BC Historical Books

BC Historical Books

BC Historical Books

History of the Bastion Bate, Mark 1919

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"1"    H
NAXATMo,   P,. ('.  ©
HE "BASTION/' one of the antique sights that visitors cannot
overlook, one of the very few landmarks, and the most prominent
remaining, at Nanaimo, of the period
when the Hudson's Bay Company held
Manorial Rights over the whole of Vancouver Island, was erected in 1853—completed in June of that year, flagpole
raised, and the "H. B. C." flag then unfurled to the breeze. It was built by Leon
Labine and Jean Batiste Fortier, who,
with assistants, had been employed upon
similar structures at Fort Victoria and
. Fort Rupert. Labine and Fortier were
French-Canadians, both splendid axemen.
They got out the material for nearly all
the hewn log buildings at Colville Town,
as Nanaimo, soon after being settled by
the whites, was called.
At the date the Bastion was finished,
there were, as the make-up of Colville
Town, four dwelling houses 26x15 feet,
and three 30x20, habitable, and filling
pieces raised for three more 30x20. These,
with a little clearance of the forest, were
the first preparation for the permanent
abode of a new population of men and
women, who, upon arrival in this far-off
section of the wild west, were confronted
with difficulties and dangers hardly realized by those who did not share them.
The purpose of the "Fort," as it was
designated by the Hudson's Bay Com-
3 pany, was, no doubt, to protect the whites
from the dreaded violence of the Indians
—to over-awe the natives, as we say, who,
in those days were "Lords of all they sur
veyed,—were inclined to be rebellious,
and looked upon the white settlers as in
vaders  of   their   prescriptive   territorial
rights.   Previous to 1852 the whole of the
Nanaimo country had only its aboriginal
inhabitants, many of whom were impudent
plunderers, yet stealthy foes, and as show
ing the hostile character they manifested.
it may be stated that a short period after
the date mentioned, they killed a  white
man at Cowichan while   he was quietly
pursuing his farm labor.   For that treach
erous act of murder, a Nanaimo Indian
and a Cowichan Indian, who were guilty
of the crime, were hung at Gallows Point,
Protection Island,   off   Nanaimo   Harbor.
Mr. J. W. McKay was then the officer in
charge of Nanaimo.
The original position of the Bastion was
on the corner opposite, and to the west
ward of where it now stands, which   is
higher ground by many feet—in fact the
highest point thereabout, commanding the
entrance to Commercial Inlet where the
first coal mine was opened.    It had only
a   low   stone   foundation—not   the  high
basement of rock which now supports it.
It was removed to its present station, on
the low side of the street, in 1891 for the
reason that the owner of the lot, which in
4 part was covered by the Bastion, desired
to use the ground, or said he did, but
which, however, has not yet been utilized.
As soon as the question of removal
arose, the old residents, without exception,
evinced a warm desire for the preservation
of their familiar sentinel block house, and
through the efforts mainly of the late
Chief Constable Stewart, backed by all
whose support he sought, the building is
still intact. Framed of strong squared
timber, most substantially put together, it
will be seen, withstood the force of the
elements for close upon 56 years—a notable instance of how well Labine and his
men did their work.
Two 6-pound carronades were the  armament of the "fort," and there were in
5 —
the arsenal cases of grapeshot and can-
nister ready for any call to arms.
The principal use of the guns, say up
to 1859, was the firing of salutes. Always
on the occasion of an official visit of His
Excellency the Governor, which occurred
two or three times in the year, he was received with a salvo of 17 guns. Once in a
while a few shots were fired across the
harbor into the woods on Protection
Island, so that the Indians might note the
damaging effects—see the havoc made
among the trees. But there were emergencies when the 6-pounders were employ
ed, if not in actual warfare, for the benevolent purpose of preventing bloodshed.
Captain Charles Edward Stuart, who succeeded Mr. J. W. McKay as the "Officer
in charge of the Nanaimo Establishment,"
has an entry in his journal under date ot
August 7th, 1855, reading:
"9:30 a.m.—Observed four or five large
canoes passing outside Newcastle Island,
apparently hastening by paddling and
sailing, to their homes. 10 a.m.—A Nanaimo canoe started off in pursuit, followed
soon after by others, as the Indians were
reported to be 'Hydas,' and seeing the Nanaimo 's w^ere hostile towards them, fired a
cannon to warn them from our territory,
as a collision between the parties would
no doubt have materially interfered with
the business and tranquility of the place.
The reason assigned by the Nanaimos for
6 * pursuing the supposed Hydas, was a report which had been circulated that several of the tribe had been killed while
obtaining provisions near the Rapids. 1:30
p.m.—The Nanaimos returned, having
