The beginnings of the E&N Railway
The Occidental Hotel – a piece of Nanaimo history dates back to the 1870’s when construction began on the Canadian Pacific Railway. The construction of a transcontinental railroad linking British Columbia with the eastern Canadian provinces which was one of the ‘terms of the Union’ when BC joined the Canadian federation in 1871. Victoria, being the capital of British Columbia, was proposed as the railways western terminus, thereby connecting Vancouver Island to the mainland.
Due to the impracticability of bringing the railway across the Strait of Georgia to Victoria, it was decided that the railway would take an alternate route and that the line would end in Vancouver. Vancouver Island it seemed , would not benefit from the transcontinental railway, and Island residents, angered by the change in route, threatened to secede from Canada and become an independent colony.
To prevent this, the Federal Government offered to build an Island Railway and began to look for someone to build it. Robert Dunsmuir, the coal magnate from Wellington, BC was eventually chosen. He obtained financial aid from a group of American railroad millionaires and formed the company which was to build and own the railroad. Dunsmuir’s company received a land grant, consisting of a twenty mile wide strip of land on Vancouver Island’s east coast, as well as a subsidy of $750,000.
Construction began on the Victoria-Nanaimo portion of the railway in 1884 and was completed in August 1886, when the last spike was driven by Sir John A. Macdonald at Shawnigan Lake. Dunsmuir’s railway became known as the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway.
With the completion of the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway in sight Samuel Fiddick (1833 – 1900) decided that it would be a profitable venture to build a hotel near the railway’s terminus on Selby Street. Nanaimo was to become dependent on the railroad for passenger and freight service, and the Occidental Hotel or “Oxy” as it became known, was built to “cater to the railroad trade.” Over the years, many patrons came to know the Occidental Hotel as “the first and the last.” Upon arriving in Nanaimo by train, the Occidental was the first pub, and upon leaving, it was the last.
Estimated Costs were $8000
The Occidental Hotel was built with money Samuel Fiddick received several years earlier from the sale of his coal lands in Cranberry District. He and James Beck sold their interests near the Nanaimo River Bridge to James Harvey, close friend and associate of Robert Dunsmuir, for a large sum.
In 1886, Samuel Fiddick purchased three lots between Selby and Richards Streets from Thomas E. Peck of Cavan Street, Nanaimo. Each lot had a frontage of 55ft on Fitzwilliam Street and varied in depth from 125ft to 145ft. He submitted plans and specs for his proposed two story brick building to the City in March of 1886. Alfred Summerhayes was awarded the contract to build Samuel Fiddick’s hotel and construction cost’s were estimated at $8,000. Before construction began, Fiddick altered the shape of the building so that its walls were built to the angle of the street.
The first story was to be comprised of a bar and billiard hall in between. The kitchen, washrooms, storage rooms, etc were to be located at the rear. The second story was to consist of thirteen large bedrooms. In December of 1886 Samuel Fiddick applied to the City for a license to sell ales, wines, and liquors by retail. His license was granted. An early advertisement read:
And the rest is History. We are intending to do a series of blogs about Nanaimo’s history and its historical landmarks. If you have any history that you would like to share about Nanaimo, we would love to hear from you.