Nanaimo Historical Society Fonds
Series 2 Sound Recordings
Transcribed by Lois Park, Jan 2008
Mr. Barraclough: It is a pleasure for me to introduce Miss Johnson to this meeting. I was asked here about half an hour ago if I would be kind enough to do this and thinking back I find that Miss Johnson attended the first meeting of the Historical Society in St. Paul's Hall on June 20, 1953. There were 16 persons present including Mr. Ireland and the late Bruce McKelvie. I wasn't there; I didn't attend until the second meeting. Miss Johnson was elected that evening as the first secretary and she carried on until January 11, 1955.
As we all know Miss Johnson has been on the teaching staff of the senior schools and history, of course, is one of her chief subjects. Since that time Miss Johnson has presented, if I remember right, three papers before the Society on local interest, of local historical interest and a booklet A Short History on Nanaimo. It is recognized as standard reference.
Miss Johnson, also, took part when the Wallace Street cemetery was being converted and I had the pleasure of assisting her in taking an inventory of the old tombstones there and in the booklet that was printed at the time about the old cemetery. I have two copies on hand; you can read if you wish to. Thank you, Mr. President, for the honor of introducing our speaker. [applause]
Miss Johnson: I would like to begin my very short talk tonight by telling you two pieces of news which have really nothing to do with the topic of the evening but you have always been so interested in the work that has been done in history in the high school.
You have been very generous in giving prizes to history students at the school and you have always taken an interest in what goes on among the history students. So I wanted to tell you two things, which I thought were very interesting. In the last three weeks, it just so happens that I have had on the weekend's visits from three former Nanaimo Senior High School students.
The first one is studying at UBC, is taking a major in history and hopes to be a history teacher and he had to do a term essay and he chose as his subject one aspect of Nanaimo's history, a rather interesting one, a political aspect. He wanted to prove an idea, which he had in the back of his mind that the mining population of Nanaimo had quite an effect upon the way in which Nanaimo voted in federal election. And he is studying the election of 1891, 1911 and 1917 and analyzing the vote of this constituency. Of course, I hastened to point out to him that he probably had a flaw right away, I know I always try to prick these kids balloons, that it was a very large constituency federally at this time and that the Duncan vote would partly cancel out the Nanaimo vote every time. If the Nanaimo vote labour, Duncan would vote conservative. What was he going to do about that? Well, that only became more interesting and off he went to get some more material.
The next weekend, another boy arrived and he is taking a major in music and he had been reading some copies of the Free Press and old Gazette down in the archives. Actually, he'd been doing a bit of a job for me, I wanted some things copied from the archives. I hadn't had time myself to go down during the week so I asked him if he would go in and copy this particular thing and while he was copying he got browsing through the papers, reading the advertisements and so on, the way we do and being interested in music he was most fascinated to find out the number of musical events that had taken place in Nanaimo in the early days. Right back to the beginning of the publication of the Free Press, there were concerts and there were operas and so on, as you all know Nanaimo is a very musical town and he became so fascinated with this he said that “the moment I have some time this is what I'm going to work on.”” So I'm hoping that he will produce something in that line in the way of a paper.
The next weekend, one turned up at school on Friday afternoon, when I was just trying to get away and shoved me back into the office and sat down and said “I'm taking fine arts down at Victoria University and I have to prepare a paper and I've chosen as my subject the Nanaimo Petroglyph. He asked, “What do you know about the Petroglyphs?” I said “nothing”, nobody knows anything about them and go away. [laughter] Naturally, he didn't go but stayed longer and longer and we got on to the whole subject of Petroglyphs and pictographs all over the province on the coast and in the Gulf of Georgia and there was some I knew about that he didn't know and some that he knew about that I didn't and so he went off to write this paper. So that's three within the last three weeks and there must be a lot more that haven't come near me and are bothering some of you people and I hope they keep right on doing it.
The other piece of news is rather personal and perhaps is rather impertinent of me to bring it up but I thought you would be interested. Two members of the staff of the Senior High School, Mr. Jim Popple and myself have being working on a series of text books, he works mainly in the field of geography and I work, of course, in the field of history for distribution across Canada. My own books - one is on Canada up to 1867 - one Canada since 1867 and one on British Columbia.
Mr. Popple has been on the British Geography. He is now working on one on Mediterranean geography. These books have been, all of them, accepted by the Department of Education of Ontario, they are now under consideration in Manitoba and Nova Scotia and we hope that when B.C. fixes its new social studies course, which it is in the process of doing, that they will be on the list here. What you will perhaps be interested to know that is on each of them on the title page has the name of the author and the name of the school, so the name Nanaimo District Secondary School is going from Nova Scotia to British Columbia.
