Nanaimo Bastion
Interviewee / Speaker
Harrison, Victor
Audio Recording
Nanaimo Historical Society Fonds
Series 2, Sound Recordings

Tape 23 c, Side 2

Transcribed by Nancy Lee Deslauriers, Dec. 2007/Jan. 2008

Mr. Barraclough commences speaking: Victor B. Harrison talking about the old Hudson's Bay Company's Bastion at Nanaimo. He was interviewed by William Barraclough at Mr. Harrison's residence at 215 Newcastle Ave, Nanaimo on Monday morning, September 16, 1968. The background noises are caused by an old creaking rocking chair in which Mr. Harrison was seated.

Introducing Mr. Harrison:

Mr. Harrison: You asked me about Mr. Tom Kitchen, the late real estate agent here, who was a very well known citizen. I was very well acquainted with Mr. Kitchen and did consider quite a bit of his legal business. It seems that he made a lot of money in England through a corner on the market in dealing with hops and he said he made the equivalent of a million dollars. And he turned this over, he said, to his son in trust in some way and he left London and ventured forth out into the world and wanted to see Canada and came to Nanaimo. He came up on the E. & N. railway train and he remembers the old hotel, the Occidental was there at the time he landed, and built by Mr. Fiddick, the original Mr. Fiddick so as I say John Kitchen, later on Mr. Albert Edward Planta, was very friendly with Mr. Kitchen and Mr. Kitchen was (inaudible) deal of ability and integrity of Mr. Planta and in some way, which he never explained in detail to me, the money would come from England through Mr. Planta, who incidentally secured a good sized mortgage on his property. They met on Newcastle Avenue where Newcastle and Mt. Benson Streets were. And one day Mr. Kitchen was talking to me about the two old wooden houses that were built in very early days at the time they opened coal mining in Nanaimo. These two little wooden houses still remained where they were built at the back of what is now known, as the Windsor Hotel owned by Mr. Joe Fox. So Mr. Kitchen had an option on the old Opera House, which also was close to the back of these little houses. And he complained to me that Joe Fox had contemplated building an addition to his hotel and he did not want those houses touched or taken down in anyway because of the historic interest. He talked to me considerably about the matter; it was a matter of sentiment for old Tom Kitchen because he thought they were valuable as an advertising feature to the City of Nanaimo and the upshot of all this talk was that Joe Fox insisted on taking everything and had the old houses removed, taken down, removed because they were on, he said, on part of his property and he wanted to build this extension to his hotel. Tom Kitchen was very much upset about this and gave me instructions to start a law suit in the county court to prevent the work going on, that is to say, the work of removing these two small wooden houses. These houses were made of square timbers cut by axe from the trees. There was no saw marks in them that I could see. And one of the houses had been rented by Tom Kitchen for some years for a very small rental to Al Davis [inaudible]. Al Davis told me the house was very tight and the roof was in good shape. There was nothing the matter with the place. However, as the work went on, it did go on, they were moving the houses and I brought an action in the county court and tried before the late Judge [Marker?].

There was considerable evidence and talk about the matter and the Judge said he didn't think he'd issue an injunction. He said Joe Fox thought he had the first rights - the old buildings were in his way or something to that effect, I just forget. However, the entire work order is in the courthouse and should be there still. And while this discussion went on in regard to these two houses which were built by the early settlers he discussed the old Bastion, the Bastion built in 1853 was the old Hudson's Bay Fort built by the two fort builders of the Hudson's Bay Company to protect the coal miners and others who worked in the mines, the coal mine industry which had been discovered. History shows this, that is to say, history shows the reason why the fort was built to protect the workers in the mines.

Mr. Barraclough: Mr. Harrison, could I just ask a question. Those two little log cottages you refer to, would they be the ones that were built by the Muirs do you suppose?

Mr. Harrison: The Muirs? They built the first two cottages in Nanaimo. But I talked to Joe Muir about it and I believe it was built by or for the Muirs. I think they lived there first. I think he told me that in the story, looking at the evidence.

