Nanaimo Historical Society Transcripts

The Nanaimo Historical Society started recording interviews and presentations in 1958.  Transcripts, some with audio recording, of selected recordings are available here.  Transcription of these recordings is an on-going project of Archives' staff and volunteers.


Interviewee / Speaker
Hall, Gertrude
Civic Government
Audio Recording
Nanaimo Historical Society Fonds : Series 2 Sound Recordings
Tape 31(b)

Transcribed by Lois Park, December 2007/January 2008

The following address was presented by Alderman Mrs. G.L. Hall before the Nanaimo Historical Society Tuesday, November 20, 1973.

Subject: Civic Government, Past, Present and Future
The speaker was introduced by Mrs. Emily Kneen and thanks for the interesting address was extended by Mrs. Douglas. M. Phillips.

Mrs. Emily Kneen: Our speaker this evening hardly requires an introduction to the residents of Nanaimo. She has served this community well and long. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia the family moved to Montreal when she was 6.

All her education was in Montreal and she graduated from the University of McGill in 1923. Following which she taught five years before marrying Dr. Allan Hall. First coming to Nanaimo in 1929 for a short time. Then they lived in the U.S.A. while the doctor pursued further studies. Returning to Nanaimo in 1933 where she has resided ever since.

She was first elected to the city council in 1953 and served until 1956. Again she was elected to council in 1966 and is just starting her 7th year topping the polls this year and previously.

On the council she has served as finance chairman ever since she was elected in 1966. She was elected to the regional district council three years ago and still retains that seat. As government representative, she is vice-chairman of the Nanaimo Regional Hospital Board. She is also a director of the Chamber of Commerce and as member of Malaspina Chapter Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire serviced as Vice President on both the provincial and national chapters.

Her subject this evening is civic government, past, present and future.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is with great pleasure that I present to you Mrs. Gertrude �Happy� Hall. [applause]

Mrs. Gertrude �Happy� Hall: Thank you very much, Emily. Madam President, Officers, Fellow Members and Guests here this evening.

I'm always fairly impressed when I hear anyone introduce me. I think I wish I knew that person. Sounds like she is pretty busy and then finally I realize it turns out to be myself and I feel very humble to think over all the years I have been accepted in this community to serve it and help it in its growth.

You know when you come from the east cost where everything is as your grandfather did it - it is nice to come here where I feel we're sitting in the lap of history ourselves and we are helping to direct the future of our community and indeed the whole of Vancouver Island. When I talk to the Historical Society I think, perhaps, you have researched everything that there is to know about Nanaimo and in fear and trembling, I stand before you so I decided I wasn't going to talk about Nanaimo hardly at all until later. And I thought rather I would give you a few remarks I have jotted down about local government - how it began and where it began and so forth.

But before I do that I was very interested listening to the minutes and I might say that I'm not a proponent of women's lib, I don't stand here in the place of Willard Ireland, I'm simply his substitute. We all feel very badly that he could be with us tonight because he is such an able speaker and I'm sorry to hear he is ill.

But you know whenever anyone calls on me to fill a spot I'm willing and able to do it. But I thought afterwards what gall on my part perhaps because Saturday night was election night and if I didn't make it here I'd come [chuckles from the audience] to talk to you on Tuesday about local government. However, all's well that ends well apparently.

Mrs. Philips is researching the history of Commercial Street and there is just a little something that I happen to know that perhaps Mrs. Phillips might not be able to dig up. And that concerns the Hall Block at 42 Commercial Street. That I understand was a great big rock bluff and nobody thought it had any value at all and Dr. Hall Sr., my father-in-law, decided that he would remove the bluff and build his clinic on this site which he did.

And they put in an iron fireman because you must understand that I come from the era of coal mines. We were engaged not by the company but by the miners and the miners signed on the doctors' rolls and they were our masters and therefore we must use coal. So we had an iron fireman in the building until the mines were about ready to close and then Dr. Hall Sr. felt it was time he could move along to oil. So he engaged a miner to come and dig behind the building because there was still rock there and when he got busy digging behind it and got down in, he call edDr. Hall down and said what am I going to do with all this coal - he ran into a coal seam just few feet down. And he took a number of tons of coal out in order to put in an oil tank.

