Wallace Street
Interviewee / Speaker
McGirr, Flora
Audio Recording
Nanaimo Historical Society Fonds

Series 2 Sound Recordings : Tape 22

Transcribed by Lois Park, October 2008

Address was presented by Mrs. F. McGirr before Nanaimo Historical Society, May 18, 1971.

Subject – Wallace Street

Unidentified Speaker: Thank you Mr. President for giving me this opportunity for performing this pleasant duty on presenting our speaker this evening, Mrs. McGirr, whose subject is the history of Wallace Street. And you notice I said presenting, not introducing, for our speaker in no way requires introducing to the members of the Historical Society. On your notice, I drew a sketch of a building on Wallace Street that at one time was the business home and the residence of the Lawrence family of which our speaker, Mrs. McGirr, was a member of the family and she’s not on the picture actually but looking at the little sketch the other day, she said, you know that just looks like my brother that is standing leaning against the post there. You remember, I suppose everybody here will remember will remember Hughie Lawrence. Right.

Now that makes Mrs. McGirr part of the history of Wallace Street herself. And so, I know she has put a lot of research into this question and her own personal experience of Wallace Street I am sure we are looking forward to a great presentation and hearing about other buildings on Wallace Street tonight. You had a sample of what the outside people think of it, you that came late didn’t hear that letter reading, it is a wonderful letter from some old timers that lived on Wallace Street and we are going to hear, I am hoping, we are going to hear who Wallace Street was named after, I don’t know and I am sure we would like to hear more about the old timers on Wallace Street and the events that took place there. There is so much history attached to Wallace Street that really hasn’t been presented to any of our meetings before. And so, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is with the greatest pleasure that I can think of to present to you this evening our speaker, Mrs. F. McGirr, whose subject is Wallace Street and very noticeably here on her ancient costume. Thank you Ladies and Gentlemen [Applause]

Pardon me, one item here I forgot. And I should have mentioned this; I think it is a very opportune time to recognize the service that Mrs. McGirr has rendered to the Historical Society of Nanaimo. I am going to, I made this out some years ago and it is where the offices have served…Mrs. McGirr was secretary for five terms 1956 to 1960, then she was President for two years, 1961 – 1962, then she became Treasurer for eight years from 1963 to 1970. A total of fifteen years of dedicated service to the Nanaimo Historical Society. [Applause]

Mrs. F. McGirr: I am going to tell you about Wallace Street as seen from a child, myself. Many of us know that the best way to recall our hometown is to stroll about in it. And this being a special edition of our Daily Free Press in 1859 [Editor’s note: The Free Press began publication in 1874.], I couldn’t help noting the many changes in our town since my childhood.

So I decided to go back and walk along the length of the five-block street I had lived in so many years. It was just twenty years before had been almost a trail when our then first Mayor Bate had strolled along it. Nanaimo had out grown the waterfront and it became necessary to move back and as the ravine cut through the town from Comox Road to Victoria Crescent, the next step was Wallace Street, named after Charles W. Wallace, the Victoria agent for the Vancouver Coal Company.

So this evening I shall try to show you this interesting street as I remember it and how it has changed over the years.

I shall begin my stroll at the most northerly point of Wallace and Comox Road where on the eastern side stands our first cemetery. You can even then overgrown and neglected with great maples trees hanging over it but always of interest to us as children. This Nanaimo first cemetery with last burial but one in 1876 had become full of brambles and broken headstones until in 1953 the Nanaimo Branch of the Historical Society urged that something be done to restore it. In 1958, the Hub City Kiwanis Club cleared the plot and turned it into a memorial park, all headstones that could be saved were placed in a stonewall, grass and flowers were planted and our Mr. Barraclough restored the lettering on many gravestones. A plaque had been placed at one end telling of it’s history and the names of those buried, that were found were placed there.