So then Tom Kitchen started talking about the Bastion. He said this Bastion down there on the corner he said which was moved down there some years ago he said but when Mr. Davidson was Mayor of the city he said. I remember that well but I just can't remember the date but he stuck it somewhere around 1897 which was correct enough so the old contract for moving the Bastion made with Mr. Coulson, the contractor, still in the records in the Bastion and the memoranda of it is in the files in the Land Registry office in Victoria which the title of the Bastion I know that because I filed it there with Mr. Kitchen. So to continue the story about the Bastion being on this property. He said �This old Bastion was left here on my property it's been here for some years, I think about 6 or 7 years or more and I was getting afraid they would clear the land� he said. �I held this land he said, I held it under option. I had it then and I have it now� he said. So he said �and I asked the people who were engaged in there engaged in using the Bastion to [inaudible] in writing or by paying me a dollar a year just to show they couldn't take possession of the land but they wouldn't to it. They paid no attention to me�, and he said �Either do that or get it off there, take it away� he said. � I may want to sell this land and then I'll be badly handicapped when that old building is on here.� But I said, �How did it get here?� �Oh� he said, �it was brought up here from the waterfront. It was built by the Hudson's Bay Company and some of their men to protect their miners and the workers down on the water front.� �Where on the waterfront?� �Well down there beyond the Post Office, some where down there. I wouldn't be too certain but I remember being down there and I know it was brought up and as I remember it, it was brought up in segments and put on my property�, and he said �they started to do that without even asking me first� he said. �However, I didn't mind that so much because it didn't do me any harm being there and I would have left it there if they had of paid me a dollar a year or acknowledged to me that it was my land and they were just tenants there subject to my directions.� He said �I wouldn't have objected at all�, but he said they wouldn't do that and I got worried about the question of title and position and all that kind of thing, I decided it was either do that, that is acknowledge my rights or else get off.� He said, �they took the letter of course without telling me the amount they had the contract made to run the old [contratsure?]. He gave me the name of the contractor but I don't remember at the moment. I think it was Coulson. I knew Mr. Coulson years afterwards. And in that way, the Bastion was removed from Tom Kitchen's land, which he either owned or held under option, I say held under option because that was a favorite method of his in doing business was taking options of lands. I know that he was a very energetic man and when Sam Robins of the local coal company Vancouver Island Mining and Land Company would not allow them to ship coal from the mines at Extension which had lately been found to the activities of a coloured man by the name of Stark I understand who discovered the seam and they cut a roadway from Extension down to Nanaimo, down to the five acres, in fact it can still be seen through the trees where they cut. But, as I say, as long as they bring the coal that way past what is known as Hemans and Walmsley storehouse on Departure Bay Road long since gone by this time and take that thing down the hill to Cranberry Point, which is since called Brechin Point. The name was Cranberry Point for a great many years and it remained so as far as I know until they the company years afterwards opened up a mine near Cranberry Point and shipped coal there.

Mr. Barraclough: Mr. Harrison, this matter is the first time I've heard or read about the Bastion being first constructed down on the waterline. I haven't seen any sketches ���

Mr. Harrison: Oh I have. It was drawn by Jack McGregor. J.C. McGregor, who was a man well posted of the events. He was commissioner at times and quite a sketch artist. I'll show you in the hallway if you don't mind. One of the pictures, which he drew, he gave to me as a present. He made this present because I'd been so good in securing an old framed photograph of his father, the late McGregor, William McGregor, who was originally the manager in the coalmines or at least the underground working and digging in the coal. He was in charge.

Mr. Barraclough: Mr. Harrison, we'll take a pause while you produce the picture. Mr. Harrison, we've just inspected the picture that you mentioned of the Bastion but apparently it's sitting on its original site that would be on Mr. Kitchen's property at the time.

Mr. Harrison: Yes, I think that picture does represent the Bastion at the time sitting on Mr. Tom Kitchen's land. Which was this land behind the Opera House.