I just think that is a very interesting little sidelight of what happened to the history of the coal miners and how oil took over right on Commercial Street. They didn't carry coals to Newcastle, they were already there.

I'd like to talk to you a little bit about civic government and the need for some form of civic government has always been recognized. And strong representative institutions of local government have been regarded necessary for the help and permanence of the state. Canada has been no exception in this regard.

The municipal level of government offers the best opportunity for the ordinary citizen to participate directly in public affairs and to develop an insight into the processes of provincial and federal government as well. The latter being carried on by the great distance from the direct observation of the average citizen tends to be very obscure. But the services rendered by his local authorities whom he elects and whom he often knows personally touch him at a 100 points and well I know it. The citizen who keeps his eyes open can observe the operations of these services from day to day and has the material and the opportunity to think about public affairs, to form judgments and to act thereon. In this sense, local institutions are the laboratories of democracy.

The preservation and the strengthening of pre-local? institutions is fundamental to the Canadian way of life and the first step towards these ends is to secure a knowledge of the constitution and general operation. Although as far back as 1663, a mayor and two aldermen were elected by the citizens of a Quebec settlement. It was not until after the British occupation that clear municipal institutions made their appearance in Canada.

St. John, New Brunswick was perhaps one of the first cities being incorporated in 1785. Here in our own province of British Columbia in 1860 New Westminster was the first municipality to receive a city charter. Victoria was incorporated in 1862 and Vancouver in 1886 and our own Nanaimo, as you know, in 1874.

Now municipal incorporation is composed of all the inhabitants, all the rate payers and all the resident and tenant electors with the mayor and council within a definite area set apart for municipal purposes by the provincial legislative assembly. The increase in the number and scope of municipal functions has paralleled the growth of Canada's economy.

Some services such as the provision of food, fuel and shelter have always been regarded except in special circumstances as the responsibility of individuals. The local protection of persons and property in pioneer times was left to the head of the house. The bucket brigade was the forerunner of the fire department while the mothers were the only health departments. Parks and playgrounds were private even if they were open to the public.

But as conditions became more settled municipal institutions gradually took over most of these operations upon a more effective basis. Until today the present functions include protection of persons and property, health and sanitary services, parks and recreation services, welfare services, communications, water, lighting and power services. Education is another service but is not administered by the municipal corporations.

Under protections of persons and property come fire fighting and prevention, policing and crime prevention, building and electrical inspection and lighting of streets and parks.

Under health and sanitation came public health and this is usually administered through a department of health. Public baths, sewers, sewage disposal, garbage removal and street cleaning.

Under communications comes streets, roads, lanes, sidewalks and transportation and telephone. Water service is almost universally owned by the corporation and operated by it directly or through a utility commission. Here we have the Greater Nanaimo Water Commission for Chase River, Harewood, Nanaimo, Northfield, Wellington, Departure Bay and a similar commission has been created for a sewer system and now both of these are regional. This is an edict of provincial government that this had to happen. Some of the public utilities are obtained by contract with an individual such as garbage although we now have it under the region or a company or other public authority.

The term of office for the Mayor and Council is for two years here in Nanaimo. The use of overlapping two year terms by which half of the aldermen retire annually is designed to ensure continuity of membership in council. A two year term allows an alderman to devote at least eighteen months to disinterested public service before he must begin to what you say mend his fences if he wishes to be re-elected.

The mayor is elected for two years also. He has no separate power of veto or superior power of initiation of policy or of appointment although he has general supervision over the administrative department. The mayors in B. C. have the powers to refer back to council within a month of its passage, any bylaw or resolution not affirmed by a vote of the ratepayers and compel council to reconsider it. Capital finance, accounting, budget control, payment of accounts are usually found together under the city treasurer. The tax and other revenue collections are under a separate tax collector.

The most important municipal document of the financial year is the current budget of estimated expenditures on civic services. It is important as a financial document but is even more important as a plan of work for the following year. The general provisions of the B.C. Municipal Act govern the current budget procedures and bylaws for most capital expenditures require the asset of the voters after approval by the Department of Municipal Affairs.

