Demolition order threatens Duncan historic building, part 1

The gabled two-storey building at the northeast corner of Craig and Station Streets, boarded up and unsightly for the past two years or more while undergoing repairs and renovation that have stalled, has been ordered by Duncan council to come down within 45 days.

Without getting into the legalities involved, I have to ask, how many Valley residents have so much as an inkling of this structure’s long and colourful history? A history of considerable significance, I might add.

Let’s start with Harry Smith, the man who built it with money he’d made from the sale of the Lenora and Tyee copper claims on Mount Sicker. Harry, one of the few who turned a profit from the Sicker copper mines, opened what we last knew as the Red Balloon Toyshop as the Duncan’s Emporium.

Born the son of a tenant farmer at Tholomas Drove, Cambridgeshire, England in 1859, the youngest of 13 children, Harry emigrated to the United States as a young man and eventually landed in Port Townsend as a customs inspector. It was in that role that he met two of the three men who’d originally discovered promising signs of copper on Mount Sicker.

Their partner having died, Smith bought in with $500 put up by a relative.

On April 30, 1897, during his second year of prospecting the northwestern slopes of this small Westholme mountain, Smith, working alone, discovered and claimed for himself a 30-to 40-footwide seam of copper bearing ore that he named the Lenora, for his daughter.

A few hundred feet above it, he and one of his partners staked the Tyee.

Unable to develop them to their potential, Smith sold out and moved into town.

In 1899, he opened the Duncan’s Emporium, described by a son as a "general merchandising business," in the original Odd Fellows’ Building on Station Street (where the Whittome Building is today). In 1902 he built the two-storey subject of today’s Chronicle.

Wanting to advertise his wares, he decided to launch a newspaper above the store with the help of a Victoria printer, Albert E. Greenwood. The Duncan Enterprise hit the street on Jan. 21, 1900.

"Smith Greenwood, Editors and Publishers," modestly announced themselves: "We can hardly call this a newspaper in its present form, but it is our intention, if the people of this community will give us their support, morally and monetary, to merge this into a weekly publication and establish a plant in your midst. We conscientiously believe the time has come when this growing community should be represented in the journalistic world, and, while this is true, we fully realize that it is only by combined effort that the goal can be obtained.

"As an avenue for your co-operation, we might state that our columns are open to discussion on any matter pertaining to the welfare of the community, always bearing in mind that brevity is essential to insure publication, and that personal animosities will not find a mouthpiece in this organ.

"Looking forward to success in this ‘Duncan Enterprise,’ we beg to remain, Very respectfully, Smith Greenwood, Editors and Publishers."

The Enterprise, all of four pages, each measuring only 12 inches by 9 inches, was to sell for "20 cents per annum". This price, and the newspaper’s name, had changed, to 50 cents per annum and to the Duncans Enterprise respectively, by the second issue.

Even though Harry was his own best advertiser, he informed subscribers in December, "Three more issues will complete the first year of ‘The Enterprise’s’ existence, and it is quite possible that it will stop with the issue of January 13th, 1901, as very few have signified a desire to see it continued, and it has been a source of great expense to the publisher thereof."

The Weekly Enterprise, as it had been renamed in May, ceased publication, Jan. 12, 1901.

(To be Continued)

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