A small house next to the cemetery had been moved from Fraser Street, but that was some years after we moved there. Leaving the Pioneer Cemetery, there is just trees until we come to another small cottage which when the street was graded was way below the sidewalk and it was a short time later rebuilt with a large part of the house above the street which one entered across a small sort of bridge.

Adjoining this house on the corner was a large house lived in by a painter who we always called ‘Hosey’. The steep hill along side was known as ‘Hosey’s Hill’ and which made a wonderful hill for sleighing in the winter. This hill ran into the ravine and later at the foot was placed Good's warehouse. It was really the lower half of Campbell Street, named after George Campbell, an early director of the Vancouver Coal Company.

The small house, aforementioned, was inhabited by Thomas Hodgson and family, a many times school trustee. Our high school turned into the agricultural hall, the agriculture hall into the high school on Machleary Street was named after him. He was Mayor in 1909, that whole family has gone now.

As we cross Campbell Street, we find this block also has changed beyond recognition. As it was then a block of private homes, the first one tall, narrow pinkish house lived the Pargeter family with whom I went to school. In this same block and next door lived the Wenborn family, very old timers and whose business was machinists. It was burnt out in the fire of ’94 and four years later his home burned down and the family left Nanaimo.

Three small houses next, in one lived Mr. McBain, a lawyer, and beside it in a small house was the Sampson home. The Sampson home at that time, like all the others on that side of Wallace Street sloped toward the ravine or as we always called it when we were children ‘the gully’. I quite remember the well in their back yard, when the Sampson’s just stooped to get their water and to clean a fish if they had one right off the side of the well.

In the front, on the left hand side on the corner stood a large shed which was used as a photographer’s building before Mr. Sampson opened his general store on Commercial Street, which is now the Nash Hardware Store.

While the children were too many for this small house, he bought the big white house on the north corner of Prideaux Street, the house of Mr. Gordon our MP, who had died and the family had moved away. It is now a rooming house.

Mr. Ron Norris is not here tonight, I don’t think, but when he was a child he lived in the Sampson house because I remember babysitting for him.

A large red square house built by a Mr. Whitfield, a shoe merchant, on the long bridge, was next door. Lived in then by Mr. John Bell, of the Electric Light Company, who had also left and it was taken over by his brother Mr.Gord Bell of the Electric Light Company and he had left but had married a sister of our first president of the Historical Society, Mr. Jack McGregor who’s father at that time was a local mine manager.

Later our old friends the Freeman’s who you all know probably, bought the house and lived there until it was torn down and is now a doctor’s office.

Not one house on this block is there now.

But the [Peter?] house, built sometime years later, is on the corner although it was not there when we were children. This particular block has a doctor, plumber, chemists, sign writer but not a sign of anything left since we lived there.

We now come to the eastern side of Wentworth street, very steep and never used as a road way or for sleighing as the bushes and trees had never been removed. It was too steep, too steep to sleigh ride on. On that side Mr. Pimbury, our late chemist, had a lovely garden and just on it’s corner Mr. Summerhayes, a bricklayer had built a home and along his lot and opposite in front of the convent, very picturesque, there was a very tall poplar trees shaded this part of the block. Now Mr. Summerhayes always reminded me of the time one of their boarders gave our children books to read, I still have some of those books at home. But also he kept bulldogs, and one of them bit my sister and had to be shot. This lot also ran down to Fraser Street.

Mrs.Barraclough'sgrandfather had lived in a small house on this same corner years before and you all know he came over on the Princess Royal. On the same lot but next door, was a Chinese laundry consisting of four cabins under one roof. They belonged to a Mr. Richard Nightingale. Many a time, we watched the Chinese ironing they had a little stove about that size, standing up on a table with an sort of a iron rail around it and all this irons about six of them stood up against this little stove to heat them. And these Chinese always wore white; never saw them in any other color.

We came next, my father’s Eureka Soda Works, a large brown like looking building with commodes upstairs for the family, and the only part left on that whole of Wallace Street is the remains of that building. If you pass there you will see it, it is now a refrigerator plant.

