Ayrshire Towns and Parishes

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 Coal Miner to Coal Baron

From: Linda Nordby nordby@bcsupernet.com To: SCOTTISH-MINING-L@rootsweb.com



Robert DUNSMUIR was British Columbia Canada's first millionaire.  He was born in Ayrshire, his death certificate apparently lists Burleith / Riccarton Ayr as his birth place:  He died -April 12, 1889 age 64 at Victoria BC.  BC Archives # 1889-09-006922 #B13077, microfilm #1927287. 

Portions of the following are taken from the books "Three Dollar Dreams"& "Boss Whistle" written by Lynne Bowen, published by Oolichan Books &" Seven Shillings a Year", The History of Vancouver Island by Charles Lillard. 

His official biography stated that he was the son & grandson of Coalmasters.  There is no birth certificate in existence for Robert DUNSMUIR raising the speculation as to his true birth parents.  He was brought up by his Uncle, Boyd GILMOUR whose wife was Jean DUNSMORE. Robert later married Joanna Oliver WHITE, the daughter of Agnes CROOKS and Alexander White of Kilmarnock, Ayrshire.  Their first son James Dunsmuir, born July 1851 became Premier of BC and later lieutenant-governor of British Columbia.

Dunsmuir built Criagdarroch Castle for his wife Joanna in Victoria BC. where she lived till her death in 1908.  The Castle is now a tourist attraction.  

Long before Canada became a country in 1867, there were coal towns on Vancouver Island.  Fort Rupert and Nanaimo were outposts of the Hudson's Bay Company and were home to a tiny group of Ayrshire miners brought around Cape Horn to develop the Coal Fields discovered by local Indians.  The year was 1848.

The first Ayrshire miners to arrive at Fort Rupert were John MUIR with wife Anne, daughter Marion and her two sons, nephews Archibald Muir and John MCGREGOR along with McGregors wife Mary and three sons., John SMITH, wife Marion and sons.

In 1850 the company looked again to Ayrshire for a Oversman for their operations at Fort Rupert, found and hired Boyd Gilmour. He along with Arthur QUIGLEY, Archibald FRENCH and Robert DUNSMUIR formed the next group of miners to arrive.  One man in this group would become fabulously wealthy and famous.  Robert Dunsmuir, a man of singular ability and determination would parlay those traits into a fortune in coal mines , railroads, ships, iron works and real estate.  

In 1869 reportedly while on a fishing trip to Divers Lake, a small insignificant puddle, Robert Dunsmuir would find an outcropping of coal which would make him a fortune.  As a member of the group of Scottish miners first sent to Fort Rupert and then to Nanaimo he had worked as a miner and then an Oversman . He was 44 yrs old when he discovered the outcropping, but before his premature death in 1889 Dunsmuir established an empire based on  coal from his mines at Wellington, and on the huge land grant he received from the Canadian Government as payment for building a railway link between Nanaimo and Victoria.

This agreement not only gave him one-fifth of the Island, but all coal, coal oil, ores, stones, clay, marble, slates, mines and minerals in or under the land.  He was well on his was to becoming BC's leading capitalist.  He also acquired a reputation for ruthless labour practices, which helped to contribute to his burgeoning wealth and which left thousands of his miners feeling resentful and oppressed.

The Dunsmuir legacy, however floundered on the lack of heirs in the third generation and in 1910 the coal interest was sold to Canadian Collieries, and by 1930 most of the fortune had been dissipated.  

What remains of the Dunsmuir legend in the coal towns of Vancouver Island, is a legacy of oppression.  The name is synonymous among coal miners with the tyranny of the boss.




On My 8th 1915, British Columbians learned that a British passenger liner the Lusitania, had been sunk by a German submarine.  Early reports revealed that among the passengers were forty-four British Columbians from Kamloops, Pentiction, Nelson, Prince Rupert, Nanaimo, Ashcroft. Fernie, Vancouver and Victoria. 

On the day that he learned that his wife and two children had gone down with the ship, David Lambie, a miner from Rossland B.C., booked passage for England so that he could enlist in a British unit and take revenge on the enemy.  When word reached Victoria that Jim "Boy" DUNSMUIR was among the town's fifteen Lusitania victims, the city exploded.

The grandson of Ayrshire's Robert DUNSMUIR, coal baron of Nanaimo and the son of the former Premier and Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia. 

Jim Dunsmuir was on his way to England to join a British Cavalry regiment.  When soldiers drinking at Victoria's Kaiserhof Hotel heard the news of Dunsmuir's death, they leap onto the bar and began to sing patriotic songs.  A crowd gathered as men climbed the hotel's fire escape to string Union Jack's from the roof.  Someone shouted "On to the German Club!" and three hundred people singing and chanting, marched to the club's premises and ransacked the building.  Soon a mob of five hundred followed by three thousand spectators, was roaming through the streets to attach any business run by a man with a German- sounding name. 

Peace was restored around midnight.  Armed guards were posted all around town including Government House







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