succeeded in capturing one canoe, containing four men, two women, and two children, without firing a shot."
The following day the Nanaimos released the prisoners, finding they were not
Hydas, but "Kites-Kews," and that none
of their own tribe were missing. They
kept twenty blankets—perhaps as the cost
of the expedition.
Again in the summer of 1858, when
through the warnings and good offices of
the Hudson's Bay Company, who gave the
painted chiefs of both tribes to understand
that there must not be any more war-
whoops within range of the forts, the Na-
7 r
naimos and Hydas had become reconciled,
the guns had to be "manned." Mr.
George Baker, one of the pioneers who arrived by the Princess Royal in November,
1854, had a saucy little dog called
"Lucy." The Hydas in large numbers
were strolling around town and one of
several who passed Baker's door was
snapped by Lucy. He who was bitten
picked up a rock, hurled it at the dog and
killed her. Mr. Baker was at Nanaimo
River at the time gathering hay for his
On his return, after being informed by
Mrs. Baker of the dog tragedy, he went
in quick time to the Hyda encampment
with the intention of chastising the Indian
offender, but he came away without carrying out his purpose. The Indians surrounded him in a menacing attitude and
would not allow the guilty one to be molested. He reported the circumstances to
Captain Stuart, who sent a force to make
an arrest. For this move the whole camp
was prepared—armed with guns, knives,
iron bolts and bludgeons they showed
fight, and would not permit the man who
was sought to be taken. A threat was
made to fire on them from the Bastion,
the guns were manned, and a few charges
of grapeshot were sent near the spot
where the Indians were encamped, to
show what they might expect if the man
wanted was not surrendered. The shot
8 tore up things generally, and very soon
after the Indian required was taken to
Captain Stuart, who, as magistrate, ordered that he be flogged with the cat-o'-
nine-tails, which was done, over one of
the guns, by George Mills, the mess stew-
ard. So ended what might have been a
seiious matter had the Indians done otherwise than submit.
For some 15 years the first floor of the
Bastion was used as the colonial jail.    It
9 had two cells, which were lighted and ventilated by an aperture cut through the
timber, and which had in days gone by
contained prisoners charged with the
highest crime. Doors, locks, and bars
were about as strong as they could be
made. The place within and without was
always clean, a very liberal supply of lime
(which in the early days was made from
shells), being kept on hand for whitewashing, at which occupation, and at proper seasons, prisoners were well exercised.
In the years that the Bastion did service
as a place of confinement, there were
three official jailors, Wm. Weston, Edwin
Gough and Wm. Stewart. The first named
had little to do, for in his time the punishment of native offenders was summary,
and often when deserved, severe—"exemplary," as Captain Stuart would term a
whipping across a gun. Weston was a
strange sort of chap. He wore his trousers short in the leg—inches above his
boots. He had a springy-swingy walk,
and being very lean and somewhat lanky,
his appearance was odd enough. The governor (late Sir James Douglas) paid one
of his periodical visits in the summer of
1857, and received the customary salute
of 17 guns. He had walked to the Bastion
hill, and was standing chatting with officers of the H. B. Co., when Weston, with
his pants as usual, very much shrunk up,
came along, made his obeisance and stood
10 agape. Giving him a faint smile, and
keenly eyeing his legs, the Governor said:
-' Why, Weston, how you have grown!''
The late Chief Stewart cared for the
Bastion as for the apple of his eye. For
nearly forty years he gave attention to it
—saw that the flag floated from its pole
on all fitting occasions, and looked after
any repairs needed. To him more than to
anybody else the credit is due for preventing the old Fort from falling into decay.
11 It is owned and occupied at piesent by
Nanaimo Post No. 3, Native Sons of British Columbia. The first floor, whereon the
cells were built, has been transformed into
a pleasant meeting place, in which, with
a piano to enliven and brighten the proceedings, members of the Post may at
regular gatherings, pass the happy hours
Among the objects of the Native Sons.
as a society, are:    Mutual benefit, mutual
improvement,    social intercourse, to per
petuate in the minds of all native sons
the memory of the pioneers, to unite all
worthy sons of British Columbia in one
Larmonious body, to improve the condi-
ions of its members by encouragement in
msiness and otherwise.
To these worthy sons of worthy sires
he continued preservation of the old-time
dock house may be safely left.   It seems
aost fitting it should be entrusted to their
:eeping.    As long as it can be made   to
Lang   together   they,   from   the   closely
cherished memories   they   will   feel   surrounding it, can be depended upon to see
to its complete maintenance as the most
ancient landmark of Nanaimo.
J -•—y
 n- »'■»"


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