Manson Family
Interviewee / Speaker
Manson, William
Audio Recording
Nanaimo Historical Society Fonds
Series 2 Sound Recordings

Tape 5 Side A

William Barraclough interviewing William Robert Manson, March 15 1966

Transcribed by Glenys Wall, November 2004

Barraclough: (begins in mid-sentence) made the 15th day of March 1966 between William Barraclough as interviewer and William Manson of Nanaimo as living memory for the Nanaimo Historical Society. Introducing Mr. William Manson:

Mr. Manson, your full name please.

Manson: William R. Manson. I was born in Nanaimo, 1885.

Barraclough: And what led to the decision of several members of the Manson family to leave the Shetland Islands in Scotland to settle in British Columbia?

Manson: Our folk came from the Shetland Islands, Scotland. While Shetlanders were a hard-working, independent people, yet living conditions in 1870 were poor Shetland. Very little employment, and little opportunity to improve. News came of great development in Western Canada. The first of the Manson family to seek his fortune here was Michael. He settled in Nanaimo in about 1875 and did well. In a letter to his brother, Lawrence, later to be our father, he told how it was no problem to get work. His work was driving locomotives, he said, hauling coal from the Chase River Mine to the loading wharf at Nanaimo. He was being pressed to work double shifts and more helpers were needed. He said that living conditions here were so much better than in Shetland. In Nanaimo, he said, he could have meat in his meals as often as twice a day, whereas once a week was a luxury in Shetland. He said that he owned a lot on Haliburton Street, with a home built on it, which he could share, and there was a well with a bountiful supply of good water. So Michael said come. There is nothing in Shetland for you to compare with this. Our father decided to come and he arrived in Nanaimo in 1877. Since the CPR was not built at that time, it was necessary, after arriving in New York, to travel by train to San Francisco and from there by boat to Victoria, which was a Hudson Bay trading post. The only way to travel from Victoria to Nanaimo was by boat, which he did upon his first opportunity. My Dad's first job was with a coal company, where he had oversight of the work at the pithead. Chinese were employed there handling the moving of coal-cars. Michael Manson sold the store, which he built on the corner of Haliburton Street and Farquhar Street to our father.

Barraclough: Were your father and mother married before leaving the Shetland Islands?

Manson: No. Our mother, Katherine Duncan, arrived in Victoria from Shetland in 1880 where our father met her and they were married there. Our mother's diary tells of her voyage across the Atlantic; her train journey from New York to San Francisco; how she saw Native Indians and Chinese for the first time in her life. She wrote about their unusual appearance and manners; the vastness of the new country being crossed was also impressive. Six children were born during the Mansons' residence at Haliburton Street. Three of these now remain here: Will, Ernie and Doug.

Barraclough: After Michael Manson sold the property comprising the store and house on Haliburton Street to your father, what happened to Michael?

Manson: Er, Michael bought a business on Commercial Street, which he operated but later disposed of it to follow a sea-faring career. Having qualified to receive Captain's papers, he bought a tug for towing barges of freight. He travelled much, up and down the coast, finally settling on Cortes Island. Being well known in the northern area, he was asked to run as a candidate for the Provincial Government. He was elected to the B.C. Legislature and continued in office, a member of the Conservative Party until the time of his death. He died suddenly, at Powell River while attending to Government duties.

Barraclough: Mr. Manson, you mention that other members of the Manson family came to Nanaimo, er British Columbia, and became very active in political circles.

Manson: Er, yes, er there was also another brother, John Manson, who followed Lawrence in settling on Vancouver Island. Later, he became a rancher on Cortes Island, where he was highly respected and there spent his last days. The youngest brother, William J. Manson, was the last of that family to come west. He worked, first, at the Haliburton Street Manson Store, then moving from there to the Mainland, he continued in business life. Later, he was elected to represent Dewdney District in the Provincial Legislature as a member of the McBride Conservative Party. In the B.C. Parliament at that time, the Conservative Party made an almost clean sweep of the political situation. All elected were Conservatives, except two Socialists. At that time it was remarked that there were more, a total of three Mansons in the House, than there were members in the Opposition. In addition to the two brothers elected, as mentioned, there was also a cousin, William Manson, a former mayor of the City of Nanaimo, and later Mayor of Prince Rupert. And from that district he was elected to the B.C. Legislature.

Barraclough: Speaking of your father's cousin, William Manson, reading the records here of Nanaimo, I see where he was elected alderman first in 1898, then 1899 and 1900, while Mark Bate was mayor and then he became Mayor of Nanaimo in 1901, 1902, 1903 and 1904.

Manson: I have no doubt that that record is correct.

Barraclough: Mr. Manson, can you describe some of your opinions of the early days of Nanaimo, especially your boyhood days?