I remember a long triangular corner of this lot, which is now being made into a small rest camp by the Lions Club before climbing Fitzwilliam Street. Named after Mr. Charles Wentworth Fitzwilliam, the director of the Vancouver Coal Company. This old building has been a soda works, a restaurant, a farmers market, and is ending up as a refrigerator plant. And on that corner, for a time was built a large billboard, each side of the street to advertise the Walter L. Main Circus first to come to Nanaimo. Now that was a story of its own so I won’t tell you about it.

Later, the New Ladysmith Lumber Company had an office on this corner, then the Electric Light Company had their office there, and later on the library where the Historical Society met for some time until it was torn down a few years ago.

Here we lived, when one beautiful Sunday morning about seven o’clock fire struck and we had to get out. A blacksmith shop, a machine shop, a furniture store, the Bastion Street Bridge all burned down. However, everything was all right and we went back home.

The last block on this side of Wallace Street next to the bridge, of course, was very steep, very rough, only a small store which was burned down in the fire and where a Miss George one of our early school teachers lived. I don’t know if any of you would remember her or not.

We watched that large brick building belonging to Mr. McNeil was built for some time I should say and the [Viponds?] livery stable came next and many of you may have seen the lovely garden if you looked over the bridge some years ago at the back of that building. The McNeil building was burned down last year and the [Vipond?] building some time before. Which has left nothing on that block that was there when we were children. I well remember when the [Viponds?] lived there, training wild horses on Wallace Street.

That brings us to the end of that side of the Street. Many years later, other buildings have gone up but not while I was there.

Now then, shall we walk back on the other side of the street? The corner of Albert, Victoria Crescent and Wallace, where stood the fine home of Mayor Bate in the early 90’s. This home had been built by Mr. Robert Dunsmuir, built somewhat back from Wallace Street and with its carriage house and out houses reaching back to Dunsmuir. Fenced along Wallace Street and up Albert Street it was an imposing structure and remained there until about 1911 or 12 when it was moved to [?] Street.

At the beginning a house that stood in its place was a log house. Albert Street was named after Queen Victoria’s consort Albert. Wallace named after Charles Wallace as I mentioned before a Victoria Agent for the Coal Company and the name of the house was [I-do?].

This block from Albert Street to Franklyn was a high bluff rock, from this corner to the next block; for the next five blocks I should say was the one chosen by Mr. Bate for expansion when he walked along the street in 1874.

Adjoining this, but much farther on the bluff was the Franklyn house but in front and touching Wallace Street at that time was a blacksmith shop and a livery stable with a small house close by. The Akenhead family lived in this house; they were a very old family as well. The rest of the land to Franklyn was vacant.

As this large brick house, which was built in 1861 by Captain William Hales Franklyn, it commanded a fine view; to me it was always there. It was torn down when our new Nanaimo City Hall took over. It was lived in at that time by the [Rumming?] family. The last tenants were the Reifel family. This block hasn’t a vestige remaining as I remember it as a child.

As we cross Franklyn, on the corner where now stands a wholesale building, in 1892 or 3, the Methodist Church, quite an imposing building and dedicated by Mr. Samuel Robins and, at that time, a fine looking building, with the parsonage built some distance back two years later, it is still there now. Mr. Barraclough was married in this church, I believe. [Believe it is Mr. Barraclough who says 49 years ago)

At the very side of this, close beside this next lived at that time a Dr. Rice, no one here remembers him I guess. (CD jumps to food). Mr. Rice committed suicide; I always remember that [inaudible] The legion car park is there now.

[inaudible] there is an empty space, of about the length of three houses, clinging to the side of the hill just on the other side of this space was a Chinese Laundry joining this now is a large office building where at the time when I was a child was cottage the home of Miss [?] after whom [inaudible] school is named.

