When Coal Was King: Ladysmith and the Coal-Mining Industry on Vancouver Island


277 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7748-0936-1
DDC 305.9'622'097112





Reviewed by Ann Turner

Ann Turner is the financial and budget manager of the University of
British Columbia Library.


Ladysmith developed as a company town in the late 1880s, when coal baron
Robert Dunsmuir looked south of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island for a
suitable port from which to ship his company’s output. Coal was the
island’s most significant industry up to the beginning of World War I,
and its production employed thousands of miners and associated
personnel. A number of earlier scholars have examined the extraordinary
degree of labour unrest and union militancy that characterized the
island’s coal-mining industry in that period, advancing theories as to
its roots based on the ethnic origins of the miners and the isolation of
the work site. This new study draws heavily on the local history of
Ladysmith to question those theories and suggest new sources of the
workers’ discontent: their working and living conditions and the
autocratic control of the mine owners. The author has thoroughly
researched mining methods and working conditions in the island coal
mines, as well as the actions of mining company executives that affected
the lives of the mine workers and their families. He has examined the
records of union activity and the published reports. When all is placed
in context, a clear picture of the miners’ vulnerability and
frustration emerges. In presenting his history of the town of Ladysmith,
Hinde has added considerably to our understanding of the economic and
social conditions experienced by working-class Island residents during
the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and of the business and
technology of coal mining at that time.


Hinde, John R., “When Coal Was King: Ladysmith and the Coal-Mining Industry on Vancouver Island,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 29, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/29424.