In my own three books, and in each one of them, I have an extract of some type on the history of Nanaimo. These are source materials with extracts from various primary sources and I've shoved something in about Nanaimo in every single one of them so are you are be again from going to be from coast to coast we hope. [Hear, Hear is heard from the audience] Certainly you are adopted in Ontario. [Laughter]
Now to come to my topic for tonight.
I was asked to talk about some Nanaimo old timer. Now as you probably know I have rather stringent views on old timers and to be an old timer you've got to be reasonably old and the person I would like to talk about died 95 years ago and so happily he happens to come into my qualifications of old timer. I didn't want to go and talk to the dear old gentleman down the block because I felt many of my students were doing that and I wanted to go back perhaps a little harder and older.
It all goes back to, as Mr. Barraclough rather reminded me tonight, I meant to ask him about a date and he provided it for me. When the Nanaimo branch of the B.C. Historical Society was first formed in 1953. I couldn't remember the date, 1953 and Mr. Ireland and Mr. McKelvie and so on came up and we met in St. Paul's Hall and formed a branch of the Society. And I was a comparative newcomer to Nanaimo, I didn't come here until 1949 and I really didn't know very much about Nanaimo history.
Our first president, as you probably know, was Mr. Jack McGregor and Mr. McGregor always used to say “well I wasn't a school teacher for nothing” and the original members of the society will remember what he used to do. He sat us down around the table in St. Paul's church hall where we met and he had a piece of paper in front of him with a list of our names and a list of topics. And he said for the next year the program will be as follows, Mister so and so you will give a paper on this and Mister so and so you will give a paper on that, Mister so and so a paper on that and Mister so and so a paper on that and he went down the list matching subjects to people. You had no choice, the subject was allotted to you and that was that and by golly you did it. You did your homework or Mr. McGregor was not very pleased.
We didn't have outside contributors, we wouldn't have dreamt of it. We worked, we didn't just listen to other people. We had to contribute and this was what started me on this particular project. Because the topic that Mr. McGregor doled out to me was the old cemetery at the corner of Wallace and Comox that Mr. Barraclough referred to.
Well, I knew nothing about the cemetery; I had passed it in the car and seen that it was like a hay field with long grass and trailing blackberry vines and few tombstones standing up. And Mr. McKelvie, Pinkie McKelvie as we knew him as, had told me behind his hand in confidence down in the archives “that in Nanaimo they didn't know what to do with the valuable remains”. But when he had criticized the way they were keeping their old cemetery they had just taken all the wooden monuments and markers and crosses and burnt them and the rest were just falling down and Mr. McKelvie was very annoyed about all this. He used to get extremely hot under the collar about these things as you well remember if you knew him.
So with my little project ahead of me, I put on my high boots and marched off down to the old cemetery and parted the grass and went between the trailing blackberries and under the low growing trees and tried to find the grave stones which were still decipherable. Some were still standing in quite good condition, some of them were flat on the ground were quite easily decipherable, some were leaning very drunkenly, some were crumbling and so worn that it was extremely hard to read the inscriptions.
What I did was to make a list of the all ones I could read and the half ones I could only read half of and make a count and go back to the society and report on what I had found. Well just about this time, public interest was roused in the old graveyard to digress for a moment. And, in the end, as Mr. Barraclough mentioned, Mr. Barraclough and Mr. Whally went and surveyed the cemetery and made a plan of where all the graves stood with the idea that eventually the stones would have to be moved as they had been done in Pioneer Square in Victoria, which we took more or less as our model. And one of the Kiwanis Clubs in town became interested in supporting the project and the city became interested in the project and in the end the whole area was cleared up and made into a very pleasant little park which is it now is, so beautifully kept, the people who worked for the city do such a lovely job there and Mr. Barraclough, when the stones were set in, retraced the writing on them so they were easily decipherable. Many stones, as we know, were lost but the ones that remained, at least were kept safely.
Now one of the stones which had fascinated me right from the very beginning was a marble slab, a very good marble actually because it is still looking very bright and clear and on this marble slab was the following inscription, “Here lies the body of Kline GRANT M.D., died May 27, 1873, aged 68 years. A learned man, a kind physician, a courteous gentleman.” Now that to me seemed such a lovely epitaph that I began to wonder who Kline Grant, M.D. had been.
