Joseph Nicholson Kneen (1883-1967) was a member of Ashlar Lodge No. 3. He arrived in Nanaimo in 1907 and lived in Nanaimo until his death on 5 November 1967.
We are currently researching the life of Joseph Kneen. Here are some articles we have about him found so far in the Nanaimo Community Archives.
First, here is a link to a transcript of an audio recording of Joseph Kneen, recorded by an interviewer in 1967, discussing his recollections of early 20th century Nanaimo. The original recording is in the Nanaimo Community Archives collections.
It says this about Joseph Kneen:
“Joseph (Joe) Nicholson Kneen
Classification: Builders Supplies – Retailing
Joined Rotary October 18, 1929. Club President 1940-41. Senior Active and a Rotary Pioneer. With his wife, Emily, attended three Rotary International Conferences in San Francisco, New York and Tokyo. Was a Rotarian for 38 years.
Joe came to Canada in 1907, staying briefly on the prairies where the winter cold drove him to the west coast and to Nanaimo. He worked for the Western Fuel Company as surface construction supervisor. Using mine slag, Joe supervised the filling of “the Ravine” which was a waterway at that time and is now the Terminal Avenue section of the Trans-Canada Highway through downtown Nanaimo.
Joe left Western Fuel when it was sold to the Dunsmuir interests in 1928, and formed his own building supply company, Central Wharf and Builders Supply. It was located on what is now the west parking lot of the Harbour Park Mall. After World War II the company name was changed to Kneen’s Builders’ Supply Ltd. Joe retired in 1953 and sold out to Evans, Coleman & Evans of Vancouver in 1958.
Joe passed away on November 5th, 1967 at age 83. He achieved 32 years of perfect attendance [at Nanaimo Rotary Club meetings].”
Joseph Kneen and his wife lived in a house they built at 2540 Departure Bay Road. The house has since been demolished and a condominium complex now stands on the site. The photos below show the interior of the Kneen home circa 1952.
Here is Joseph Kneen’s obituary in the Nanaimo Free Press, 1967:
“Bowen Park Founder Joe Kneen Dies, 84
One of Nanaimo’s best known retired businessmen, Joseph Nicholson Kneen, died in the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital on Sunday November 5 , aged 84.
A pioneer resident of Nanaimo, he came to this city in 1907 and was a resident of 2540 Departure Bay Road. [note: the Kneen’s house has since been demolished; a condominium complex now occupies the site.]
When Mr. Kneen arrived in Nanaimo, he was in charge of construction for the Western Fuel Co., and later surface superintendent, a post he held until the fall of 1928.
While with the company he was instrumental in having “the Ravine”, now known as Terminal Avenue filled in and also in having E.U. Bowen, the president of the coal company, donate Bowen Park to the City of Nanaimo.
Throughout his years as a citizen, Mr. Kneen’s prime concern was for the welfare and betterment of Nanaimo.
Mr. Kneen started his own business in 1929 under the name Central Wharf and Builders’ Supplies, which was later changed to Kneen’s Builders Supplies Ltd. In 1958 he sold out to Evans, Coleman and Evans [note: at that time one of B.C.’s leading builders’ supply companies]. He retired in 1953.
Fraternally, he was a member of Ashlar Lodge No. three, A.F. &A.M. for more than 50 years; a life member of Black Diamond Lodge I.O.O.F. No. Five. he was president of the Nanaimo Rotary Club 1941-42 and served several years as a member of Nanaimo Hospital Board.
He is survived by his wife Emily; a son Eric; two brothers, Percy and Harold, Nanaimo; three grandchildren, Kerry, Brett and Leslee; nephews and nieces.
Funeral services will be held on Wednesday, November 3, at 2 p.m., from St. Paul’s Anglican Church.
Archdeacon A.E. Hendy of St. Dunstan’s Anglican Church, Gordon Head, will officiate.
