T.W. Paterson column: Remembering Ladysmith’s Davidson family

By T.W. Paterson

“Mr. and Mrs. John Davidson of Diamond have received the sad intelligence of the death of their son John, who was killed in action.” —Ladysmith Chronicle, Saturday, Sept, 1, 1917.

For today’s Chronicle we have a guest columnist. Tom McEwan has invested years of research into his family, the Davidsons of Ladysmith, using family and government records. The result of all that labour is a fascinating read; so, with a minimum of editing, I’m going to let Tom tell you about these pioneers in his own words…

John Davidson was born in Clackmannanshire, Scotland on Nov. 8, 1864 to John Davidson and Stewart Erskine. Some family information indicates that he emigrated to Canada in 1890 and moved to Victoria, B.C., where he tried to take up his vocation of brickmaker, soon discovering that he could earn more money as a coal miner. So he moved to Wellington where he worked in James Dunsmuir’s coal mine. However, a ship’s manifest indicates that he was indeed a coal miner and his destination was Nanaimo. (He arrived in Halifax on the Manitoban in December 1891). Perhaps he changed vocation in Scotland before coming to Canada. He brought his wife Frances (Syme), born May 23, 1861, daughters Agnes and Stewart, and son William, from Scotland in 1892.

It’s thought that another daughter was born in Scotland but died before the family’s move to Canada. Sons John, James, and Thomas were born in Wellington, B.C.

The family moved to Extension when the new mine opened, where they are included in the 1901 Census. Because Dunsmuir didn’t want mining families to live in Extension, he encouraged his employees to move to the new town of Ladysmith. The Davidson family bought a house for $25 and moved it from Wellington to Ladysmith in which they lived until they subsequently moved to Diamond, north of Ladysmith. The property was close to where the E&N and Extension coal railways crossed. Two more sons were born in Ladysmith, Hugh Alexander and Duncan. John worked as a fire boss at the Extension Mines until it closed in 1928. For a short time he was also an officer with the B.C. Police Force. John Davidson died July 1, 1943 and Frances died May 5, 1929.

Agnes Stewart Davidson was born Nov. 13, 1883 in Alloa, Clackmannanshire, Scotland. She married Thomas McEwan in 1902 and moved with him to Victoria where he opened a shoe shop at 726 Yates St. They lived in the back of the store where their sons Millar, Frank, Bob and Angus were born. The family moved to Vancouver where the three shoemaking McEwan brothers, Tom, Bob and Sandy, had a shoe/boot factory in Vancouver about 1910–1911, at 63 Cordova St. It didn’t work out the way they’d hoped and they soon disbanded. Daughter Nancy (Agnes) was born in Vancouver. Tom, Agnes and family returned to Victoria where he worked as a shoemaker for Munday’s shoes (Henry E. Munday), then as a clerk at Christie’s Shoes (Christie’s Shoe Emporium, 1231 Government St). They lived during that time at 2628 Graham Street.

Tom travelled to Portland looking for suitable employment in 1924 (with son Frank — son Millar was already working there). He returned to Canada and moved to Duncan in 1926 with Agnes, son Bob and daughter Nancy and lived in a rented house on the corner of Herbert and Cavell streets (the house is still standing at this time). He worked briefly for the Cowichan Merchants but left because he apparently didn’t receive a bonus he’d been promised and subsequently opened his own shoe store on Craig Street, May 15, 1929. Tom and Agnes then bought and moved to an acreage on Bell-McKinnon Road where they lived until the early 1950s when they moved to 295 Coronation St. in Duncan, a house he’d bought some years before and rented to son Frank. Agnes died Feb. 26, 1962 in Duncan.

Stewart Erskine Davidson was born Jan. 18, 1885. She suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, didn’t marry, and lived with her parents most of her life. She died Feb. 15, 1947, aged 62.

