FROM THE VANCOUVER SUN FEB 15, 2014:
In Feb. 14, 1899, American industrialist Theodore Ludgate signed a deal with the federal government to lease Deadman’s Island, off Stanley Park.
The cost was $500 per year, for 25 years.
Ludgate planned to build a lumber mill on the 7.5 acre island. He told The Vancouver World his mill would provide employment for 1,000 men, and said he “was perfectly willing to pay taxes to the city, and in the articles of incorporation would have no other but white labour.”
Vancouver had just emerged from a crippling economic depression, and one of the city’s biggest employers, Hastings Mill, had recently been struck by a fire. So the prospect of a new mill probably made sense to politicians in Ottawa.
But when Vancouverites found out about the deal, they went nuts.
The city was barely a decade old, and only had a population of 25,000. But the citizens had developed a strong attachment to Stanley Park, and were furious that someone would dare to put a mill there. Especially residents of the West End, then the wealthiest neighbourhood in Vancouver.
Civic politicians insisted Deadman’s Island was part of the 1,000 acre park, which had been a federal naval reserve until it was leased by the city in 1888. But federal
Minister for Militia and Defence Frederick William Borden felt the island still belonged to the military, and signed the lease.
Mass meetings flared up in Vancouver, and accusations flew about Ludgate’s political connections (his lawyer was B.C. Attorney-General Joe Martin) and alleged bribes (Vancouver alderman R.B. Skinner said he had been offered $20,000 to support the proposed mill).
City council came out against the Ludgate lease, as did the Board of Trade and the Vancouver Trades and Labour Council. Critics pointed out even if you supported the concept of the mill, the $500 annual lease was inadequate, given the land was worth about $100,000.
“Our belief (is) that a gross piece of indefensible jobbery has been perpetrated in connection with this affair,” stated a Vancouver World editorial on the “disgraceful transaction.”
Ludgate didn’t back down. At 6:30 a.m. April 24, 1899, he showed up with 30 men and attempted to log the island.
He didn’t get far, however. Mayor James Garden and almost the entire city police force had anticipated Ludgate’s arrival and occupied the island before the loggers. When Ludgate attempted to cut down a tree, he was arrested, followed by his men.
The affair ended relatively peacefully, with the city and Ludgate opting to pursue their claims in the courts. But in late May and early June, 1909, Ludgate’s men attempted to log the island a second time, which resulted in the Battle of Deadman’s Island.
The battle was on June 1, when police arrested the loggers after they chopped down many of the island’s biggest trees. The loggers were led by the feisty E.L. Kinman, managing director of the Island Deck and Warehouse Company.
Police Chief Chamberlain arrested Kinman for “feloniously destroying trees and shrubbery in a public park.” The city’s acting mayor, J.W. Prescott, told The World that Kinman “blustered around and used abusive language,” but otherwise the loggers went to jail quietly.
But three of them returned to the island after being let out on bail. A scuffle with a policeman who had been left to guard the island ensued. Kinman struck the officer with a club and knocked him unconscious.
Kinman was arrested again. More court actions followed, and in 1911 Ludgate’s lease was ruled valid. But he died in 1918 without ever building a mill.
Ironically, the federal government handed Deadman’s Island to the city on a 99-year lease in 1929, but the city didn’t have the funds to do anything with it during the Great Depression. In 1942, Mayor James Cornett offered it to the navy for a training base, which it remains.