Mr. Barraclough: There would be hardly any sketches of the Bastion being constructed by the axe men on the waterfront, which apparently it was but carried up as you say in segments.

Mr. Harrison: Well, that's the way Tom Kitchen told me. He said, �I think it was carried up in pieces, in segments�. He said, �That's why I remember it�. He said �I remember they had kind of a fence around it that was packed up by somebody down on the waterfront�.

Mr. Barraclough: Now Mr. Harrison, there are a few questions I'd like to ask you about the coal and the waterfront. To your information, where was the first discovery made Joseph McKay come with his men?

Mr. Harrison: I made enquiries about that many years ago and the best information I could get was on the inlet, somewhere there was a barge there run by Mr. [?] used as a butcher shop by Mr. Robertson and a little further west ward from that was where that coal was first discovered and they went across what is now a street and went under that point of land where there is a tobacco shop now. It was run by the Gray Brothers for many years and from there they worked their way up. They worked their way up to the corner of Bastion and Commercial Street. And they worked all under the corner of Bastion and Commercial Street where there's a hotel run by Mr. Angelo Balzano. It was called the Commercial Hotel and if you go down that alley way leading from Commercial Street into the Eagles building you will find in that alley way on your right hand side as you go in a cement cap that covers a place where a coal cropping came right to the surface and there was a big hole there that keeps it so it is now safe. So they went down the bridge and right on the street they have an opening right on the street, corner of Commercial and Bastion, more on the Bastion side and they worked the mine from there. It was more convenient than coming up from below from where I mentioned the Gray Brothers had their store. They then worked their way across and under the rock opposite that is to say what they called the [Van Dome?] rock, now the Royal Bank of Canada, and they finally got underneath the old Wilson House now used as a pool room and at the back of the Wilson house the opening will still be shown which leads up from the mine. The coalmine.

Mr. Barraclough: Than this original discovery would be were the Canadian Bank of Commerce is?

Mr. Harrison: Well that was one of the places, but those are all small workings. The mines are all over you might say but where the big seam of big commercial value was the Douglas seam and they found that right almost where the old Malaspina Hotel now stands. And I have that confirmed by Mr. Mark Bate who managed a coal company one time. He told me he said �I went down that shaft one day� and he said �And I went down in the mine and I worked my way through following the workers, the workers helped me up, I came out in the valley, that is almost behind where the steam laundry now stands�. I might say this opening is still there to be seen. I met some years ago a couple of young fellows who had an electric flashlight and said they'd been in there and they went quite a distance they'd explained were they met water and such. And if that is followed through you'll see it comes out again in the valley right behind the building, which is below the Bing Kee wooden house that stands on that high promontory.

Mr. Barraclough: Yes, there is a very nice picture available of the Douglas shaft with a whitewash fence around it where the Malaspina Hotel is today.

Mr. Harrison: That is boarded over now; it was boarded over several times. The last time it was boarded over was when they were building the Malaspina Hotel. I might say that Jack McGregor had another photograph of the Bastion, of the original Bastion in it's original position right down on the waterfront, not so very far from that position in the Malaspina area where the Malaspina Hotel now stands. I mentioned to him, I said �Jack, how is this it's down on the waterfront now�? Well he said �there's where it was� of course he said �it was built down there� and he said �you'll see those working houses from the employees in the mine who work there and you see all their little houses.� �They were all there.� �They're all gone now,� he said.

Mr. Barraclough: This is the first record ��

Mr. Harrison: I would like to know very much where the original picture of Jack McGregor is. He said it was taken partly from a photograph and he had Indians in the waterfront in two canoe loads of Indians down below, right in the water. Above them is the Bastion and above them again is the little houses meant for the miners and others who worked in the mines. And that picture I think is still in the Bastion records it should be, at one time I know.

Mr. Barraclough: Mr. Harrison, did you ever see Coal Tyee?

Mr. Harrison: I don't know if I did. I visited Bill Muir a great deal and we were very good friends and [inaudible] �.Indians I think one of them was old Coal Tyee. He was an old man and wore a funny looking hat on his head.