Interment is to be in the family plot, Nanaimo Cemetery. Westwood Funeral Home Ltd. has charge of arrangements.”
(Source: Nanaimo Free Press, November 1967, from Nanaimo Community Archives collections)
This is from a March 1952 article in a local Nanaimo newspaper called Spies & Buys [note: no longer in operation], in which a reporter interviewed Joseph Kneen about his reminiscences of early 20th century Nanaimo.
“Talking to Mr. Joseph Kneen, founder and president of KNEEN’S BUILDER SUPPLIES LTD., is like taking a time capsule and transporting oneself back fifty years to the Nanaimo of the beginning of the century when Lover’s Lane was a footpath through the woods from corner of Albert & Kennedy Streets through what is now Chinatown to Robin’s Park.
Before coming from his native West Cumberland village in the rugged lake country, young Joe Kneen at the age of 13, apprenticed as a wheelwright, a very busy trade before the automobile’s popularity put the horse and buggy out of business as a universal conveyance. he stopped off first in Edmonton where he spent a few months before coming to Nanaimo where he got a job on the construction gang at the mines. Soon he was in charge of all mine construction work and most of the carpenters in town were working under him until a small boom started in Nanaimo in 1911. From 1921 to 1928 he was in charge of all surface operations.
In those days practically everyone in town was in the mines except the shopkeepers who served them. In 1923, at the peak of coal mining here, 1800 men were employed, with a payroll of $146,000 every two weeks. There were 6 pubs on Victoria Crescent alone. Identical Crescent, Queens Grand, Oriental, Provincial, yet there were no visible drunkeness. None locked his door and anyone could leave anything around without fear of its being stolen. Most of the people lived on this side of the bridge, with the “Nobs” beyond it and below Departure Bay Road. Hogan’s store was out of town then and Coburn’s Sawmill was where the Arena stands today. It was founded about 1888 by Mr. Dobson, father of Mrs. C.H. Baker, 607 Millstone Avenue. At that time, Terminal Avenue was under water and at high tide, Indians would throw a log across to reach the foundry.
There was a bridge between the corners now occupied by the Jean Burns Block and the Lindsay Block. In fact, the stonework of an old stone country-type bridge still rests between Commercial Street somewhere around Nash Hardware or the B.C. Power Commission. It was Mr. Joseph Kneen who filled in Terminal Avenue with mine tailings, after a long and determined effort to receive sanction from both the city and the mine owners.
From Walls and Bradshaw to the Crescent Hotel the structures were built to follow the edge of the water, which is the reason Commercial street is so crooked. The C.P.R. docks are on what was Cameron Island and you could throw a stone into the water from the Esplanade. They used mine refuse here, also, for the fill. At one time Harewood Mines used to operate an aerial tramway down Albert Street. When Joe Kneen came, the tripods still were in view where the tennis court used to be…..now the Simpsons-Sears parking lot!
Chinatown originally was at the south end of Victoria Road, approximately on View Street and towards the Bay School. The present Chinatown is on Pine Street, one side of which is in city limits and the other outside. The site was until 1928 a stand of fine timber, through which ran Lover’s Lane and folk like Herb and Emmy Bate might be seen there wandering hand in hand. The first Kneen home was not far from Lover’s Lane on Kennedy Street.
When Mr. Kneen came the Union Brewery was the only one in operation but there had been Weigles’s brewery and others. There are mine shafts under the Malaspina Hotel and where the Band Stand rested, while a few Hudson’s Bay houses stood on Front Street on a bluff, where General Auto Sales and Malaspina Garage are now. Mrs. Lillian Martindale, recently moved to Victoria, was born in one of these company houses.
When Mrs. Kneen came [to Nanaimo] as a child she was fascinated by the many Hindus in their turbans and by the Chinese who then wore long queues, tucked neatly into their pockets.
In the 1920’s, when Mr. R.T. Wilson was making a deposit in the Royal Bank, a gang of international hijackers from Seattle robbed the bank of $3200. They had a getaway boat waiting for them at Boat Harbour but they were caught.
