J.C. Wragg was mayor of Duncan from 1947 to 1955. (submitted)

T.W. Paterson column: Remembering four-time Duncan mayor J.C. Wragg

At one time he owned 14 stores and was the biggest individual taxpayer in Duncan

At one time he owned 14 stores and was the biggest individual taxpayer in Duncan

The history of 105 Kenneth St. and 127 Government St., longtime prominent downtown landmarks, and their remarkable owner, can best be given by three news articles and an editorial that appeared in the Cowichan Leader over the span of 44 years.

On Sept. 30, 1926, the Leader reported that a “picturesque structure” was to “go up opposite [the] Post Office,” meaning 105 Kenneth St.

“Tenders have been received for the erection of a two-storey store building on the corner of Craig and Kenneth streets opposite the post office. The proposed new building is for Mr. J.C. Wragg, who formerly operated The Bakery at Cobble Hill and more recently has been in business in Nanaimo. Mr. Wragg plans to occupy the premises himself and carry on business there.

“The building is to be 30 by 50 feet. It will extend from the corner to Mr. R.A. Thorpe’s store. The construction will be of frame and hollow tile, the latter being used to form fire walls on the sides which do not face either street. The structure will have an old fashioned half-timbered exterior carried out in stucco and stained cedar. It will have a pitched roof covered with mottled tiles. The interior is to be plastered throughout.

“The ground floor will be of cement. Provision is made for two stores and an entrance leading to a well-appointed flat upstairs. Mr. Douglas James, Duncan, is the architect.”

Jan. 3, 1927: NEW BLOCK OPENS: Wragg Building Opposite Post Office Occupied

“With the completion of the Wragg Building, at the north-west corner of Craig and Kenneth Streets, in which the owner, Mr. J.C. Wragg, is now operating a bakery and store, further progress is recorded in building up the business section of Duncan. Prominently situated, facing the post office, the building has a very effective architectural appearance. At the same time, a thoroughly modern ‘hygienic’ bakery has been constructed, and under this name it will be known.

“The building, which is 50 feet by 30 feet, gives an unfailing impression of cleanliness throughout. At one end, on the ground floor, is the bakeshop, 30 feet by 25 feet, fitted almost entirely with new equipment. The oven is a Black Diamond, electrically lighted and easily operated. It is of 200 loaf capacity. An electric prover [sic] to hold 350 loaves has been installed for raising bread and other fermented goods. A sanitary metal bread rack, of similar capacity, is provided for holding the cooked product and there is also a pan rack for holding tins of cookies, cakes and similar goods.

Latest Baking Equipment

“One of the latest style electric hot plates for making crumpets, muffins and this style of product, has been put in; and next month an electric cake machine, which is being brought in from the east, is to be installed. New benches provide plenty of working space, while much other equipment and various small machines are on hand for tuning out the various products of the baker’s art.

“The store is attractively and conveniently located. It occupies the corner of the building and has window frontage on two sides. The entrance is right at the corner. Ample window display is provided and there are also two showcases and two counters. White finish everywhere, with the exception of the trim, gives a bright appearance. The floor throughout is of cement thus making it rat and mouse proof. The walls are finished in plaster.

“At the back a passageway gives access to the stairway leading upstairs and also provides a second entrance to the bakeshop.

Nice Flat Upstairs

“Upstairs are nicely appointed living quarters, consisting of a sitting room, with open fireplace; kitchen, with built-in cooler, pantry and other fixtures; large bedroom, with extra large clothes closet and store space; a smaller bedroom, large hall and bathroom. A feature is provided in the dump grates by which the ashes from all the upstairs fires run down through the stacks and can be cleaned out below.

“The exterior is finished in old English style, with stucco and half timbering. The roof is covered with special asbestos roofing. Mr. Douglas James was architect for the building, and Mr. E.W. Lee [the building contractor].

Feb. 22, 1940 : New Building Will Be In Two Sections

“Duncan’s new business building, stretching from Station Street on the lot next to the Vidal Block and Wilson & Cabeldu’s, will be completed in about four months’ time, estimates Mr. J.C. Wragg, owner. Mr. E.W. Lee, to whom Mr. Wragg has awarded the main construction contract for $28,000, says the time of building will depend greatly on the weather. Ormond & Griffiths have the plumbing and heating contract.

“Yesterday workmen started measuring and digging preparatory to laying foundations. The building, total dimensions of which will be 120 by 45 feet, will be in two sections. The section facing Station Street will contain two stores and four separate flats. It will be built first. A passage-way will separate this from the Government Street section, which will contain four larger flats. A driveway from Government Street will give access to the back of the stores. All flats will be entered from Government Street.

“Wilson & Cabeldu have built a new storage platform and moved their stock of used cars to a lot beside the new building site, instead of across the street as intended at first.

“Thirty-five thousand dollars will be the approximate cost of the two-storey brick and tile building. Flats will be equipped with modern conveniences, including electric ranges. Mr. Wragg says that 15 applications have already been received for the eight flats.”

Feb. 14, 1974. He Will Be Missed

“One of Duncan’s most colourful ex-mayors, James C. Wragg, died Feb. 7 in Victoria at 80 years.

“Many Duncan residents will remember Mr. Wragg who served as alderman for the city during 1944 and 1945 and mayor from 1947 to 1955.

“Mr. Wragg, who lived in Victoria at the time of his death, was born at Derby, England and emigrated to Canada in 1910. At the outbreak of World War One, he enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery and served until 1919. He was wounded twice, was mentioned in dispatches, and rose to the rank of sergeant.

“A baker by trade, Mr. Wragg worked in many Canadian towns until he bought a bakery at Cobble Hill, and with his wife Ella, shipped bread to Duncan and Shawnigan Lake and opened a tea room and banquet hall. Cobble Hill at that time was a busy place, on the main highway and the E. and N. line, with four trains a day passing through.

“The shop was the only place in bounds to pupils of Shawnigan Lake School. The Wraggs offered them all they could eat for 25 cents. There wasn’t much profit in that, but the boys bought many cakes and chocolate bars on the way out.

“The Wraggs soon started catering to dances — all you could eat for 25 cents. One old lady used to phone up before each dance and ask whether the Wraggs were catering for it. If they were, she came. If they weren’t, she stayed away. Eventually the business got too big to suit the Wraggs and they sold it to the Scales family and moved to Duncan.

“Jimmy Wragg took a fancy to the corner lot opposite Duncan post office. The real estate firm wanted $5,500. He induced them to cut the lot and the price in half. And built a store.

“They soon made money and at one time Mr. Wragg owned 14 stores and was the biggest individual taxpayer in town. In 1937 he was beginning to feel tired. At 44, he sold out to William Farquhar and the Wraggs went on a journey around the world.

“The war began, and he plunged into public service. At one time he held seven jobs: alderman, trustee, official in charge of women agricultural workers, St. John Ambulance worker, civil defence warden, director of the hospital board and the regional director of the aircraft detection corps, from the Malahat to Port Renfrew.

“He ran for mayor in 1946 and four times he was returned by acclamation. During his time, City Council turned the city services inside out; bought new vehicles for public works, pushed forward a streets improvement plan and launched a lighting improvement plan; bought its own waterworks; built a new $45,000 fire hall, fully equipped; put in sewers; acquired a new garbage truck and streamlined the collection system; built a new city hall and introduced the contract system for public works.

“Mr. Wragg wasn’t a joiner. The only organization he belonged to was the Canadian Legion. He thought organizations wanted too many favours.

“But even those who didn’t like Jimmy Wragg can’t deny he was one of the best mayors Duncan ever had. He will be sadly missed.”

www.twpaterson.com

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