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Not the Country for Serfdom: Land Settlement and Roadmaking Opposite the City of New Westminster, 1858 – 1879

October 6, 2010

Yet some faith

When the flow of mining traffic on the lower Fraser River slowed to a trickle in the summer of 1859, the new capital city of British Columbia, just lately bestowed with the name “New Westminster” by Queen Victoria, took on the air of a deserted shanty-town. At the end of August, a group of businessmen petitioned Governor Douglas, with an appeal for assistance in improving the prospects of the City, noting they “have yet some faith in the place, (notwithstanding its almost total abandonment). . .” The group proposed building a road up Douglas Street to Burrard Inlet, with payment to be in settlement land.

“Our only object in making this proposal to Your Excellency is to assist in opening up the resources of this country, and also to employ our idle time in procuring a piece of Land that we can call our own, so that we can prepare a place on which to raise (the next season) something to sustain life, and not be obliged, as at present to import everything we eat at famine prices . . .”

Military considerations of grave importance

With his chosen city on the right bank struggling to survive as the supply center to the Fraser River gold district,  and with abiding anxiety that the  Colony of British Columbia would be overrun by Americans, civilian and military, Colonel RC Moody was unprepared for a minor rush of settlers to land opposite the city of New Westminster in the spring of 1860.    Moody was Chief Commissioner of Lands & Works,  a civilian post  overseeing land settlement,  road construction, and public buildings, and as officer commanding the Royal Engineers was responsible for the defence of the Colony.

By a Proclamation dated January 4, 1860, Governor James Douglas opened up unsurveyed land in British Columbia for settlement by pre-emption. A settler could register a claim of up to 160 acres.  When the lot came to be surveyed, he needed only to show he had occupied and improved the land, and pay 10 shillings an acre to complete the purchase.  A large section of land had already been surveyed under contract by Joseph William Trutch in preparation for opening up the region to settlers, but as yet not a section had been sold between the Fraser River and the international boundary at the 49th parallel. A further proclamation stipulated that these surveyed parcels must be offered first at a public auction, with unsold lots afterward thrown open to purchase at the upset price of 10 shillings per acre.

On January 20th 1860, Moody wrote to Magistrate Warner Reeve Spalding at New Westminster, requesting that he refrain, for the time being, from accepting pre-emption claims for land on the frontier side of the river, “on account of Military considerations of grave importance.”

Moody outlined his own strategy of land occupation to Governor Douglas.

“I have the honor to inform you that persons are seeking to obtain Preemption claims to land on the bank of the river opposite this town, and that I have deemed it right to request Mr Spalding not to accede to any of them without a previous reference to me, reserving the country from two miles above the junction of the Pitt with the Fraser rivers, to six miles below New Westminster, and from that line across to the American Frontier. . .
The land immediately opposite the City should not on any account be parted with except by lease on reasonable terms with power of resumption on the part of Government; the Government reimbursing the lessees for outlay at an appraised value . . .
the occupation of the whole of that district should be subject to the important military consideration of the defence of the Frontier.”

The influx of American miners in the early days of the gold rush in 1858 had prompted the establishment of the Colony of British Columbia with its concomitant administrative, judicial, and military branches.  Despite the presence of a large British naval presence and Moody’s land-based army, fears of an American incursion underlay all official business.  In July 1859,  American forces occupied the contested island of San Juan.

Early in 1860, tensions over the presence of American soldiers on the Frontier were exacerbated once more by the arrest of some deserters by Lieutenant McKibben of the United States military Escort to the Boundary Commission.  The men had absconded to Langley over the trail from Semiahmoo, and there they were tracked down and captured by McKibben and his company.  It was a contretemps that quickly blew over. British officers understood the necessity to curb desertion. However, the quick reaction of the American forces and the ease by which they marched into Langley unchallenged, must have given Colonel Moody some pause.  Judge Begbie would gripe and grumble that the American forces stationed at Camp Semiahmoo

“now affect to treat as their own territory not only that camp, but all British Columbia, as far north at least as the Fraser’s River.”

Begbie had been more than miffed the past June when the shooting of John Shaw at Camp Semiahmoo, located in British Territory, was deemed outside the jurisdiction of British law—and American civil law too, as it turned out. A second shooting at Semiahmoo again provoked international interest.  On March 9th, 1860 an affidavit was sworn before Magistrate Spalding of New Westminster by WH Orr, an employee of the American Commissioner, alleging he was fired upon by Sgt Leonard of the Military Escort—the same soldier who had fatally shot John Shaw. Once again British sovereignty over an incident that took place on British soil proved ineffective.

