Vegan restaurant opens in historic building
By Rob Johnson
Many in the community have been watching the renovations of the heritage building at 431 1st Avenue in Ladysmith with anticipation of the opening of the town’s first vegan restaurant Plantitude.
Through the years, the former Ladysmith Hotel has been the site of many eateries, such as K & D Diner and Barb’s Kitchen. You may be old enough to remember when it was our library, or if you are even older than that, you may remember my Uncle Johnson’s Green Grocery. Today, it is home to the new vegan restaurant, Plantitude, and a home décor store called White Space Living.
This heritage building was built as the Ladysmith Hotel in the early 1900s, on a site across the street from its present location. As one of the very first hotels in Ladysmith, it had a colourful past, with a lively bar, card games and rowdy young coal miners. About five years after its opening, it was purchased by Annie and Chris Stevens, a power couple that relocated here after amassing a sizeable fortune from the Yukon gold fields. They snapped up building lots along First Avenue from James Dunsmuir, for five dollars an acre. Soon, they help shape the character of the Town, calling the hotel their home and business base.
Annie, being the shrewd businesswoman that she was, was determined that the ever-increasing number of people staying and passing through Ladysmith needed a much more impressive hotel. To achieve this, she purchased the lot across the street and made the bold decision to physically move the existing Ladysmith Hotel, by horses and rollers, to 431 1st Ave. By 1913, plans had been drawn up for what was to be one of the finest hotels north of Victoria. After numerous delays from the Town, permission was granted for its move.
When the building was moved, its orientation remained the same so that the front of the building was now at the back, and the back, now the front. As a result, the street front of the building had no windows, but the window side took full advantage of the ocean view.
There are many stories about the building. A previous owner set up his private recreational club upstairs in the building where he would hold poker games. The space held a pool table and arcade games. Access to the premise was via a stairwell that went from First Avenue to the “gaming rooms.” At the base of the stairwell, a sign read: “Ladysmith Literary Society,” with both “Literary” and “Society” deliberately spelled wrong.
On Christmas eve 1973, the neighbouring Gearing building caught fire and burnt to the ground. Only through the valiant effort of the Ladysmith Fire Department was the Ladysmith Hotel building saved.
The building became home to many businesses, with residences upstairs. One of the first of these buildings was Ladysmith Hardware. They, along with all the business that followed over the next 100 years, never found it necessary to install windows on the upper floor of the front of the building. It’s been encouraging to see the new owners of the building give it a major renovation and finally put in the windows. With this investment, this heritage building will continue serving our community.
New life abounds at 720 1st Avenue in Ladysmith, as formerly Rene’s Soup & Sandwich is now Rita’s Apron. Rita’s Apron specializes in pot pies, lasagna, soups, cabbage rolls and fruit pies, all available for takeout. There are a few tables available for lunchtime’s soup and sandwich. Today’s curry coconut smelled absolutely delicious.
The owner, Rita Donohoe, has a long career in the food industry, cooking at camps in Northern Alberta from the age of 17. After coming to the island, she worked at CoCo Café in Cedar, and today she still supplies the café with her signature pot pie. With an interest in the Ladysmith area, she and her husband bought a farm in Cassidy where they tend to the many fruit trees and blueberries used in the jams, jellies and syrups available at the store.
Today Rita and her mom take care of all the cooking and table service in the restaurant. Having a location to pick up homemade ready-togo meals is a great way to ease the stress of family mealtime.