Discover our Heritage
By Ed Nicholson
Transfer Beach Park is known as the jewel of Ladysmith.
This family friendly park is the site for many community events and activities. Here you can swim, picnic, kayak, play horseshoes, basketball, sand volleyball or catch a concert at the Amphitheatre. Children enjoy the spray park and playgrounds, while adults enjoy the park’s beauty and convenient concession, off-leash dog area, and access to a number of walking trails.
Transfer Beach Park also has a rich history and The Town of Ladysmith’s Heritage Revitalization Advisory Commission is recognizing this. During BC Heritage Week from Feb. 13 – 19, watch for commemorative posters featuring Transfer Beach Park.
The story of Transfer Beach Park starts in 1859 when Captain Richards of the Royal Navy was conducting a hydrographic survey when he came to a harbour replete with oysters, and named it Oyster Harbour. When the coal seam at the South Wellington colliery was depleted, James Dunsmuir opened a new mine at Extension eight miles to the northwest of the town of Oyster Harbour, soon to be renamed Ladysmith. Dunsmuir decided to build a railway from Extension to Oyster Harbour, and in 1898 built coal bunkers and a wharf near what locals refer to as Slack Beach. In 1900, a spur line was added to what became known as Transfer Wharf. As local author T.W. Patterson has noted, Transfer Wharf was a first for Vancouver Island as it enabled loaded rail cars to be transported to the mainland by barge; previously, cargo had to be lightered to dock.
The first Government wharf was built 100 yards to the south some time before 1904. It was used by pleasure craft and fishing boats, and for a short period by the CIL Co. to unload explosives – hence the nickname ‘Dynamite Wharf’. (It was also used for dumping ‘night soil’ from the ‘honey wagons’!)
Transfer Beach was a social centre in summer with many picnics and lovers’ trysts. Boys, to prove their manhood, would jump or dive off the Transfer Wharf tower, which was nearly 80 feet high! In 1953, the CP Railway built a transfer slip in Nanaimo and the wharf fell into disuse. The beach, however, was where boys and girls continued to play or were taught to swim by siblings or parents, in spite of the logs and unpleasant scrapes from barnacles. In the 1940’s, the Ladysmith Lions built a changing room and basic washrooms – but no showers. In 1956, a lifeguard, Janice White, was hired to give swimming lessons while she trained for a race across the Juan de Fuca Strait.
In 1965, Kay Grouhel was elected Mayor of Ladysmith. She took a particular interest in the development of Transfer Beach – with the vision of transforming the area into a public park. After Pacific Logging agreed to remove the wharf, the Town Council purchased the land for $10,000 and following extensive consultation, a park plan was drawn up. The story of how “Concrete Kate” enlisted the support of both community volunteers and Malaspina College heavy equipment students to develop the area is well known, and Transfer Beach Park, with a new change house and washrooms was ready just in time for Canada’s Centennial Celebration. In 1971, the town was honoured to have Queen Elizabeth 11 and Prince Philip stop at Transfer Beach to watch the logging sports at the new facility.
In 1996, the Dynamite Wharf was declared unsafe and had to be demolished, with much protest from townspeople who wanted it preserved. Sadly, its timbers were rotted beyond repair and it was demolished in 1997. The 1990’s saw a new playground constructed, the Rotary Tot Park opened and the RV park closed.
In 1999, Mayor Rob Hutchins suggested an amphitheatre for Transfer Beach. and the project was completed in May 2000. Since then, it has been the venue for many events, and a popular venue for marriage ceremonies and music band concerts. In 2004, during Ladysmith’s Centennial Celebrations, Transfer Beach received the B.C. Parks and Recreational Association Award. In 2005, the Water Spray Park was opened and since 2006, a Eco Centre houses kayak and boat rentals and lessons.
Transfer Beach is a jewel of a park, and exists today because of the active involvement and support of the local community, particularly the service clubs and society organizations of Ladysmith.
Looking for more information on Ladysmith’s history? Interested in exploring your family ‘roots’? Drop in during Heritage Week (or at any time) and peruse your town’s archives at Unit B – 1115 First Avenue (behind Tim Hortons) [250 245 0100]; or visit the Ladysmith Museum on 721 First Ave [250-245-0423]; or go to our website www.ladysmithhistoricalsociety.ca
Thanks to Ed Nicholson, Harald Cowie, Rob Johnson and the Ladysmith & District Historical Society for research and photographs.