Military protection was Moody’s trump card, and he made sure this was understood by the Governor, by requesting his letter prohibiting land occupation be also forwarded to Her Majesty’s Secretary of State in London.

Moody’s policy was not popular with settlers, and one would later ridicule the policy:

“I remember an incident that occurred just after the Preemption Law was proclaimed.  An individual applied for the privilege to preempt a certain piece of land.  ‘My dear Sir,’ said the gallant Colonel, ‘you can’t have that piece of land, for I have chosen that hill for my right flank battery.'”

James Kennedy named his estate  “Rampart Farm.”

To the northwest, back of the City, strategic lands at Burrard’s Inlet were set aside in Military Reserve, and the area around False Creek and Coal Harbour opened up for pre-emption, generating “intense excitement.”  On February 11, 1860 Capt Parsons proceeded to Burrard Inlet to survey the pre-empted lots.

Pressure for settlement land was mounting south of the city, but Douglas did not hesitate to endorse Moody’s restrictions and instructed Mr Spalding to accept no pre-emption claims unless approved by Moody.

“Surveyed land near New Westminster, on the opposite side of the river, which may be desirable at present to reserve upon military considerations, or for military allotments, may be leased on low terms, subject to military presumption, but with the understanding that the lessee shall have the option of purchase should the land hereafter be sold by the Government.”

The pioneer settler

Recognizing the need to “sustain life,” and the opportunity to defeat the “famine prices” of imported food, the first to establish a farm opposite the city was Samuel Weaver Herring, an early resident of New Westminster. In March 1860 Sam Herring obtained a lease of the land of the old Revenue Station across from the Royal Engineers Camp.

Sam Herring was thirty years of age, an American born in Maryland and former resident of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.   He had been in California in 1850, first in the gold fields, and later operating a San Francisco Hotel with his parents John and Mary Herring.  He next moved to Crescent City, California and came up with the rush of ’58 to Whatcom, thence to Fraser River.

Herring’s family consisted of his wife Hannah, also thirty years old, and children Tillman, 4, born in San Francisco, Annie 2, born in Crescent City,  and John, born at Whatcom.  A son Henry would be born soon after their arrival, one of the first colonists to be born in British Columbia.

Sam Herring soon established a bountiful farm on the south bank of the river extending from the old Revenue Station inland and along the river to the Indian village primarily occupied by the Musqueam Chief Tsimlana.

Herring’s location was also favored by its proximity to a route to Semiahmoo which Moody had first proposed in April 1859. Whereas Moody had considered the existing trail to Semiahmoo from Fort Langley to be a threat to security and had advocated its obliteration, he took a different view on a line direct to New Westminster. Langley, with the level land and the trail at its back was indefensible.  New Westminster was so well-situated that a military advance from the south could only play into its hands.  Indeed, a trail south from this point could only be to the offensive advantage of British forces.

A rival town, commanding passages, contending roads

In February 1860 Colonel Moody once again proposed a trail be cut from opposite New Westminster to the frontier. He advertised for tenders for a road to Semiahmoo, but the only offer came from former Customs Officer William Jeffray, and while his offer included a ferry across the Fraser River, the terms were not favorable to the government.  Governor Douglas noted that this project should be deferred “as the necessity for the work is not urgent and our funds may fall short.”

This was a disappointment to Moody for commercial as well as military reasons.  Moody was establishing a network of major roads radiating from New Westminster.

There were three roads to salt water.  The North Road from the Engineers Camp to the head of Burrard Inlet was the first, built out of military necessity, to connect the City with an ice-free anchorage.  There was also a road to False Creek and the extension of the Douglas Road to the second narrows of Burrard Inlet.  Two roads followed the Fraser: one east to the Pitt River and one west along the North Arm, past the sawmill built by Thomas Donahue.

The road south to Semiahmoo had military implications but also would serve to open up more land for settlement and firmly establish Moody’s chosen site in the transportation nexus. About three miles downriver from the Revenue Station on the uplands was the new homestead of James Kennedy, and he put forward a proposal to build a road from his place to Mud Bay, where there lay plenty of good grazing land.

A proposal from Cyrus A Brouse to build a road from Kennedy’s farm to Langley, passing through the land that would be opened up for sale, met with interest from Governor Douglas.

