Friday, August 16, 2013

Dunsmuir Arrives

The Dunsmuir sons persuaded their mother to sell them the Wellington and Alexander collieries in late 1899. Although the Wellington mine had provided the elder Dunsmuir with his millions, its riches were depleted and the sons decided to close it.

The discovery and acquisition of lands southwest of Nanaimo that had a continuation of the Wellington seam eased the loss of the Wellington mine. James opened a new mine with a rail connection to the town site and shipping centre at Oyster Harbour - James renamed it Ladysmith in honour of a British victory in the South African War.

Wellington became a ghost town by early 1900 as the shipping facilities at Departure Bay were abandoned. Only the coalmine entrepreneurs who acquired new resources and developed them had continued success. Dunsmuir solidified his corporate power, secured continuing prestige and wealth and maintained the family's practice of making the most of opportunities with the opening of operations at Cumberland and Extension.

In the early 1890s, James and Laura moved from Nanaimo to Victoria and reached the pinnacle of Vancouver Island society. They built a mansion, Burleith, complete with electricity and every modern convenience. This was an era of stone-turreted mansions, flamboyant lifestyles (for those who could afford it), croquet tourneys (something James was very good at) and recognizing leisure as a benchmark of success. And the Dunsmuirs were able to set a benchmark that few could match.

At the inaugural ball at Burleith, 300 guests waltzed among potted palms and flowers. There were strawberry socials and recitals on the Steinway grand parlour-piano - the Dunsmuirs' style matched their position as British Columbia's richest family. A position they had worked hard for.

Here's a 1910 photo of Burleith. It was designed by architect John Teague and built in 1891. Fire destroyed this beauty in 1931.

James' entry into the political realm was a natural progression considering the tradition of public service he had inherited from his father and his status in British Columbia society. His political life started with James being elected as an MLA for Comox in 1898 the becoming premier in 1900 and lieutenant governor in 1906.

Politics in B.C. at that time were turbulent, as we have seen with my entries on previous politicians. The Vancouver Daily Province correctly observed about Dunsmuir that “his experiences and training in life . . . unsuited him for the experiences and compromises which a political career involved.” Dunsmuir may have only been an interim premier while the province fumbled its way to party government but he did hold some influence in the position from June 15, 1900 to November 21, 1902. 

From May 11, 1906 to December 11, 1909, James Dunsmuir was British Columbia's lieutenant governor and those years were noteworthy for the active social life at Cary Castle, the official residence.

Thanks goes to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography website for all the above information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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