Now I think that sort of gives you a look at how we come to join in groups to be elected and to govern and my purpose here tonight was just to acquaint you with this and that is in the past.

You have an eye on what has been going on but I want you to take a look into the future with me and therefore I have brought the Mann Plan down for you to have look at and to the best of my ability which is quite limited to explain it to you. And why it came about and the reason that the regional board has decided to try and put together a project that the citizens both in Nanaimo and all districts around us could have a good look at it and to see why it was necessary.

We had an uncontrolled growth pattern around us all this time and we are getting more and more applications for shopping complexes and rezoning and so on. And for the removal of industry and places for heavy industry and things of this nature and so the region decided they would put together something like this plan here. Now this is what is currently taking place and has been over the years and this is called a decentralized concept and while you look at it, it is rather blown up and so is the centralized concept, which is what they hope Nanaimo may turn into.

But the things are larger than they are in reality and they are all coloured so you could understand where various things currently are or are proposed in Nanaimo without controls and so if you have a look at this latter don't try to figure out the individual streets you live on or anything of that nature.

These colours that are on there override.

Now this covers an area of thirty miles and it starts on the north end up here at Nanoose overhead bridge and it goes down to Mudge Island which is down in Cedar so that this covers the area that the provincial government is asking us to look at with amalgamation in mind and the Mann Plan is more or less being held in limbo because amalgamation is once more to be considered by us and the provincial government have been up they have interviewed as you are probably aware all the districts surrounding Nanaimo and Nanaimo itself and Mr. Chris Woodward from the Department of Municipal Affairs was here and he tells us and he carries a message from Mr. Loremer that they would like us to start this committee of fifteen to twenty people composed of three aldermen, the director on the regional board from each of the surrounding areas; Northfield, Wellington, Departure Bay and so on, plus the chairman of fire and waterworks trustees associations in all these areas and the administrators from the city and regional district to go through all the questions that are going to be asked and come up with some firm answers about assessments, the degree of areas where the assessments will change - all the questions that were not answered last time that we had an amalgamation go around, which failed by .07 of 1% incidentally.

This time it looks as if there will be no doubt that it will go through. I don't suppose it is a shotgun marriage but it is something awfully close to it because if we don't do it ourselves I think you may be jolly well sure it will be presented to us. I don't say forced but it will be presented to us and they want us to get into this no later than March or April.

The committee as yet has not been appointed by the provincial government but I think they are just waiting for elections to get over and they will be coming with all their ammunition for us to get going on this program.

So the regional board, I don't know if any of you had these questionnaires that were circulated - community plan for Nanaimo, they took them around everywhere and they dropped them at every 5th house in Nanaimo and all the areas around us and they had a number of questions on them to be filled in. They were trying to get a consensus of opinion of what you wanted in industry, the port and parks and recreations, the residential areas, transportation, commerce where you wanted it, if you wanted it and what you wanted to have on the waterfront.

They didn't get an awfully good response from that and then they had a display, if any of you saw it, with these proposals and a lot of other material down on Front Street right near the Villa and these questionnaires were in there, this ballot, which I am going to pass around to you after I get done talking and see if you decide you like this one or that one.

But all told, it only came to under a thousand people that took the trouble to either answer, sometimes they called back four or five times to a home in order to get the expression of the people. And they held public meetings in every one of the districts surrounding us and the city. So they are really working regionally to try and satisfy everybody if they possibly can.

Now In these various zones, today the downtown core if you can see this one, that is the commercial area and that is the heart of the city and that is down Harbour Park and Commercial Street and all that particular area and the people who are coming with applications for very large shopping centers and so on, they want to de-centralize and they are trying to get out of town. Here's one here, that's McGarrigle's gravel pit. They want to put something in there over 300,000 square feet for that one. This one here is the same. Here we have another commercial deal.

And wherever you have a commercial deal you will get residential densities around it because where's a shopping center, like a neighbourhood shopping center people want eventually to have a high rise apartments or medium density apartments they want to be close where they can nip out and do their shopping and so it makes quite a change to your city.