Cyrus Brouse, with his partner William Ross, had recently completed the first public road on the south side of the Fraser, from Fort Langley to Sumas. One of the first  Canadian migrants to British Columbia, Cy Brouse came out with his brother Jacob, a doctor, from Dundas, Ontario.  Jacob Brouse practiced medicine at Yale where he had a son, also named Jacob, who also became a doctor.  Dr Brouse senior spent some time in the Kootenay country, where his name lives on. Cyrus Brouse spent some time as a road contractor in the lower mainland, completing the North Arm Road—present day Marine Drive from New Westminster to Vancouver—and the Douglas Road to Burrard Inlet.  He later mined in the Cariboo, and farmed in Manitoba and his native county in Ontario.

Brouse intended a route,  “keeping the high land which runs back from the Fraser, for the first six miles, thence in as straight a line as possible to Langley.”

The proposal received a vociferous objection from Moody.

“The line Mr Browse proposes passes at a considerable distance from the banks of the river opposite the city and terminates at a point on the river far below it on the Frontier side namely at Mr Kennedy’s farm!”

In Moody’s view the road should terminate above the city opposite Mary Hill and proceed down the river bank to a place suitable for a ferry.  The road as proposed would create a “rival town for the benefit of a few private individuals”

Moody feared a settlement at Kennedy’s—two and a half miles downstream from the city, a logical first stop for steamers, and a junction of two major roads to Mud Bay and Langley—would prove to retard the development of New Westminster, a city still struggling to its feet.

There were many who, seeing the depressed conditions in New Westminster in early 1860, still thought the great investment in this site to be a folly. DGF MacDonald: “there can be no doubting the fact that too much care has been bestowed, and money expended on ‘fancy paths and picturesque ravines’ at New Westminster, which town site is badly chosen; had Langley been retained as capital . . .a large city would be there.”

New Westminster drew its life-blood from the Military payroll, Government offices and trade. It was the supply centre for the district and the upper Fraser.  Business establishments outnumbered private residences.  This description of the city from the pen of Rev Edward White:

“We have ten stores, (one of them a large wholesale establishment) eight saloons, five hotels and other boarding houses, one blacksmith, one watchmaker, one shoemaker, one tinsmith, one bakery, and two butcher shops, three carpenter shops, one law office, and two real estate do.  We have a Custom House, Treasury and Assay buildings, a court house and jail, and a post office. We have about twenty private residences and as many tents and shanties…”

He also noted that three steamers made this their home port, with three more expected soon.  The resident population of 200 was augmented by a floating population of about 250 people.  At the Military encampment resided 200 officers and men.

Moody argued his case forcefully with Douglas, and again won the day. Tenders were called for a road “from a point above New Westminster and nearly opposite Tree Island to Fort Langley.”

Twenty-three bids were submitted, including those from well-known names such as Edgar Dewdney, James Kennedy, and Cyrus Brouse and William Ross.  The winner was Joseph Girard, who signed the contract with an “X.”

The execution of the contract met with serious difficulties.  Girard was told he could not follow the low land, the line of the present-day railroad skirting Surrey Bend, but must take the high ridge, roughly the route of the present Highway 1.  From its starting point on the river the route quickly ran into a series of steep ravines.  After passing these and progressing about 5 miles, Girard had run out of funds and, when no more were forthcoming, had to abandon his work.

Captain Parsons, the Engineer sent out to inspect the road, found that “the line of trail across the three ravines mentioned cannot be converted into a practicable road for animals.”  In Girard’s defence, Parson’s noted that

“the line of route was ‘to be laid out by the Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works or his agent.’  This was not done.”

On official reports, Girard’s  contract was marked “thrown up,” and no effort was made to complete the road.

Late in the year, James Kennedy was given the go ahead to proceed with his own road to Mud Bay.  This too was controversial, and was roundly criticized in the press, for among other things, employing Indian labor.  The work was first inspected by Sgt James Lindsay, who found he could not recommend it: “I consider it only a good trail, but not a waggon road.” It subsequently was approved by Lieutenant Palmer.

The clamor to obtain settlement land opposite the city intensified.  City merchant William James Armstrong tried to obtain preemption rights to a parcel of 160 acres of surveyed land (Sections 34 and 35, B5N R2W, Trutch’s survey).  Stymied by Moody’s embargo, he then tried to lease the land, which lay at the southwest corner of the flats opposite the City.

Moody, while holding the office of Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works, was ill-prepared to handle land sales. Each and every piece of paperwork, forms of leases, forms of receipts, etc, had to be designed and vetted for approval by Victoria, sometimes involving much correspondence and discussion.  Armstrong’s request for a lease was passed on by Moody to the Governor.  Moody was informed that Armstrong himself would have to make one up and submit it for approval.  This process took the better part of a year.