Close to this also was another rocky bluff which stood a large dark red cottage, it was so rocky we had to climb a number of steps to reach it and later it became to home to Captain Yates. [inaudible] was the home of [inaudible] a prominent citizen who had married Miss Mayer’s who’s father ran the Red House we called it, later it [inaudible] store and is now Ken Thompson’s [inaudible].

One winter, when we were out playing on the sleds we were all sent home and [inaudible] just beyond [inaudible] Occidental Hotel.

This home was and still is the only one left on that block. The house was [inaudible] was also the home of the man who’s son has given our children’s section to the library , Mr. Mercer. Then came [inaudible] very steep and rocky street [inaudible] would grab on when you passed, even to this day that sand is still there on one side. And a wooden fence was built to protect the [inaudible] house.

[inaudible] A high railing ran along the sidewalk and remained until the street got paved. As we cross Fitzwilliam Street named after Charles Fitzwilliam, the director of Vancouver Coal Company as I mentioned before, we pass [inaudible] which lead to the Presbyterian Church which had also just been dedicated [inaudible].

At the corner of Fitzwilliam and Wallace, we [inaudible] was at that time a slanting rocky hill but there part of the lot, Mr. Richard Nightingale was on the first council in Nanaimo in 1875 and lived here with his family in a small house. [inaudible] he was killed in Courtenay at the Trent River Bridge about the time [inaudible] this only house left on that block and still stands close to the bluff at the back and next to the Catholic property. A small store was later built on that corner, candy [inaudible] etc and one of my sisters was [inaudible] and later another sister was taught photography. [inaudible]

Our walk has now taken us the Catholic Church property along which ran another high wooden sidewalk with a railing along the top of the walk like the one in front of the Yates home. An apple orchard close to the [Nightingale?] fence was a great temptation as a short cut to the [Layton?] home on the hill where now stands the BC Telephone. This church property was a landmark for many years, I understand the first church….


I understand the first church was founded in 1876 and soon proved not large enough. The first church had been a parish hall , a young man’s institute and close to the apple orchard. The church bell was in a structure built at the back and out in the open, it seemed to ring all the time I think. The priest’s home was a cottage built close by, a convent was quite small and was added to in the 1870s. There was a garden along [inaudible] a small house stood on the corner close to Wentworth Street. I can still remember Mrs. [Parsons?] from our own members lived there as a child. All of this was burned down July 12, 1910, the next year [inaudible] at that time it took in the property to the corner of [?]. I can even remember name of the priest who was there [inaudible] It is still a large vacant lot, dismantled a few years ago as the church was built up Fitzwilliam Street and [inaudible].

Our walk now takes us down across Wentworth Street, named after a director of Vancouver Coal Company. On this corner in the 90’s was Mitchell and Rumming Soda works. This family had come from England some time before and lived in a country house. One of the daughters had married a John Mitchell who had a soda factory, he died and the Rumming family took over the business. Just behind that building were three small cottages; one was moved to Wallace Street for Mr. & Mrs. Rumming, one of the three was my birth place some years before.

Adjoining this property was large square two storey house the home of the Sabiston's. Mrs. Sabiston was the sister of Mr. Mark Bate and her husband had built Commercial Hotel and had also [inaudible]. He had died and she had adopted a child before this Mrs. Horne one of our late members

Next door to them was a cottage, the home of Mr. A. G. Horne, of whom we have heard, he was the first white man to cross over into Alberni and Horne Lake was named after him. I remember his daughter came running out the Sunday morning of the fire and took our baby to her home. She was weeping [inaudible] on account of the fire. But she was [inaudible]. Mr. Horne died in 1901.

Where the Cosmopolitan Restaurant now stands was his home. Then came two small buildings, one the home of a Mr. Richardson and the other a small store. These two lots now are Mount Benson Funeral Home.

And on the corner [inaudible] the daughter, one daughter and the granddaughter are both members of the Historical Society, I think, in Vancouver I can’t remember their name but some of you would know, would know them. [inaudible] The other daughter, the eldest daughter was – became Mrs. Johnson who husband had built Johnson Wharf and the Cosmopolitan Store.