William Davidson was born July 20, 1890 in Scotland. He was killed in the Oct. 5, 1909 mine explosion in Extension [that killed 32 men —TWP]. He was a mule driver and his father had the unfortunate task of finding him.

John Davidson Jr. was born May 9, 1894. Prior to joining the army he worked in a clothing store in Ladysmith. He joined the 88th Battalion in Duncan in February 1916. It isn’t known if he was at Vimy Ridge but he was injured and spent a short time in hospital before returning to the front. He was killed in action during the lead-up to the battle of Passchendale on Aug. 17, 1917. It may have been the result of a direct artillery hit because there were no remains and on that day the records show that one was killed, one died later from injuries and five others were wounded.

John’s name is inscribed on the Vimy Memorial. A notice in the Ladysmith Chronicle, Saturday, Sept, 1, 1917 reads, “Mr. and Mrs. John Davidson of Diamond have received the sad intelligence of the death of their son John, who was killed in action. John Davidson was a fine young fellow, and his death will be greatly deplored by his many friends in Ladysmith. He left for overseas with the 88th about 18 months ago. Shortly after he reached France he was wounded and spent some time in hospital. Deceased was 23 years of age last May and spent practically all of his lifetime in Ladysmith. His parents will receive the sympathy of a large number of friends in this hour of their great trial. There are two other sons serving their country, one, James, now studying in England for a commission, and the other in the Navy.”

John was tall, 6 foot 4 and was active in sports before the war.

James Davidson was born April 20, 1896. He was the first to join the army, signing up in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in New Westminster on March 31, 1915. He served overseas, was wounded, and subsequently studied for and obtained a commission (lieutenant then captain). After the war he worked as a labourer for a time, then with the Vancouver Harbour Patrol, and as an officer with the Vancouver City Police before finally becoming a prison guard. He married Evelyn McNeish, March 1, 1921. They had three children; Jack, Ruth and Evelyn. Jim joined the army again in the Second World War but was unable to retain his captain’s commission. He didn’t serve in the front lines but was an instructor, training troops in Scotland. He was hospitalized for a time (illness unknown) and the head nurse at the hospital was Stewart Erskine Davidson, the same name as his sister. He tried to connect the families and wrote a letter to his father asking about any connection. Unfortunately, his father had died (July 1, 1943) before the letter reached him. Jim’s only son, Jack, was killed in action during the war. Jim studied after the war and became a nurse at Essondale (Riverview) Mental Hospital. He died in New Westminster on July 6, 1958, aged 62.

Thomas Davidson was born Nov. 19, 1898. He joined the navy in January 1917 and served on HMCS Shearwater, a former British sloop, which escorted the two submarines C1 and C2 through the Panama Canal to Halifax in 1917. The subs were referred to as “McBride’s Navy” as the B.C. premier, Richard McBride, bought them on his own, the province subsequently being reimbursed by the federal government. Tom also served on HMCS Niobe, another former British sloop, from which he was demobilized in July 1919. Because of his experience as a stoker in the navy, Tom obtained work on the CPR coastal Princess ships on which he worked until retirement. Tom married later in life to Lucy Alice Ratti who died in 1959. He died in White Rock Feb. 25, 1970 age 71.


Hazel McEwan and Stewart Davidson.
Crew of HMCS Shearwater — Tom Davidson second row far right.
James Davidson
John Davidson and Frances (Syme) Davidson
John Davidson, back row, far left, date unknown.
John Davidson, front row, far right, ca 1911.
John Davidson, fourth from the right in the line.
John Davidson
Miners with mules and drivers at Extension, one of whom may be William Davidson. (Photo from various history publications)
Another picture of miners with mules and drivers at Extension.
From left: Stewart, William, Agnes, James, Frances (Syme) Davidson, John. No date.
Thomas McEwan and Agnes (Davidson) McEwan
Tom Davidson in Vancouver, no date.
Tom Davidson, second from right, back row, possibly taken in Bermuda.
Tom Davidson

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