The E&N should not run on Sundays, in the opinion of John Robson, a premier of the province. (Citizen file)

The E&N should not run on Sundays, in the opinion of John Robson, a premier of the province. (Citizen file)

Column T.W. Paterson: John Robson: running on the E&N on Sundays was sinful

If amount spent on liqour devoted to improvement of property city would be a most attractive one.

If the amount spent on liqour in Nanaimo was devoted to the improvement of property the city would be a most attractive one. —future premier John Robson.

Here we are, five years later, still talking of reviving the E&N. In October 1866, just two months after its completion, it was looked upon as a major stride forward for Nanaimo.

In a public address at the Ebenezer Methodist Church, the Hon. John Robson, New Westminster MLA, minister of finance, provincial secretary and future premier of the province, looked into his crystal ball to project the future of both the railway and the Hub City. In casting his eyes ahead and envisioning tourism he also offered some neighbourly advice to the city fathers.

The E&N was sure to “bring large numbers of visitors, not only from Victoria, but from all parts of the world,” he said, bluntly adding, “the city of Nanaimo, for which nature has done so much and art so little, should be made to look as attractive as possible”. He urged council to see that the city put on its best “bib and tucker” and that each property owner embellish his property so that the city would achieve an air of brightness and be a source of delight to visitors. Merchants should make their shops more attractive with new store-fronts and better displays of their goods.

He did admit to being impressed by the number of brick buildings going up, and urged Nanaimo citizens to be “loyal to themselves and deal with their own merchants and artisans, and not be led away with the idea that goods could be bought cheaper in Victoria than there”.

This would be a mistake, as Nanaimo merchants could sell as cheaply as those in other parts of the province, and consumers “must bear in mind that distant hills always appear green; it is a mistake not to patronize home industries”. Merchants, on the other hand, must be alert to their own interests and see that there is no inducement for the people of Nanaimo to go abroad for their supplies.

Too, everyone should remember that the E&N, then connecting only Victoria and Nanaimo, was as yet incomplete. Soon it would become part of the transcontinental railway and link Vancouver Island to all of Canada by steel. This “would tend to increase the business and prosperity of Nanaimo”.

Proposals to continue the line to the north end of the Island weren’t the least bit visionary in Robson’s mind, but “one of a practical nature that would soon become an established fact”.

He did have one caveat, however, the “great curse of intemperance” which, he predicted, would become an issue that must be dealt with, nationally and on the home front. A great wave of prohibition was surging over the civilized world, which no doubt would soon reach British Columbia, a province “tainted with using proportionately more intoxicating liquors than any other province in the Dominion”.

If the amount “spent [on] liqour in Nanaimo was devoted to the improvement of property the city would be a most attractive one”.

Temperance would go a long way towards creating employment, too, he declared, referring to the recession that followed completion of the railway. But working men had to help themselves. If they abstained from the use of liquor and tobacco, they’d “soon find their position so much improved that there would be no need for labour leagues or organizations [unions]”.

A sure way to win the battle against the “hydra-headed monster,” intemperance, he was sure, was to give women the right to vote.

As for the newly-minted Island railway, he did have one complaint. In latter years it was a common criticism that the Dayliner service ran the wrong way, leaving Victoria in the morning and returning in the afternoon rather than the other way round. But Robson was disappointed that it operated on the Lord’s Day. Surely six days a week was “sufficient for work…and public opinion should be kindly but forcibly urged to induce the management not to run trains on the Sabbath”.

Chronicles readers can draw their own conclusion as to the merit and accuracy of John Robson’s suggestions and criticisms of 131 years ago.