The original I.O.O.F. building was of frame and hanging on the end was a wee candy shop owned by a Frenchman named LeCoq who bought the old wooden building when the Odd Fellows built the present building. LeCoq moved his structure onto his own property and this was the original home of G.A. Fletcher Music Co. before it burned down.
In the early teens [1910-1919] the first sidewalks were built by Henry Kayser [note: Kaiser], famous American tycoon, then an unknown. The first court house was immediately south of the steep drive up from the former C.P.R. dock on Front Street.
When Dr. Reynolds (Murray’s grandfather) planned building the Bijou, (now the Strand), Nanaimo’s first theatre for movies, he asked Mr. Kneen to drive the piles to go under the organ. There was an old Country-type pub where the Capitol Theatre is now, known as the Old Flag Inn.
The South End [of Nanaimo] has remained practically the same with regard to expansion. Landmarks on 5 acres were the Reynolds Corner on 5th or 6th Street. Dickenson’s Ranch, out that way, supplied milk to the town. Calverly’s Corners was the first five acres taken up Newberry’s Greenhouses were hard by the golf course.
First oil company to hit town was Imperial Oil, where the city yards are today. And where the Shell Oil now stands on Stewart Street, was a huge provincial jail, the provincial Chief Stephenson for whom Stephenson Point is named.
Chase River got its name when an Indian who had murdered a white man was caught there as he tried to escape. He was tried on a warship then in harbour and hanged on Protection Point which was, accordingly, known for many years as Gallows Point. Among the many “characters” in town in those days was “Old Mary” the klootch who was always to be seen sitting on the verandah of one of the pubs about where the Metropolitan Store is now.
Mr. Kneen worked for two separate mining companies until, in 1928, the Canadian Collieries took over and he left the mines to start the “Central Wharf Building Supplies” on the old wharf where the barge company is located today. He was, in fact, instrumental in bringing Vancouver Barge to Nanaimo. And it was in October 1928 that 1000 sacks of concrete reached Nanaimo, of which the Kneens took 500 which had to last them 5 months before there was another shipment. And as I sat listening to Mr. Kneen’s reminiscences about those early days, 500 sacks of cement were being loaded that very day! The staff of two – the Kneen brothers – has grown to a staff of 15 and the equipment has developed from one 1 1/2 ton trick to nine huge trucks, three pieces of mobile equipment and two large loading cranes. In keeping with the times, in 1951 Kneen’s brought in two Ready-Mix trucks, the first in town. Now there are four.
Having weathered the Depression years which followed their 1928 opening, the Kneens opened their office and warehouse on Terminal Avenue in 1938. They had owned some property where their gravel business is located today and in 1948 added the warehouse presently in use, completing the present office in 1951.
Young Eric Kneen’s mother, the former Miss Sara (Sadie) Fox, was a Native Daughter. She was a graduate of the school of nursing at the Old Nanaimo Hospital, a member of one of the last classes to train at the old building. She passed away in 1934.
Eric Kneen left school to join the R.C.A.F., spending the war years overseas with that Force and celebrating his 31st birthday on his way home from overseas. Since then he has been with his dad’s business, now known as KNEEN’S BUILDERS SUPPLIES LTD. He lives on Millstone Avenue with his wife, the former Dorothy Loukes of Powell River, and their three kiddies: Kerry, 9, Brett, 7, and Leslee, 5.
Mrs. Joseph Kneen, the former Miss Emily Hogarth, was Superintendent of Nurses at Nanaimo Hospital before her marriage in 1935. She came to B.C. from Northumberland as a child, but since growing up has devoted much of her time
……[to be continued as we get time to transcribe it]
(Source: Spies & Buys, 19 March 1952 – from Nanaimo Community Archives collections)
Joseph Kneen is buried in Bowen Road Cemetery, Nanaimo, B.C.
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