The next thing is that they want is heavy industry, which is this light purple colour. That's the controversial harbour situation and the mills that lie along there and everybody seems to, a great majority of the people want it moved out of town and so they are looking at the Harmac area out here which is heavy industry right now. They don't have much other choice for heavy industry; they simply want to get it out of the way.

All this colour here, this sort of light brown, that is single family areas where homes could go. The area that is white here is all farmland and it isn't touched at all, that rural.

Special uses, this is where Exhibition Park is but you can put certain things in there that don't fit into any place else. Light industry is just back of it, running along here.

This green belt is the golf course. Now they would like all that you see green and they would like an area 20 or 30 feet along the highways to be kept green.

They have marked in here are a second roadway around Nanaimo, but there is another line that comes here which is the hydro transmission line at the moment but the thought is that it would be a backup if we were to have a bypass or alternate route back of the city and they feel that that road, if it came and on this one too back here, that they wouldn't have any development beyond that, it would be kept greenbelt on the side of the mountain. There would be absolutely no access, no gas stations, no hot dog stands, no facilities on this road if it comes back here. It is simply and truly a bypass for the city and it would start down here, which is Chase River and it would go down even beyond Chase River it might even come out down close to Ivy Green Park somewhere and totally bypass it and keep it that way. But the trouble with this plan is that big shopping centers, this commercial deal here and here, there is another one by Vic's at Norwell Drive area there, these could be neighbourhood shopping centers if you turn to this plan over here.

Now if you just take a look at this here you'll see a very small area there instead of this.

That is on the corner of Hammond Bay Road and if you want to keep your core of the center downtown right here it remain practically the same. I would just point out that is an error by the artist, that is where I live, [Happy laughs] just across the bridge, trust me to pick it out, I said what is that doing marked that way we have got promenade down there and we have the yacht club and all the controversy over the estuary - are you going to turn it into commercial? Oh no they said please explain that is an error in coloring by the people who did this in Vancouver

We would keep more of the commercial downtown with just small areas and here is Terminal and Northbrook and that's Vic's and that one up there if it is controlled would just be a neighbourhood shopping center which isn't too bad because it would have a small density of multiple residential against this one if you see that one right there so that I'm not suggesting which is the better plan; This has the light industry, sorry heavy industry out here at Harmac and this seemed to be a thing especially if we get amalgamation.

We can hope to have Harmac and all of this heavy industry of the taxation coming into the city and then there wouldn't be this quibble of whether it's in or it is out and whose getting the big shot of the tax moneys. We would all be together and it would stop a lot of this parochial bickering that has taken place and continues to do so in spite of the best efforts of some people to forget about it and when it touches your pocket book your are very cognizant of where the industry and things are going.

But you know I've been in Nanaimo a long time. I first saw Nanaimo on New Years morning in 1929, I came from Montreal by train with Alan - we were just married on the 27th of December and it was 30 below zero when we got married. We got on the train and that time it took four days and five nights to get out here. Coming down the Fraser Canyon I will never forget it out of the snow into the rain.

We got to Vancouver on New Years' morning and it was the most dismal sight I ever saw. The streets were littered with all the whoppee-to-do of New Years' Eve and then we got on the boat I was most impressed with the Elaine, it was like a little ocean liner. I couldn't think that it was just a ferry and we approached Nanaimo and the sun came out and I looked at Mount Benson and I thought what a beautiful place to live, of course we were simply passing through at that moment on our way to Alaska.

But Nanaimo has something and it continues to have something and when we came back here to live after we spent the winter in Cordova, Alaska I was very pleased to come to Nanaimo and I still thought it was a beautiful place to live. Then we went away for a number of years and came back again. It was early in 1937 - we've been here ever since and I have a great interest in Nanaimo but I'm glad that I knew Nanaimo in what I consider the old days when it was still four or five thousand people and those of you who are sitting here today can certainly out point me on that.

But just the same, if I can say I was here in the 20's, even though it was the tail end of the 20's, you know often you hide these facts especially if you're a woman, you are not supposed to admit that you'd been anywhere so long as that but I'm proud. I can never be a native of this area but I'm very proud to be a citizen and to be regarded almost like a native daughter.