In all this whole block hasn’t a building on it that was there when we lived there. That still leaves us with just two [inaudible] on the side block street [inaudible].

If we cross Campbell Street, another hilly one, also named after the Director of Vancouver Coal Company you can see a large new home built there. Mr. Ralph [?] had built this [inaudible] fire in May 1894 and he died eleven days after the fire. His home became a home of (inaudible) McFee who some of you will remember from the hospital whose sister, his wife’s sister was Raymond Collishaw, a great (inaudible) it is now (inaudible) all that property. The next house torn down just a while ago was built by a Mr. Grant in about 1900, that was later of course (inaudible) and he has relatives in Nanaimo now. Captain (?) and (inaudible).

There is also a cottage torn down lately and lived in by a young lawyer who’s name at that time was [Brocklehurst?] and (inaudible).

Then we come to a fine stone fence behind which was built about 1892 one of our more beautiful homes. This home has always been painted white and was built by Andrew Haslam who had been a saw miller and now became an owner. We watched this home being built and saw an old house on the corner torn down to make space. It was quite a venture as this street had not been open for too long and Mr. Haslam was a quite public minded citizen. He launched the [inaudible] in ’91 with his brother in charge, all on board were drowned. This happened off Ripple Rock up island. Mr.Haslam became mayor of Nanaimo in ’92 and ’93, later he went to the Federal House on the death of Mr. Gordon. He had been a member of the Provincial House about two years before and during this time his wife had opened the rifle range. [inaudible] things then went wrong. In 1904 the saw mill was destroyed by fir; mostly destroyed, in 1905 the mill was sold to Ladysmith Lumber. In 1906 the beautiful home was sold by auction, some of the fittings are [inaudible] It lay idle for a time, it was a boarding house and is now once more restored. The conservatory at the left front is now a [inaudible] and above was an open veranda which is also rooms. The attic rooms are in use. Not too much change as I remember it.

We are now into the street, big boarding house, and the old pioneer cemetery on the eastern side which was even then [inaudible].

This brings me to 1906 when we move to [inaudible] after I had been teaching for a while. You see, I lived there for the time I started school about until I taught. We had moved for a short time before moving [inaudible] in a little [inaudible] I think we paid ten dollars a month rent there.

Many things happened personally while living on Wallace Street where I had spent all my growing years [inaudible] also [inaudible]. Now, today there is only three buildings on this side of Wallace Street and part of one on the east side it does not seem possible there could have been such a change. Before I lived there our own Mark Bates toured this street looking for more for our growing city.

In 1874 just twenty years before we came this was all there was, mostly deer trails, then it was graded and opened up in 1890 by then Mayor Hilbert.

Just before this in 1888, this is just before my time, this came out of the Free Press so you will see how uncivilized “Shortly after midnight on Thursday, May 10 a quiet movement was observed by the sports of the city, but there was a nemesis on their tail by city Constable [inaudible]. A few minutes after one o’clock a small party of men were seen silently and cautiously wending their way across Bastion Street Bridge and along Wallace Street. The party was followed by a second [inaudible] I believe this was [inaudible]. The street lamp in front of the [inaudible] appeared to be the rendezvous for in front of the gas light a solid young sport stripped to the waist. A ring was improvised with the seconds in the corner. And the first time was called and the fight began. The first round was sharp, quick and decisive and the referee started to call the time for the second round just then constable appeared, it was a sight to see the principals stripped to the waist [inaudible] the nearest bush followed by the referee and the seconds and the spectators with the constable in close pursuit.” So Nanaimo wasn’t always [inaudible].

As I said in 1874 on this same street a large boarding house, not a service station, a small cottage was moved to make way for the [Haslam?] house nothing but trees until you came to Wentworth Street on the northeast corner a tiny cottage later taken up by the church. Opposite on the southeast corner was [inaudible] for a time. [inaudible] nothing else until you reached the corner on the other side the [Wolfe?] house. A small house of John Richardson [inaudible] a parsonage for a time a Mr. [Bryant?] lived on that corner in a small house.

