Second of three parts
Within three months of opening in 1903, questions emerged about how the Ymir Miners’ Union ran its hospital. To pay operating costs, $1 was deducted each month from the wages of local miners, typical for union hospitals. The provincial government also provided an operating subsidy based on the number of patients.
Ymir Mirror editor C. Dell Smith said he was approached by miners who wanted to know the institution’s inner workings but had been rebuffed.
The Mirror — a regular union critic — asked for copies of the hospital’s monthly expense reports, and was initially promised them. When nothing was forthcoming despite repeated requests, Smith obtained them from the government and published an expose on Feb. 6, 1904.
The figures, he declared, explained the hospital board’s reticence to release them. He accused them of inflating patient numbers to increase their operating grants — and then pocketing the difference. Another discrepancy was in donations: “Almost every entertainment got up in Ymir during the term covered by these figures were in aid of the hospital, yet the only credit given is $10 attributed to ‘other sources.’”
Smith concluded: “We have shown the official figures to several parties interested in the hospital, and the general verdict is ‘Mysterious.’”
The union responded by threatening to boycott the paper — but Smith wasn’t intimidated.
“Last week we published a summary of the returns furnished to the government by board of directors of what is called the Ymir General Hospital, but what those who run it would have designated the Ymir Miners’ Union Retreat,” he sneered.
And the boycott? Bring it on. “Let it come and a few of these fellows will find themselves in jail — where they should have been long ago.”
The following week the battle was underway in earnest. Smith accused the union of pressuring businesses to withdraw their advertising. The paper carried the headlines “War in Ymir! The camp in the hands of the enemy/Storekeepers and saloon men surrender/Tyrants threaten and timids tremble.”
Businesses who joined the boycott found their ads printed upside down and sideways around a tombstone that read: “Erected to the departed spirit of Ymir business men, by the Boycott Committee, February A.D. 1904, Requiescat in Pace.”
Another large ad read in part: “Ymir is in the grasp of a band of demagogues who are making life intolerable. Boycotting is their present form of persecuting those who will not yield to their sway. Let your friends know the true state of affairs and send them a copy of the Miner.”
All we have is Smith’s side of the story; no alternate narrative exists from the union’s viewpoint, although they apparently did appoint an internal committee to review the books and pronounced everything satisfactory. A government auditor was also dispatched to Ymir, although the results of his investigation aren’t known.
Smith continued his broadsides against the union even as more advertisers pulled out, and added a slogan beneath the newspaper’s nameplate: “Published in the boycotting camp of British Columbia.” Despite his bravado, the paper was clearly suffering as more businesses pulled their ads. By April, it was down to a single page and carried another slogan: “Less than one fourth usual size.”
The Mirror printed its last edition on April 30 and Smith moved to Vancouver, where he “confided all his troubles in Ymir” to the Vancouver Daily World. “The Ymir Mirror is no more,” he said. “I was clearing about $140 a month up there. I had a nice little paper, and all the job printing of the district, but I fought for a principle and while I won that, I lost my principal.”
Smith found a job with the Victoria Daily Times as a reporter and proofreader. He died in 1912, age 58, after undergoing an operation for a neck problem.
Three weeks of the Mirror’s demise, another newspaper, more sympathetic to the union, appeared in Ymir, filled with ads from the boycotting businesses.
The hospital’s operation was never questioned again.
Next: The hospital’s staff and patients