Now I could go on in greater length on this to you but if this plan comes in and these roads are suggested because if it goes out Wakesiah and joins over the top of Jinglepot Road and goes along this way and then comes out we're still going to have a bottleneck when you get out about Hammond Bay Road and there so the planning seems to be it would be nice to have two or three roads, so that you could take a choice and get the heavy stuff away from downtown and make Commercial Street a mall and have pedestrian activities going on downtown.

Vic Schultz had a very excellent proposal of what to do with Commercial Street and he removed all the sidewalks and moved the store fronts forward and had a skywalk from Simpson Sears over and coming down Commercial Street and join the whole thing together and had another parking tower where the old bank was up at the corner there and it was a pretty good idea and this may still come to pass.

So it is something we should think about but in the meantime whether we amalgamate or not I think, I shouldn't really say it but this plan of proposals to keep urban sprawl away from us by controlling the merchants who would try to come in and grab large tracks of land against future development and put their things up and force the population growth in that area and whether we like it or not we are going to have this population coming to us - there is no way we can escape it but what we have to do is be prepared for it and to find the methods through zoning and so on to control what is going to happen to us.

I think we could continue to have a very livable place. Because once Nanaimo always Nanaimo. If someone would come and take these around for me, All I ask is which concept do you prefer for Nanaimo's future - centralization or decentralization?

[Someone asks if there is enough for everyone - oh well, I think I have 50 - oh yes that will be enough - and I have a few pencils here if you would like to take them - thank you - discussion is taking place off to the side of the microphone]

I hope you come up and have a look at this. My remarks to you are really finished if you'd like to on that short �. [Tape ends and this starts again on Side B]

But I would thank you for the opportunity to come to speak with you and as one of the your members to enjoy meeting, usually my Tuesday nights are all taken up at the Regional Board. As a matter of fact after I hesitatingly said to Mr. Nicholls that I would come, then I got the notice that we were having a very important regional meeting tonight and I was going to ask could I please speak first as a gentleman suggested. Sometimes your guest speakers do have other commitments. However, the tenders for the recreational complex did not come in until next week so I was lucky. Thank you very much. [applause] Thank you

A member of the audience asks: Would you be willing to answer questions?

Mrs. Hall: Yes, certainly.

Someone states: Mrs. Hall would be willing to respond to questions on the subject topic tonight, she would be willing to so she says.

Mrs. Hall: Or anything else to do with politics.

1st member of the audience asks: I was wondering if now approximate six months time both to that on concepts do they go along with it - are the concepts part of the package [muffled with overriding people speaking in the background]

Mrs. Hall: No it is not part of the package at all but it gives an indication to us on the Regional Board on the direction we should be going.

1st member of the audience continues: What I was thinking was that there are various [buttons?] in the works right now aren't there?

Mrs. Hall: Well, that's what we are trying to control.

1st member of the audience continues: I was thinking of the Harewood one that �.[ rest is muffled]

Mrs. Hall: Yes that's right

1st member of the audience continues: So that could be right away before this.

Mrs. Hall: Yes, some of them are being stalled frankly until we can get an answer.

1st member of the audience continues: Yes

2nd member of the audience asks: [muffled, it appears he states where he is from and wonders why stop at Nanoose, �.. .. any special reason]

Mrs. Hall responds: This is a concept for a greater Nanaimo City so we won't presume to go beyond the formals of School District # 68 to suggest that it should be Nanaimo but it is quite conceivable that a similar thing will take place between Parksville, French Creek and Qualicum in the not too distant future. This is already being talked about because once you get the mapping and zoning in and I understand in Parksville now the mapping and zoning is complete then you will have controls and you can proceed to develop areas because a the present moment there aren't any controls without zoning, you can do almost what you like on your property. And that has been the big problem.

One of the things and it is an awfully good example, in Nanoose for instance when the Regional Board wanted to put their zoning in there after they had completed their mapping the ratepayers were up in arms against it and turned it down absolutely flat at the vote until they found out that they wanted to lease booming grounds near there and then they came flying back to the Regional Board, would you lease hold another referendum, we have changed our minds, we want controls so we know what's coming in here and so the second time around they voted in favour of the zoning so they could control and keep out the type of industries that they didn't wish to have in their area.