So I went to the source of local history in Nanaimo who, at that time, was Mrs. Margaret Kenny. If you remember the late Mrs. Kenny, you'll remember she was the watchdog of local history. If anyone made any public statement or any historical item appeared in the press, either the Victoria Colonist or the Free Press or over the radio and there was something which was not accurate in it, Mrs. Kenny sat down and penned a letter to the paper, very politely but very firmly correcting the error and pointing out the true situation. She was extremely accurate because she had given most of her life to a study of history. She had not only been interested in history of this region but also the Nicola Valley where she spent part of her life and she loved history and she loved history that was accurate. Now that she is gone, Mr. Barraclough has to write the letters when Mayor Baker? insists. [laughter] When the Mayor informed me when I was getting after him that, after all, history was merely a matter of opinion anyway. I thought perhaps he had better join the Society. [laughter]
At any rate, Mrs. Kenny said “oh, yes she remembered people mentioning, Dr. Grant, that he was an early doctor in Nanaimo and that he was a most learned man. But she said that I think there was some kind of scandal about him. He apparently was a famous doctor in the old country but he came out here because of some scandal, what she didn't know and she said there was a story that he was at one time the editor of the Lancet which you probably know is the one chief medical journal published in England, it's not published by the British Medical Association it is a private publication but it ranks with the journal of the British Medical Association. I didn't know that until I checked it out with one of the doctors in town. So that was Mrs. Kenny's information, she never said she knew, she always said, “I have heard” unless she was quite sure of her facts. So that was all I had to go on and it left me more intrigued then ever.
Well some years went by, and I didn't do anything about it because like everybody else I was doing this and that and the other on things. And eventually it so happens that one night I was sitting next to Dr. Welsh at a banquet and just making conversation I asked him about the editors of the Lancet, if he knew anything about the Lancet. I told him this rumour about Dr. Kline Grant. Well, Dr. Welsh was most fascinated and he said “I subscribed to Lancet and I'm going to write the editor and ask him if our Dr. Grant was ever an early editor of the paper.”
So he wrote to the Lancet and got back a letter from the assistant editor, a Miss Eleanor Grant, who said she was most intrigued because her name was Grant also, although she was no relation to Dr. Kline Grant but she said “I got so interested that I have been doing research on him and I'm going to pass this information to you.”
She had looked up various medical directories. She had found for one thing that he was not actually the editor of Lancet but she found a most interesting point. That he had been listed in the Medical Directory, the British Medical Directory of 1854 as living at 49 Upper Gower Street, Bedford Square in London and practicing medicine at that address which is of course a very good address, in a good part of London and just two houses away from him there lived the first editor of Lancet. With the houses just two doors away, Miss Grant pointed out that it's obvious that the two being neighbours would know each other, would talk to each other and would discuss medical questions with each other and in all probability Dr. Grant would contribute columns to the Lancet.
So Mrs. Kenny wasn't far out, the rumor had some basis in fact.
Miss Grant also found out some details of Dr. Kline Grant's life in England. He was born in 1805, where we don't know. That is something I am going to have to pursue further and he obtained his M.D. and L.R.C.S from Edinburgh in 1826 and you'll probably remember that at that time Edinburgh was probably the medical school of the British Isles.
In 1829, he got his M.R.C.S. from Edinburgh, Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, which was in a sense corresponded to a further degree. He was at one time senior physician at the Royal Dispensary at Aldersgate School of Medicine and lectured on the practice of physics at the Aldersgate School of Medicine. So I asked Dr. Welsh whether Aldersgate School of Medicine still existed and he said no but as far as he knew it was the predecessor of Barts Hospital, which you all know about. St. Bartholomew Hospital, which is one of the most famous of all of the teaching hospitals and that being senior physician at the Royal General Dispensary and lecturer at this medical school meant that he was extremely highly regarded in British medical circles.
From another source the information came which I have not yet had time to check that he had editored a medical treatise for family use which had an immense sales. So if it had an immense sale there are bound to be copies still available in some British libraries, so my next step is the British Museum library to see if they have the name of his book and whether we are able to get microfilm copies or perhaps through a second hand stores obtain a copy. I'd love to have a copy of Dr. Kline Grant's book. But all this goes to show that he was not just any doctor but a man of extremely good training, had a very good degree and had a practice in a very good part of London and had been a teacher and almost one of the head people in a well known medical school.
So what was he doing in Nanaimo? What happened? Well, we don't know what happened and perhaps we shall never know what happened although I'm rather like a terrier, once I get started on something I don't like to stop so give me a couple of years and perhaps I can give you a sort of a post script on this.
