Harbour Heritage Centre
Currently open Wednesdays from 10 am – noon, or you can arrange for a guided tour by calling Shirley at 250-245-3075.
The Harbour Heritage Centre is located at 610 Oyster Bay Drive, in the south end unit of the big blue building, once a forest industry Machine Shop.
The Centre is an exploratory, interactive place where families, students, elders and tourists can discover the early way of life in Ladysmith Harbour – fishing, logging, coal and oysters.
Once inside, you feel like you have stepped back to the millennia, represented by a mural of the pristine harbour, when it was home to the people of the Stz’uminus First Nation and provided them with their food and way of life. The 1900’s saw expansion of the oyster processing industry, the transfer of coal from steam locomotives which travelled along the long coal wharf to waiting ships, the old fishing dock with the Porlier Pass troller and stories of fishing at the ‘Gap’, the ore smelter in the harbour, and development of the ‘Log Dump’ where logs brought by rail were pushed into the sea for sorting and transport. In the Centre, you’ll experience a replica fishing shack, and view scaled dioramas of coal and wharf operations during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
The succession of industrial activity in the 1900’s provided the economic base for development of the Ladysmith community, although many of the changes have been harmful to the harbour environment and to traditional ways of life. As we move forward in a positive way, we realize that what occurred in the past has become our history.
In the Harbour Heritage Centre, we provide visitors with unique waterfront experiences through our displays, legends, stories, slideshows and activities. Our purpose is to develop an understanding of our heritage and culture, build community spirit and ensure that our harbour is kept alive for future generations.
After experiencing the Harbour Heritage Centre, wander along the walkway to the Waterfront Art Gallery, located upstairs at the north end of the building.
Long Wharf Coal Diorama
The ‘Long Wharf’ is central to the founding of Ladysmith as a community. In 1896, coal had been discovered at Extension, just south of Nanaimo. James Dunsmuir decided to build a town here where the coal could be delivered by rail, loaded onto ships and taken to world markets. ‘Long Wharf’ was built here in 1898-99. The first ship departed with its coal cargo in December 1899. The wharf remained in operation until 1931 when the Extension mine closed.
In 2009, the Ladysmith Maritime Society decided to commemorate this important history in the form of a visual 3-D diorama. Guy Brooke, a local artist, was commissioned to create a diorama of the Ladysmith ‘Long Wharf’. Guy researched, drew up plans and began the project but, unfortunately, passed away in 2010. In 2013, Dave Ames saw the unfinished diorama and said his group of model railroaders would be interested in completing the project. The volunteer group including Dave Ames, Harry Southern, Ken Black, Bob Hartl, Victor Gerwin, Jim Irvine, Vies Salanski and Bill Hook began in 2013 and completed the diorama in 2014. Harry Southern documented the construction steps with his camera and shared his videos on YouTube.
Colin MacLock, a professional model ship builder, was then asked to create the model sailing coal barque which was in the original plan. This model, installed in May 2015, is a central feature in the magnificent diorama. Recently Colin has added a few more finishing touches: tiny people, life boats, ropes, and her name “Highland Light.”