Other persons with an interest on the left bank included the Reverend Edward White, who claimed 30 chains frontage adjacent to WJ Armstrong, and John Robson, who laid claim to 50 chains of property along the river bank upstream from Armstrong and White. All of the men claiming land on the south bank of the Fraser River were non-establishment Canadians, with Sam Herring, of course, American.

Breakup of Camp Semiahmoo

The first week of June 1860 advertisements under the authority of Archibald Campbell appeared in newspapers of the northwest announcing:

“United States Property for Sale at Camp Semiahmoo—The Quarters occupied by the U.S. Boundary Commission”

At the end of June, American Commissioner Campbell would call at the Queenborough Camp to bid a farewell to Colonel Moody.  The Colonel not being home, he was received by Mrs Moody and left with her a gift of some books for her husband.  Campbell was on his way to Victoria and thence to the Rockies. The Boundary camp at Semiahmoo would be abandoned.

“From Semiahmoo—The Boundary Commission—The Port Townsend Register says that the U.S. steamer Massachusetts, Capt. Fauntleroy, arrived at Port Townsend on 18th July, from Semiahmoo, via Camp Pickett, on her way to Steilacoom, having on board Lieut. McKibben and the escort of the U.S. Boundary Commission, which has been encamped at Semiahmoo.”

An American military force never returned to Camp Semiahmoo and Colonel Moody could breathe a little easier. The departure of American Commissioner Campbell was followed by the leaving of HMS Satellite with Captain JC Prevost, after three years duty as Commissioner for the settlement of the water boundary. The Satellite departed Esquimalt July 30, 1860, having served extra duty during the exciting months of the Gold Rush to Fraser River, the birth of the new colony of British Columbia, and the cold war of the San Juan Island crisis.

Opening up a religio-legal controversy

Under pressure to open land for settlement, Governor Douglas agreed to release land that Colonel Moody had reserved for military purposes on the left bank.

At the beginning of July, 1860, Moody, somewhat more relaxed with the departure of the American force at Semiahmoo, wrote to the Governor.

“Your Excellency sometime since determined that the surveyed Rural Lands opposite New Westminster should no longer be reserved and I do not therefore oppose their occupation. Two or three persons holding Scrip . . . have selected the land to which they are entitled by such scrip, on that side.”

Scrip was a voucher for land purchase, a Certificate of Claim to a designated number of acres. It was a common form of payment for work done for the Government.  A road builder would receive payment partly in cash and the remainder in Scrip, saving funds for the cash-poor Treasury. The Scrip could be sold to a third party. It was initially valued by the upset price of land, ten shillings an acre. On the Certificate of Claim was written the following:

“The person claiming to be entitled hereunder must select the quantity of land hereby designated, and if the land be surveyed, must exchange this Certificate for a conveyance, or if the land be unsurveyed, must exchange this Certificate for a Certificate of Title, within Twelve Months from the date hereof.”

William Armstrong, Moody continued, has purchased scrip and tenders it for surveyed land and it appears legal, and the opinion of the AG is requested.

Others with an interest in the south bank included Edward White, the Methodist minister, and John Brough and John Robson.  Robson had chosen land and begun to clear it. They had all taken their Scrip to the Magistrate and exchanged it, as per regulation, for a conveyance to certain pieces of land. With the Proclamation that surveyed land would be sold by auction, all Scrip claims were called into question.

The Attorney General Cary stated explicitly his opinion to the Governor, who reiterated to Moody the resolve of the Government that:

“All surveyed land in British Columbia must be sold by public auction . . . and in no other manner, and that any claims made by any person, under a scrip certificate, cannot be entertained.”

John Robson took Moody to task, dissecting the ruling of the AG and asking five probing questions:

“1st — Do you acknowledge that to be your signature to the ‘Certificate of Claim’ held by me? and if yes, by what authority did you place it there?
2nd  — Is said certificate good for what it appears to be upon the face of it?
3rd  — By whom was the form for said Certificate drawn up?
4th  — If the opinion of the Att. General be correct, what is the meaning of and limitation of the words ‘Rural Lands in British Columbia’ and of the clause ‘and if the land be surveyed must exchange this certificate for a conveyance.’?
5th  — Do you refuse to put me in possession of the land in question and of a proper conveyance, in accordance with the provisions of the ‘Certificate of Claim’ which I hold from the Government?”