One of the residents of Nanaimo who kept a journal about this time was Canon Good of the Anglican Church. His journal is preserved in the archives and he, writing about Dr. Grant put it this way “He lost his standing and the confidence of the public compelling him to give up his wife, home and country and flee away to where he was not known”. So what he did, what mistake he made or what happened we don't know but in 1854 he was practicing in London. In 1862, he came to Victoria.
Some time between those years something happened to upset his whole life. I was interested in this mention of a wife and that again is something I'll going to check through the records in Somerset House and I think we'll be able to set all sorts of more things about him. If I can get either corresponding with right people or get over to England again.
At any rate there is a gap from 1854 to 1862. In 1862, his name appears in the Victoria Colonist in connection with the wreck of a ship coming into Victoria Harbour. If you're interested in shipping, you may know the story of the ship called the Rosedale, which was a new ship out from England on her maiden voyage, with a cargo worth $62,000. Largely, I believe of liquor, but not entirely and she ran aground off Race Rocks and finally, it was very stormy weather, was driven in to Ross Bay where she was grounded to prevent actual sinking. The passengers were landed; no lives were lost and, as the paper put it, were entertained at Mr. Burnaby's. Mr. Burnaby being the agent for the ship. The ship was then pumped free of water, towed to Equimalt and left there and there were various lawsuits about the salvaging and nothing was done about this. It was a very famous early Maritime case, the lawsuits dragged on for two or three years until some adjustments were made. But that again is rather side tracking.
The Rosedale was under command of Captain Phillips and Captain Phillips was accused of being completely drunk at the time of the disaster and that's why the shop ran aground. A letter appeared in the Colonist December 19, 1862 to the Editor Victoria Colonist. “Sir - a report having gotten abroad that the late accident of the ship Rosedale was owed to the inebriety of some of the officers I'd like to state that such a report is entirely false and malicious. The captain and all the officers are habitually temperate men and were to my certain knowledge perfectly sober on the occasion referred to. This statement had already been corrected in the journal in which it appeared but as I am anxious as a medical officer of the ship to I record my professional testimony and shall therefore feel much obliged if you could find room in your columns for this letter. I remain, Sir, your obedient servant, Kline Grant, M.D.”.
So apparently, Dr. Grant came out from England in 1862 shipping as the ship's doctor on the Rosedale. The loss of the cargo of the ship not only included just the cargo but all the passengers' effects. This was well known in Victoria at the time that the passengers escaped, but they landed with only the clothes they stood up in and that nothing else was saved. And among Dr. Grant's luggage had been, not only his clothes but his medical outfit and a very large library, both medical and non medical, apparently knowing he was coming to the wilderness, if you'll pardon the expression, he had brought many, many books with him to while away his time and of course, they were completely ruined and he arrived with nothing but his clothes, no medical outfit and not one single book from of his very extensive library. He came almost immediately to Nanaimo where he had been appointed as colliery surgeon.
As you probably know the first doctor in Nanaimo was Dr. Benson after whom Mount Benson is named. He is another person who is simply fascinating and I just won't side track, I'll keep you too long but sometime I would jut love to do something on Dr. Benson because he's the most fascinating person. His wife made all his own clothes and none of them fitted. [laughter]. That is one of the records that states, anyway there are all kinds of stories about him but he is another person. He came out originally on the Hudson's Bay Company and as you know the Hudson's Bay Company ran the mines here until 1861 and so he was colliery doctor for the Hudson Bay Company until 1861 and then when the Vancouver Coal Mining and Land Company, the English company, took over Dr. Benson stayed on for a short time and then went back to England and Dr. Grant was to replace him.
So he arrived in Nanaimo and the first thing he had to do was to draw on the company for an advance on his salary to buy clothes because he nothing except the clothes had come from the ship in. [turn of tape, a bit may have been lost]. He had just lost everything and he just had to buy even a change of clothing.
The next mention of him comes in the Nanaimo Gazette in 1866 and this gives a very interesting light on the non-medical side on Dr. Grant's nature. Apparently he was not only an extremely well trained doctor but he was a good student of among other things - English literature. His friends described him as a walking encyclopedia. They said you could mention any topic and from his well-stored mind he would draw out the answer. He didn't need his books and yet I think he very sorely missed them.
Well, on February 26, 1866 the Nanaimo Gazette reported on one of the evenings in the Institute Hall. You remember the mechanical institute, which was set up here in the early days, where literary evenings were held.