Mr. Barraclough: That sounds like him because Mr. Muir told me that he remembers him quite well.

Hr. Harrison: He was not a big Indian he was a small Indian.

Mr. Barraclough: Chances are you saw Coal Tyee. Mr. Muir told me once that at Mr. Pimbury's funeral. Coal Tyee was there.

Mr. Harrison: Well I know Bill Muir saw Coal Tyee - he talked to him frequently and said he was like all the other Indians you know.

Mr. Barraclough: Yes, well now, one or two other questions. I'd like you to talk about the days of Departure Bay when you lived there; will you give us a little story on that?

Mr. Harrison: Yes, we lived in the old house. I think we rented it in the 1890's and I was born in 1884 so I would be about six years old and we lived there for some six or seven years. During that time, we were moving into Nanaimo and lived in a house on Selby Street and that was bought by Mr. Mark Bate.

Mr. Barraclough: Why would you be living in Departure Bay in those days?

Mr. Harrison: Well it was a well-protected area that's all, except there was no house available at in that time. We were quite a family and lived there about six years. We lived there in 1890 and left there in �97.

Mr. Barraclough: You know that James Dunsmuir was there.

Mr. Harrison: Yes, James Dunsmuir lived there and I remember visiting the place. He was there and they were all in and so were the Dunsmuir women. Mrs. Dunsmuir and a couple of the friends belonged to the group traveled up taking a look around the country and seeing the old mines and such. Of course they were very prosperous then but they had a certain amount of sentimental interest then in the place I suppose. It was a very beautiful place as they kept it, nothing like it looks now. They are starting to take it down. It was sound as could be, that's what the workmen took it down told me.

Mr. Barraclough: Did you ever play with any of James Dunsmuir's children?

Mr. Harrison: Oh yes. The family would always stay there. Every summer they would come up. They were always over to our house. We were always with them. I knew them very well. In fact Miss [Cora?] saw me here in Nanaimo several times and I showed her the funeral notice of an old friend, a teacher, Mrs. Elizabeth Young, the wife of Charles Newton Young who was the first mayor, first city clerk of Nanaimo and afterward shipping director of Departure Bay for Nanaimo. She died in 1895 and her stone, her headstone, is at the corner of the old graveyard right down at the corner of��

Mr. Barraclough: That's right Mr. Harrison, I remember�

Mr. Harrison: �.and I took it out and showed it to her and she was greatly interested.

Mr. Barraclough: It was the Young stone when they arranged all the tombstones in a circle and that Young stone was there at the head of it at the time and the next time I looked it had gone.

Mr. Harrison: I noticed the same. Someone took it away. I think the administrator must have got it because she was most interested and they were great friends and she was the teacher for the whole family. She was a schoolteacher before she came here in England.

Mr. Barraclough: I don't know whether the Dunsmuir's got it or whether the Service Club did the work just plastered it over.

Mr. Harrison: No, I don't know. It reads this way, Elizabeth Young died in 1895 and her son, Allan Young he had the motto �it is better to have loved and lost than not to ever have loved at all�. Bessie Dunsmuir, more properly known of course as Bessie Hope wife of the late Major Hope, was very much interested in this headstone.

Mr. Barraclough: Now to conclude this interview Mr. Harrison made Monday morning, September 16, 1968 at your residence on Newcastle Ave, Nanaimo.

Mr. Harrison: Thank you very much Mr. Barraclough, I'm sure it is very interesting. And I'm glad to have had the opportunity of trying to clear up some of the early events, which occurred throughout Nanaimo.

Mr. Barraclough: Victor Bert Harrison, well-known pioneer and respected resident 215 Newcastle Avenue Nanaimo, passed away, Sunday, July 25, 1971 at the age of 96 years. Born at Victoria, B.C. Mr. Harrison was the former barrister and magistrate for many years. Funeral services were July 30, 1971 at 3:00 pm. from the Westwood Chapel.

End of Tape
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