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Cruisin' Ladysmith

Buying a heritage home and launching a new business in the same year was insane, but at the time it didn't seem like shear madness. Now I'll readily admit that it was. Mice, carpenter ants, plumbing and electrical issues combined with my home office, threaten my sanity sometimes. Today I just needed to push away from the desk and the house and have a change of scenery. Luckily for me there are many small communities up and down the coast that I can drive to and get most of my needs met.

Ladysmith lies between Nanaimo and Duncan on the 49th Parallel on Vancouver Island’s east coast.  A Tim Horton’s large coffee will get me to Ladysmith and then I can ditch the car and stretch my legs to get some errands done.  I love Ladysmith because is still has a small town feel with a great selection of stores and amenities. Great customer service is alive and well there and it is one of my favourite outing locations.

Founded in 1898 by James Dunsmuir, Ladysmith was built as a company town.  Dunsmuir owned the nearby coal mine and needed to house workers.  He moved buildings from Wellington (near Nanaimo), by rail and then turned his sights on creating the infrastructure for the town. Mining was dangerous work and in 1909 32 miners died in an explosion. All were from Ladysmith. Since those coal mining days, the forestry, marine and agricultural industries played a hand in shaping the community.

Today, it’s a colourful and vibrant community that delights in its history and plays host to Events and Festivals  throughout the year. Perched on a steep hillside overlooking the Oyster Harbour and the Stuart Channel, the views go on forever.

First Avenue runs parallel to the Island Highway and offers the visitor a selection of shops, boutiques, restaurants and cafes, many of which sit in heritage buildings. The Town has thoughtfully placed seating all the way along First and it’s a welcome addition for young and old.

I parked at the crest of First Ave in front of The Old Town Bakery. The Bakery sits in a Heritage building known as the Main Street Building, an old livery and dry goods store.  There’s a great selection of artisan breads, bakery items and savoury delights.  Indoor and outdoor seating make this a popular place to gather.  Their cinnamon buns are huge, wonderful, worth sharing and offered in many different varieties.

Next door stands the Heritage Island Hotel. It was one of the first Hotels in Ladysmith is now (Jan. 2013) for sale. With fantastic water views and its positioning, it won’t be on the market for long.  The next Heritage building is the Nicholson Block which is really two different height buildings with a continuous façade. It houses Indigo Kids and the Wigwam Restaurant.  The Wigwam’s been here and doing business since 1925, and if the reviews are an indication, you’ll find consistently great food and service.

Don’t miss Bouma Meats . This is a small old fashioned butcher shop and a very popular spot with locals and tourists alike. Owner Paul displays a large selection of fresh locally sourced products including fresh fish right off the boat depending what’s in season.

The next building was a bit disturbing given its facade. The Travellers Hotel has stood here since 1913 and the first thing you’ll notice are the swastikas that run through the brick work.  A well-positioned plaque sets the record straight. The design symbolized good luck in Sanskrit and was a popular decoration during that time.  My how times have changed.

I crossed over the street to take a peek at the The Printingdun Beanery as I’ve heard great things about the café. People tell me it’s a great place for kicking back and relaxing and serves healthy fresh food. The room is very comfy room with a big outdoor patio for warm weather meals can buy just about everything there.

You’ll likely notice the green and red Ladysmith Trolley around town. This old trolley, a Heritage local “bus” will take you around the town, down to the waterfront, out to the south end of Ladysmith and you can jump off anywhere along the route. It’s a great way to discover this Town. Be sure to check out Transfer Beach and the Ladysmith Maritime Museum which are both on the waterfront and serviced by the Trolley.

Walking back towards the car I can’t help by notice the fantastic shops. Nancy’s is a great looking upscale store offering fashions, home furnishings and accessories.  And in that same run of colourful buildings, you’ll find the Ladysmith Tourism shop where all your questions about the area and beyond can be answered. A wonderful shop, The Top Drawer is a high end consignment store. You’ll be amazed at what you can find.

Along the way I come upon The Temperance Hotel which was built in 1900. This wood frame Hotel stands today as it did back in the day. This was the only Hotel in Ladysmith that didn't serve liquor and today it remains largely intact.Next door but still in the old Hotel, I found Mr. Popper’s Sweet Shoppe. It got my attention when I smelled fresh popcorn.  I’ll just say that all your candy fantasies can be realized here.

At this point I needed lunch and tucked into In the Beantime  just down from Mr. Poppers towards the water.  You’ll enjoy the harbour views as you walk towards the smell of fresh coffee!  Here the food is homemade and very good, they roast their own coffee in house and the seating is comfortable. In the summer months they offer extra seating outside.

Ok, I’ve done some shopping and stretched my legs and enjoyed talking with shop owners and the locals. I have cinnamon buns the size of small toddlers, bread, meat, cheese, some fudge and Cajun popcorn, all placed beyond arms reach in the back of the RAV.  As I roll through the Timmies drive thru I make a mental note to come back and explore the area. There is so much I haven’t seen!

  1. Start: Old Town Bakery
    Best buns in town!
  2. Wigwam Restaurant
    In business since 1925.
  3. Bouma Meats
    Meat, cheese, hand crafted sausages and more.
  4. Temperance Hotel
    Built in 1900
  5. In The Beantime Cafe
    Best Cafe in Ladysmith 
  6. Ladysmith Maritime Society & Marina
    Maritime Museum and Community Marina.
  7. End: Transfer Beach
    Plan to stay a while!