The neighbourhood in the modern municipality of Lantzville known as Benwaldun owes its name and configuration to Paul Bennett and his family.
Paul Bennett bought the land from a Mr. Bevilockway in 1924. The property extended from what is now Eby Rd. to approximately the east end of Plover Rd. and from the foreshore to the Comox Rd (now Lantzville Rd). It was mostly a natural beach meadow, periodically flooded by Knarston Creek in times of high tide and high runoff which inhibited the growth of shrubs and trees. Its use as a sheep pasture both before and after the Bennett purchase kept the grasses short and contributed to the park-like appearance. Due to the course of the creek and deposition over the centuries, there was a gravel berm along the shore that remained dry and well-drained through all seasons. This is where the Bennett extended family built their waterfront summer cottages and later sold the first subdivided lots where others also built.
Paul Bennett was born in Braceville Illinois in 1870. His father, Paul senior, was of Cornish ancestry and his mother, Esther Little, was born in Hertfordshire. When Paul was a child the family lived in the coal mining town of Braceville and in nearby Coal City. Paul claimed to have begun work at the mines when he was 9 years old. The family were Methodists and on the inside cover of Paul’s New Testament, inscribed in a neat adult hand, is “Paul Bennett, Braceville, Dec 12 1875”. Surrounding this are a number of childlike practice signatures of Paul’s name and inside the back cover more of his signatures and “Coal City”.
The family is said to have left Illinois for Colorado because young Paul’s Aunt Kaziah and Brigham Young’s gardener had fallen in love and wished to marry. Since the man already had one wife and the Bennett’s disapproved of the match, they moved the whole family by covered wagon to Rockvale Colorado. They travelled in a party of several families in separate wagons and when they separated at a river crossing, one of the wagons and its occupants were never seen again. It was believed at the time that the missing wagon and its occupants fell victim to the ongoing conflict between the US Cavalry, Sioux and other dispossessed native groups on the western Plains.
Rockvale was another coal town and work was available for the Bennett men and boys in the mines. Paul senior died in 1888 leaving his wife Esther a widow with seven children. Paul Jr. and his brother Robert set out for Vancouver Island where it was believed better jobs would be available in the coal mines there. Many years later Paul related stories of their hardships on this journey to his nephew Doug Blood, including walking many miles along railroad tracks across the deserts of eastern Oregon and going hungry for days. They eventually got to Nanaimo where they found work at the mines and were able to send money back to their siblings in the U.S. so that they could make the trip to Canada by train. The whole family settled and remained in Canada except for Lilian (Lil) who went to California where she died in Santa Cruz aged 101.
Paul met Mary Georgina Blood at the Wallace St Methodist Church in Nanaimo, and they were married on Christmas Day 1896. The Blood family had recently arrived from Derbyshire and had purchased land at Blood’s Creek in the part of Wellington District that became Grant’s Mine (later, Lantzville). Reverend T.W. Hall officiated and the witnesses were Paul’s brother Robert Bennett and Mary’s friend Bessie Thicke. The Thicke family also farmed in what was later to become Lantzville on land now known as the Negrin farm. Mary Georgina was known as Jo to the Bennetts and Polly to the Bloods.
In 1897 Paul Bennett began teaming with a pair of horses, delivering materials to the mines and doing other haulage around Nanaimo. In 1908 he entered into a partnership with a Mr. Akenhead to operate the A&B Stables on Wallace St. In 1911 he sold his ½ interest in the stables to Akenhead and started the business for which he is remembered by many, Paul Bennett Hardware, on the corner of Commercial and Wharf Streets in downtown Nanaimo.
Bennett Hardware thrived. Paul remained in the hardware business for 21 years. He intended to turn the business over to his son Raymond but Ray died and Paul sold the business to his son-in-law Stan Walls and an employee, Elmer Bradshaw. The store, then known as Walls and Bradshaw, remained a fixture on Commercial St for many years. Nanaimo’s Boat Basin had not been filled and reclaimed during this period and Paul had developed a successful maritime chandlery business from the store’s wharf. Walls and Bradshaw continued this part of the business too.
Raymond worked briefly at the Commerce Bank in Prince Rupert to get business experience to manage Bennett Hardware but he contracted tuberculosis and died at the age of 21. Gladys married Stan Walls who became a partner in the hardware store. Addie married Andrew Dunsmore, a well-known Nanaimo musician and music teacher. Coral was briefly married and is remembered by many as the operator of Lloyd’s News on Victoria Crescent.
Paul and Mary loved the seaside and camped on Newcastle Island with the Wilsons, proprietors of the Scotch Bakery. They visited Mary’s parent’s, Thomas and Georgina Blood, at their farm on Dickinson Rd at Grant’s Mine (Lantzville) to swim, picnic at the beach and pick Damsen plums. The Wilson’s also harvested Damsens at the Blood farm for use in their pastries at the bakery.
This attraction to the seaside led to the purchase of the Bevilockway property on Nanoose Bay which they named Benwaldun. Paul’s sons-in-law, Walls and Dunsmore invested in the project and were involved in the subdivision of the property. Paul combined the names Bennett, Walls and Dunsmore to create the name for the property and the eventual neighborhood – Benwaldun.
The original entrance was gated and the
sign “Benwaldun” was erected over the driveway.
This later became the public Benwaldun Rd.
Paul and Mary built a summer cottage on the shore and the rest of the family followed suit, with the Walls and the Dunsmores building on adjacent lots. The Walls cabin is the only one that remains to this day (2016). It is located on the waterfront on Plover Rd and is occupied as a summer home by Don and Molly Walls. Don is the grandson of Paul and Mary (Blood) Bennett and the son of Stan and Gladys (Bennett) Walls.
Paul and Mary’s original cottage was built in their version of a California Spanish style. They had made a number of trips to California to visit Lil and had become fond of the architecture they found there. They experimented with living in the cottage year-round but after one winter returned to their home in the city. Summers at Benwaldun became their seasonal pattern. Benwaldun wasn’t the only waterfront property purchased by Paul. In 1933 he bought Jack Point (near the current Duke Point Industrial Park) from the Western Fuel Company. It is now a park.
The Bennet’s main dwelling was the house they called Avalon at number one Newcastle Avenue, overlooking Nanaimo Harbour. This house eventually became the Westwood Funeral Chapel (owned and operated by then-provincial cabinet minister, Earle Westwood) and is today’s Sands Funeral Home. Parts of the original interior are still discernible in the Sands Funeral Home building. The Bennett’s hardware business success allowed them to travel in the 1930s when many others were suffering through the Great Depression. They made family trips to Europe and the U.S., and at one point they stayed for six months in Hawaii. Paul liked cars and cigars as befitted a gentleman of his stature in the community. He remained a strict Methodist and expected good manners and a charitable disposition for himself and others. Paul died in 1948 and Mary in 1951, and they are buried in the Nanaimo cemetery on Comox Rd.