So the five blocks of this once deer trail and later a few houses was opened up and graded in 1890 by our then Mayor Hilbert [inaudible] the only curve on that street was at the corner where now [inaudible] Cleaners are.

[CD starts again here]

At that time for food we use to send an empty crate on the old steamer [Joan?] to Comox, it came back full of butter, the best butter in the country was supposed to have come from there. We always had cheese, fish, meats and a Chinaman used to come around with vegetables and selling from a wagon. The milk was poured into your pail as needed. Lots of blackberries as I remember.

So now we will just take a very quick look at Wallace Street in 1972 you only see the Haslam house, the Nightingale house, the Yates house or the Wolfe house as we always called it. And on the west side part of our old shop now a refrigerator plant. Business everywhere such as restaurants, City Hall, wholesale offices, and buildings and doctor’s offices, but no churches. The street was needed for business as most people had moved away, as I see it Nanaimo out grew the water front with a few exceptions. Our great forest trees were felled, and people moved back, coal was replaced by timber, and our population grew and grew and grew.

Now we are living in a different world. Thank You. [Applause]

From the audience: Mrs. McGirr, the Franklyn house, you refer to it on the corner of Franklyn Street?

Mrs. McGirr: Well, it was right on the east side of the corner.

From the audience: This gavel of ours here was made from a piece California redwood that I snitched from the house when they were pulling it down.

Mrs. McGirr: I have a picture here it is not in very good shape but I tried to have another one taken off the Bastion Street Bridge just after the fire and this little snap shot gives you a part of the right down here where the Bate house was.

Unknown Speaker: Mrs. McGirr on behalf of all of us here, I would like to thank you most sincerely for such an interesting talk. I can’t believe your memory and all the research you have done to share and the things you have told us about these five blocks and I do hope that the stately homes will remain and have a [inaudible].


Mrs. McGirr: I haven’t said very much about the homes that were not there but the letter you read I knew the family.

Unknown Speaker: This letter came in from one of our members who were not able to be here tonight.

“It is with regret that Lynn and I will be unable to attend the Meeting of the Historical Society on May 18. I have another meeting in Vancouver.

We wonder if we maybe able to read the paper or hear the tape at some other date as we are particularly interested in Wallace Street. Lynn’s grandfather, John [part…?] lived at about 100 Wallace Street in 1880’s. His mother was born and married from that home.

My father boarded with Mrs. [Garnett?] prior to 1900 at about 35 Wallace Street and my widowed Grandmother and her family of four daughters and one son lived at the corner of Fitzwilliam and Wallace.

So you see the street has real meaning in our own personal lives and we are really disappointed that we must miss this meeting and that is signed Mrs. J. L. Nichols.”

Wm. Barraclough: Mrs. McGirr was presented to the gallery by [Raymond Bartal?], [Mrs. R. J Walley?] expressed the appreciation of the members to Mrs. McGirr for her excellent paper which the result of much research mentioning in particular the [Haslam?] and Yates homes. The secretary Miss Elizabeth B. [Norcross?] read the letter by Mrs. J. L. Nichols.

Mrs. McGirr: Just as a postscript to my story of Wallace Street. The Lions Club just opened a new resting spot at Fraser, Fitzwilliam and Wallace Street. This small triangular corner will be a welcome and picturesque spot after years of idleness. Many years ago it was a favourite place for advertising as billboards were built along both sides, later a lumber office was constructed here. It also housed our electric light office and until our library was built higher up Fitzwilliam Street it was used as such for some time and the Nanaimo Historical Society met here until it was demolished several years ago. This corner has now become a beauty spot with its benches and planted shrubs around a Japanese plum tree. Wallace Street is one of our oldest historical streets when our first mayor strolled along it looking for room to expand.

This is one of the series to keep Nanaimo history alive presented by members of Nanaimo Historical Society.
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