So people who go to live outside do so because they want to get away from all the restrictions, the high taxes and the conformity and I for one certainly can't blame them but there comes a time when you can't live in isolation and pretty soon you'd want to live compatible with your neighbour and not have him doing something and not have something on his land that is obnoxious to his neighbours and so these isolations are finding it very hard to conform.

I do have sympathy with people who have moved away and want to live that way but again the population creeps upon them and then they have to start conforming. So it might be 10 years in coming but those communities will gradually grow together because they're edging that way right now. And as a matter of fact French Creek could swing the whole thing because they have the largest tax base. That's the thing.

Mr. Barroclough: At this point Mrs. Hall continued to answer questions from the floor and these were chiefly concerned with the Regional District's plan in the Nanoose, Parksville, Qualicum and Harold? Districts.

Adding a postscript to the tape-recorded by Mrs. Hall some items may be of interest to us. Mrs. Hall, will you continue please.

Mrs. Hall: Thank you, Mr. Barraclough. Following last week's meeting with you, the Regional Board held their meeting last night and at which time we were all appointed to various committees for the Land Commission Public Hearings, which are going to be held next week. There will be one here in Nanaimo on Monday, December 3 and one on Wednesday December 5 in Parksville.

These are very interesting, there going to be an all day thing from 9:30 through to 9:30 at night on both days and all the Regional Directors are sitting on in committees to receive the citizens who wish to query the decisions of the Land Commission and to find out which category their land falls into and if they have any complaints.

Already there are close to 50 complaints in of people wanting to have it clarified and I think it's a very fine thing and it follows some of the remarks that I did make to the group on the 20th regarding the land commission and the ability to appeal decisions and for clarification so that things really are progressing.

Speaking of the progress I might also go back in history to the remarks I made about Dr. Hall Sr.'s building and the changeover from coal to oil and the rock bluff might be of interest to the old-timers here but Mr. Jack MacKenzie was the chap who did the blasting of that bluff away and Mr. Negrin was a local coal miner that Dr. Hall Sr. engaged to remove the coal from the area after it was blasted. These are just small things.

In talking to Alan, my husband, about this he recalled to me that this building sits directly over the Douglas seam of coal which was one of the main seams that ran straight through the town and on up Commercial Street and to this day the water continues to creep into the basement of that building from the old workings of the mine. I think it very interesting that further up the street, I think it was across from the Royal Bank in that building that the washroom facilities were not hooked into the main sewers at that time. It went directly down through the mine shaft [chuckles], which caused quite a good deal of concern particularly amongst the gentlemen who used the facilities.

Mr. Barroclough: Mrs. Hall, may I just interject a moment.

Mrs. Hall: Yes

Mr. Barroclough: I have heard that Mr. Jock MacKenzie tell me many years ago about Dr. Hall giving him the contract to blast the rock out of that lot and they dumped it into the ravine behind.

Mrs. Hall: Oh, yes, the ravine at that time was not as it is today with the street running through it and I do recall when I came that the railway ran right across Commercial Street with the slag from the mine and it was dumped across there to fill in the ravine behind.

Nanaimo was quite an interesting place to me because I came from the city of Montreal and I'd never really been in a small town before and particularly out here on the west coast where so many of the buildings were built of wood in those days. And it was of interest to me, as a matter of fact even then, there was a housing shortage. We couldn't find any place to rent and we had to live with Alan's parents in their home for a number of months until we could find a house to live in.

We, finally Mrs. Weigle let us have her house at 721 Comox Road right next to the Benson's nurseries and the railway tracks, of course, are just two doors away and I'll never forget the first night I slept in there I thought a train wreck was coming straight at me because the train arrived and blew at the crossing and thundered on by and I was left with a palpitating heart - I never lived in a little wooden house before. It was quite a shock to me.

But the thing that really interested me was in driving around town I saw on the street all these small wooden little buildings and sheds and I couldn't understand what they were doing there and Alan told me that these were the coal sheds and the coal was delivered to the homes in all these little sheds that stood particularly in the south end of town and I found this very fascinating.

Mr. Barraclough: Thank you, Mrs. Hall, for the recording.
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