“A numerous audience assembled in the Institute Hall, on Saturday evening on February 24, 1866 to hear the Reverend J.B. Good read selections from Tennyson's Enoch Arden. The Philharmonic Society's band was in attendance and played at intervals during the evening. At half past eight, Dr. Grant introduced the subject by an admirably prepared prologue in which he reviewed the various poetical works of the renowned poet laureate in his usual eloquent and refined style. Mr. Good's reading was really superb and the numerous beautiful passages, in the selections, were given by him with the expression and proficiency of a true artist. During the pauses in the readings, excellent songs, synthetic over the subject of the poem were sung. Mrs. Good sang the Angels Whispered Charmingly and was rapturously applauded. Mrs. I. Johns, Bradley Gee, John Sabiston also sang admirably. The latter gentleman in particular who gave one of Burns fine old melodies in a style we have never heard equaled in the Colony. We believe the Institute Committee netted a quite handsome sum from the reading”
Well, there was Dr. Grant with his literary side doing the introduction.
The next episode comes from Canon Good's journal. He mentions that Dr. Grant became established as a doctor in Nanaimo and proved immediately to be such a clever doctor and that he was regarded as the diagnostician in the whole colony of Vancouver Island and the mainland. His diagnosing of diseases was so immediate and so accurate and Nanaimo was again and again congratulated on having a doctor of this caliber. And Canon Good remarks on the obtuse information with which his mind was stored.
He also mentions quite casually that he wrote poetry which when published gained a great deal of praise and I'm dying to know where it was published hoping that at some time we can come across some of his publications.
But, and this again from Canon Good was very tactfully and very nicely dwells upon, Dr. Grant seemed to be extremely lonely. The library that he had been going to enjoy during the winter evenings had been lost and as Canon Good put it, “ the library lost with the ship grieved him sorely which only one of kindred tastes could rightly estimate for it was to have been his solace to all he had left behind” and he could not afford to replace it.
Whether it was because of his loneliness or whether this was part of the reason why he had left England it soon became obvious that Dr. Grant was a confirmed drinker. A confirmed tippler as Canon Good puts it and that he seldom went to bed sober and that very soon no one wanted him as a tenant because of this habit. In the end, he couldn't find a place in which to live.
The accommodation in Nanaimo was of course pretty limited, but nobody wanted to have him as their border so Canon Good let him have the schoolroom adjoining the church, this is the original St. Paul's Church, for his private accommodation, as he could get no other. But, as Canon Good explains, one night he heaped up the coal and wood on the fire, one winter evening, the chimney caught fire and the building burnt down. The doctor was stupefied with drink and didn't know what was going on. They got him out of there, but the fire was hard to put out and it endangered the rectory and the church, which were on either side of the building. So he had to move from there and we are not quite sure where he lived but there's a rumor that he stayed at one of the local hotels. He lost his job with the company, they were forced to discharge him from because he became more and more an alcoholic.
When he came to Nanaimo he must have been 57 years of age and as the years went by his money was gone and he found it hard to even find a place to live, he got poorer and poorer, all his money presumably went on liquor and as someone put it he was dependent on the charity of some poor women for the crust that he ate to sustain his tottering steps. Rather a poetic way of putting it. And he drank himself to death and died, as Canon Good again, writing much later put it “unwept, unhonoured, and unsung saved by the few who loved him better then they knew”.
Cannon Good, incidentally was in Nanaimo from 1861 to 1866 and then again from 1883 to almost the end of the century and he wrote after he had retired, after 1900, so he would be remembering somebody who he had known many years before he was if he was writing after 1900 and Grant died in 1873. It was quite a lapse of time, so it is a memory rather than a direct observation.
Grant was not in Nanaimo at the time of his death. The Anglican clergyman at that time, was Reverend Renard, who was only here for three years and presumably wouldn't have known him very well. Good rather, was not here at the time of Grant's death and Reverend Renard was here so Good must have got the information when he came back in 1883 which is ten years after Grant died.
While he may have drank himself to death, he may have died unwept and unhonoured and unsung but somebody thought enough of him to buy him a very lovely marble gravestone and to put on it that very beautiful epitaph. Canon Good when he gives you the account of Grant ends it all with a little moral lecture on men with weaknesses being sent out from England sent to the colonies, you know the remittance men and the men who drank and the sort of thing and he sort of shakes his head and says it does no good they all get worse when they come here. He draws a little moral, it's no good these people coming out to the west, they're just going to get worse.
But I still feel that some people must have seen the real person behind Dr. Grant, in spite of his weaknesses and I still feel that there is a man of great stature who under other circumstances would have probably have achieved a very great fame and I think you will realize that I still need to know and we all still need to know a lot more about this learned man, kind physician and courteous gentleman, who is buried in what was the little coal town of Nanaimo ninety-five years ago.
[laughter and great applause]