This was an argument that would continue over many months. Late in September Moody wrote to the Colonial Secretary enclosing the letter from Robson. Moody noted it was his understanding from discussions with the Attorney General, when the Scrip form was framed, that “it was not intended to make any restriction as to unsurveyed or surveyed lands whether the latter had been put up to auction or not.”

Moody confessed privately to the Colonial Secretary his conundrum:

“The replies I am prepared to give, provided the Attorney General sees no legal objection to my doing so, to Mr Robson’s queries 1,2 & 3 are as follows: viz:
1st.  Yes by authority of H.E. The Governor.
2nd.  Yes.
3rd. The Attorney General.
With regard to the answer to queries 4 & 5, I must request the opinion of the Attorney General be forwarded to me.”

Befitting his calling, and his land interest, the Reverend Mr White expounded:

“There is a high authority which says “a Kingdom divided against itself cannot stand” . . . His Ex’y the Gov is too wise and consistent a man to act so in opposition to himself, as to stultify the Scrip which he has caused to be printed and put into circulation.”

These views engendered some measured tones from beneath the powdered wig of Cary—

“I am decidedly of opinion that it would be impolitic to answer categorical questions shaped in the manner adopted by Mr Robson or to enter into a religio-legal controversy with Mr White. The proclamation which provides that all surveyed land must first be put up at auction before being otherwise dealt with is conclusive on the point whether such land may be claimed under Scrip—All land which has been once exposed for sale in that manner could of course be taken under the form of certificate enclosed.”

The Governor also read the letter and noted:

“There must be some mistake here—all surveyed land must be put up to public auction before it can be legally conveyed by private sale. -JD”

This was an argument which would not easily be resolved.

Group 2,  The Royal Engineers Survey

In August 1860 Moody ordered a new survey of the flats immediately the city of New Westminster.  This land was first surveyed the previous year by private contractor JW Trutch under the block and range system, with each quarter mile section 160 acres.  As land in proximity to the City was most in demand, and river access at a premium, the Royal Engineers overlaid 14 new, smaller lots, each with river frontage.

Lot 1, an irregular-shaped parcel of 100 acres opposite the Camp, was designated a Government Reserve, comprising the land of the old Revenue Station occupied by the Herring family, and the adjacent Indian rancheries.

Twelve lots numbered 2 to 13 were laid out with 10 chains frontage on the river, each 45 acres in area.

(A chain is 66 feet, the width of the standard suburban house lot in the Fraser Valley, which, being a division of a mile, still reflects the plat system employed by Trutch, which Moody adopted from the American model.)

Lot 14, the final lot of irregular shape at the southwest corner, amounted to 74 acres.

Religion & Morals:  The Sheepshank Redaction

Secured from the push of pre-emptors by virtue of Government Reserve, the family of Chief Tsimlana continued to occupy about 100 acres in Lot 1, Group 2, opposite the Camp of the Royal Engineers.

Late in the year 1860, Church of England Bishop George Hills visited the south side of the river, taking with him some colleagues.

“Mr Garrett, Mr Sheepshanks and myself visited in a canoe, two lodges of Indians, on the opposite side, of Quortlan & Musqueam.  We spoke to them upon religion & morals.”

The Reverend Mr Sheepshanks was to pay a return visit this side of the river.  The story of his “quest,” and his curiously opposite characterization of the Indian boys, is best confessed by himself.

“Canon Greenwell of Durham, a well-known craniologist, begged me to get him, if possible, one of these [Indian flathead] skulls. It was rather a delicate job to undertake, as the Indians are mostly careful about sepulture.  However, I set off on my quest, and knowing of an old burying place of the Musquiom Indians, I paddled across the Frazer with two Indian boys to seek out the spot.  The lads were very inquisitive as to what I wanted, and why I had taken an empty sack with me. But I would not satisfy their curiosity.  They put me ashore, and I made my way through the forest to the place where the burying ground had been. I should mention that the Indians do not put their dead into the ground, but usually fasten them up in trees.  If the dead man be a chief or brave warrior, they put his arms and accoutrements around him, and thus leave the body to decay.
It was a long time before I found the object of my search, but at length I came across a small skull, apparently that of a female, obviously a flathead, yet not so excessively flattened as some that I have seen.   My lads eyed me and my burden very curiously as I returned with my sack.  I would give them no information as to what I had brought away.  One of the sharp young rogues guessed it, however, for after making several guesses, he turned round upon me in mid-stream and said,  ‘It is a Siwash letete’—Siwash, corrupted from ‘sauvage,’ being the word by which they designate themselves.  It is not unlikely that the lads, when my back was turned, had, after the Indian fashion, stolen after me through the bush, watched my proceedings, and then crept back to the canoe.”

