didn’t tell me who you married?
Joseph E. L. Muir: Well I was married in 1901 to Agnes Patterson of Cranberry District. She lived there all her life from 1880, farmed out there, her father did. They, she lived where the airport is now.
Wm. Barraclough: That was their farm?
Joseph E. L. Muir: Their farm, yeah.
Wm. Barraclough: Joe, let us refer back to the Chilkoot Pass, just how you came down and the men walking up?Joseph E. L. Muir: Packing up the Chilkoot Pass you packed up on steps and when you put your foot out of the step a man behind you put his foot in and that was carried on all day until you reached the top, when you cashed your pack. Upon returning you slipped down the [Peterson?] Stray, which is straight up and down and you sat down and slid down to the bottom.
Wm. Barraclough: Mr. Muir, you remember the Oscar blowing up?Joseph E. L. Muir: Well, yes, I do. I was in a logging camp when it happened and when the Oscar blew up, I thought it was the powder works. We have the [?] from the Oscar and recently we received the anchor which was brought up through a towline off one of these tugboats when they were towing a scull.
Wm. Barraclough: Joe, can you remember any very famous people who visited you in the Bastion?Joseph E. L. Muir: Yes, there were a few but I can’t remember all, but there is one or two I can remember. There was [General ?] a Victoria Cross, now Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia.
Wm. Barraclough: and you were telling me here about the Governor of the Hudson Bay Company from London visiting you here on October 22, 1961. W. S. Keswick, Esquire and he was accompanied by [E. O. Fallennear ?], Director of the Company. Would you remark on that?Joseph E. L. Muir: Yes, they were here and of course they in and never said nothing to me and tried to tell them about the Hudson Bay and the big guns and the furs from the Indians. And he showed me his card; he was the Governor of the Hudson Bay Company. And he said to me, he had a good joke on, he invited me to London to have dinner with him at Hudson Bay House in London. The Hudson Bay Company was very good to the Bastion, they always supplied the flag, the Union Jack for the past thirty years and the present one we have is close to nine feet.
Wm. Barraclough: Joe, coming in I noticed a few cannons still poking around the Bastion, now will you enlarge what were they used for?Joseph E. L. Muir: Well, these cannons at the Bastion were used for special purpose. Chief Stewart, a very patriotic minded citizen, Chief of Police had charge of those and on very special occasion he would have them fired. Take the 24thof May, the Queen’s birthday, he would fire twenty-one. And if the Governor or anything person came to Nanaimo, he would fire seventeen. When Sir John A. MacDonald laid the gold spike on the E & N railway, Chief Constable Stewart had the prisoners haul the cannons up to the depot and he fired off seventeen cannons for Sir. John A. MacDonald.
Wm. Barraclough: Mr. Muir, you remember that occasion do you?Joseph E. L. Muir: Yes, I do. I remember it was on August 13, 1886 because I was up there when they were fired.
Wm. Barraclough: Joe, do you ever take any prominent part in sports in Nanaimo?
Joseph E. L. Muir: Not very much, but I did on the 24th of May, we sponsored the 24th of May twice. I worked for the Native Sons and also at the Labour Day Track and Field Meet we sponsored that for twenty odd years. And I always looked after the gate receipts and the cash.Wm. Barraclough: Yes, that is fine. You told me the other day that you didn’t have much time for sports you were always working?
Joseph E. L. Muir: Well in the camps, I was working seven days a week and half the nights and worrying about the next day. Mr. Barraclough, I would like to thank you most sincerely for this interview and recording my voice in living memory.
Wm. Barraclough: Thank you, Mr. Muir. And now, Mr. Muir, may we convey to you and Mrs. Muir our sincere respects and best wishes to you for a pleasant 88th birthday this coming June 20th.Joseph E. L. Muir: June 20th, 1963
Wm. Barraclough: We are recording the voice of Mr. Joseph Muir within the walls of the historic Hudson Bay Company’s fort the Bastion, Nanaimo.
Wm. Barraclough: As a final note, Mr. Muir, about this bell?Joseph E. L. Muir: Well, this bell was cast in London in 1862 and it is a nice big bell and it was used for all purposes but especially to warn the people in the town of the approaching Haida Indians and Northern Indians.
Wm. Barraclough: And now, Mr. Muir, will give a few strokes upon this famous bell.Ringing of the Bell!
Wm. Barraclough: Mr. Joseph Edward [Lewiston?] Muir was born at Nanaimo on June 20, 1875 and died here October 24, 1963. He would be 88 years of age.