Manson: My earliest recollections of life in Nanaimo are of everything being done in a primitive way. There was a business section on Commercial Street and Victoria Crescent. There were dusty or muddy roads; in some parts there were wooden sidewalks. The tide went in and out of a ravine that extended at the back of the stores on Commercial Street almost to where Nelson's Laundry now stands. A long, wooden bridge crossed the ravine at the point where it is now the Commercial-Terminal intersection. We depended on wells for water, coal oil for lighting, wood and coal for fuel. This made plenty of chores for every family and children were mostly kept out of mischief by having to attend to their allotted duties. However, we had our sports and entertainments that were really enjoyed. Two policemen managed the police duties, and crime was not a serious problem. Fireman ran on foot to fires, pulling a hose reel cart. Nanaimo was noted for winning in inter-city races, for running and attaching hose to the hydrants, that is, after our waterworks system was established.

Barraclough: Mr., Manson, what are your recollections of the early areas of Nanaimo and the business development?

Manson: Well, the growth of our city was not sensational at first, yet it was steady. Many people had gardens well stocked with vegetables and beautiful flowers. The coal company encouraged the miners to settle on five-acre lots in the district now called Harewood. The development was noticeable in that area. Like in most coalmining towns, business was good in Nanaimo while the coal market was steady. There would be the occasional depression or strikes that would set everything back. Amongst the stores there was friendly competition; methods of business kept changing and improving. Mansons retired from business about ten years ago, when the remnant of the stock on hand was donated to the general store of the remade gold mine town at Barkerville. This is part of a project prepared by the B.C. Government as a tourist attraction. In all the progress we have seen in Nanaimo, especially of late, the prediction that grass would grow in the streets of Nanaimo after the closing of the coal-mines has worked out the opposite way and prospects for the future were never brighter.

Barraclough: Er, Mr. Manson, when the Department of Recreation and Conservation from Victoria, were establishing Barkerville as a tourist attraction, they came to Nanaimo and I understand that they loaded truck loads of fixtures and items of stock from your old store on Haliburton Street. Now will you kindly tell us some of the main items that they took?

Manson: Yes. They were interested in the long counter that had served in the store since the 1870s. They took that. They took the old shelving from the walls. They took the old cash till that we used under the counter. They took the gas lamps that were once used, and fixtures that they could set up in the Barkerville store.

Barraclough: Now I understand some of the clothing they took would be period clothing of ladies?

Manson: Yes. Some of it had been, er had accumulated and when the committee from Victoria were looking over the old stock they often would shriek with delight when they found some very old-fashioned item of clothing or old shoes, ladies' shoes, that were high, pointed toes and buttons and these were of special interest and are now displayed at Barkerville.

Barraclough: Oh, amongst the items did they have one of these old-fashioned cheese cutters?

Manson: No, our method of business went back beyond the introducing of the cheese cutters. We used the old-fashioned knife.

Barraclough: During your experiences with the store, you must have had a lot of trade with the Indian people and possibly the Chinese people too, could you give us a little of the life of these people?

Manson: Yes, my early impression of the Chinese in their very different way of life and their difficulty with our language. They lived in a crowded town of their own; while their customs and way of life were strange to us, yet they were fairly easy to understand and get along with. The Indians had their problems; they only way to speak to the older Indians was using the Chinook jargon, which was commonly used. The Indians liked to dress in bright coloured clothing, the women mostly wore large shawls. Many did not wear shoes at any season of the year. They lived mostly by fishing and sold fish at cheap prices from door to door.

Barraclough: Mr. Manson, I know the Manson family have been closely associated with the churches of Nanaimo. Have you got a little history of some of that?

Manson: To the credit of our forefathers, it must be said that they early built a church, school and a hospital. These contributed definitely to the better development to a good standard of life. The early schools would now be considered very old-fashioned. They were mixed classes and rooms very often poorly heated, ventilated and lighted. When I first attended the high school here, there was one teacher who taught all the subjects, including mathematics, bookkeeping, agriculture and several languages. Yet out of all this some students became outstanding doctors, lawyers, teachers and good citizens.

Barraclough: This outstanding high school teacher, Mr. Manson, what was his name?

Manson: Mr. Walter Hunter.

Barraclough: And how many students would there be in the class?

Manson: Oh, probably forty.

Barraclough: Forty students in high school. I would like at this point to introduce my wife who has just now being reminiscing with Mr. Manson of a Sunday school picnic. Would you ask Mr. Manson about that?

Mrs. Barraclough: Mr. Manson, can you remember the time that you took, oh maybe about ten, for a picnic in your wagon up Nanaimo River and we crossed, before we got to the bridge we went to the right, but whose farm I would never remember.

Manson: Yes I remember that picnic. It was on a Good Friday. We had a team of horses, the usually way of traveling at that time, and I was familiar with this picnic ground because it was near a fishing-hole that we often went to and we had a very nice time. Everett Snyder (?) came along with me to assist, and as usual when we went on these picnics we had a very nice time.

Barraclough: Mr. Manson, would you now please close this interview.

Manson: Yes, we started, Mr. Barraclough, to talk of circumstances that led to the Manson family coming to Nanaimo. I conclusion I would like to say that in my opinion Nanaimo cannot be beaten for its climate, scenery and all that contributes to comfort and happiness as an ideal place in which to live.

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