Scrip scrap: the meaning of risk

On February 9, 1861, the string of twelve 45-acre parcels of land, and one of 74 acres, opposite New Westminster, each fronting on the riverbank, was auctioned off along with other surveyed sections, amid a storm of protest.

John Robson, who had previously applied Scrip which was subsequently refused because the land must be sold at auction, held up a notice of protest.

“I hereby forbid the sale of lots No 3, 4, 5, 6, & 7 upon the south bank of the river opposite this City, as I have possession of the same under a Government ‘Certificate of Claim.  John Robson New Westminster 9th Feb, 1861.”

In his report Moody stated that:

“The only lots sold were those (thirteen in number and amounting in extent to six hundred fourteen acres) situated on the other side of the River opposite the Town and one Lot of Sixty-four acres on the right bank  of the River at its mouth. On five of the former Mr John Robson had wished to apply his Scrip, and in order to strengthen his claim had made a small clearing. On the first of these five being offered for sale, he handed to the Auctioneer a written protest  which was read out and in which he stated that he ‘forbid the sale of lots No. 3,4,5,6 & 7 upon the south bank of the river opposite this City, as I have possession of this same under a Government “Certificate of Claim.”‘”

Complicating the matter, Robson successfully bid for the lots at the auction, and when called upon for a deposit, he once again tendered his Scrip. It was refused and the land again auctioned off, with the successful bid entered by Ebenezer Brown.

The purchaser at the second auctioning of parcels 3, 4, and 7 was Mr Ebenezer Brown, who, with the establishment of his ranch, would make the most lasting contribution to the development of the lower Fraser, and New Westminster, including giving his name to the settlement of Brownsville.

William J Armstrong, who had similarly tried to purchase the land he had claimed on the south bank of the river, was more fortunate in that no one put in a bid for it. It being then open to purchase at the upset price, he could tender his Scrip and it was accepted. Armstrong published a card of thanks to everyone for “not bidding on my land.”  His property was the furthest downstream, where the uplands met the river.

His neighbor further west was James Kennedy, who established his Ramparts Farm by pre-emption of un-surveyed land, Lot 15.

With some relief, Moody concluded:

“The whole of the surveyed lands have now been put up at auction and any person may now claim any unsold portion of the same at the upset price.”

The protests were not over. Following the auction sale, John Robson wrote to Moody that:

“I consider myself justly entitled to the amount which lot No 3 brought in excess of that brought by Nos 2 & 4, such excess being clearly the result of my improvements upon and connexion with said lot No 3.”

The Government conceded the point to John Robson and he was duly compensated for the value of his improvements.  He thereafter took land along the Pitt River Road (Lot 47, Grp 1).  Robson went on to a glorious career as a vociferous newspaperman and later Premier of the Province.

Having engaged the logic of the commercial man WJ Armstrong, the wit of the newsman Robson, and having been dunned from the pulpit by the Reverend Edward White, Moody had only the stubborn farmer John Brough to face.  But it was Brough who brought forward the most telling blows against the Department of Lands.

“On the 9th January 1861 I applied scrip on 33 acres of land on the South bank of the Frazer River opposite New Westminster. Capt Spaulding . . . accepted the scrip . . . On the 9th inst. the said land was put up and sold at Public Auction . . . How such a transaction could take place I am at a loss to comprehend.”

His amazement was not in any way lessened by the response he received.

“The payment by him of Scrip for land on the South side of the River was made entirely at his own risk; and further that the land, to which he alludes, could not be so acquired in consequence of its being surveyed and its not having been put up for sale at Public Auction.”

To this John Brough replied:

“Had I been dealing at the Office of some petty Land Agent I think I could form some idea of the meaning of ‘risk,’ but as I consider a Government Land Office a matter of fact place I cannot conceive why I should run any risk in transacting business there.”

Brough would also settle with the government and establish his farm on a parcel of land further upstream at Katzie.

The worst evils: Not the country for serfdom

The prominent settlers on the left bank of the Fraser River opposite New Westminster, each of whom established ranches, were:
SW Herring, lessee of Lots A and B in Lot 1,  across from the Engineer’s Camp at the old Revenue Station; Ebenezer Brown, Lots 3,4 and 7,  directly across from the City;
WJ Armstrong, Sections 34 and 35, Trutch’s survey, where the uplands met the flats; and James Kennedy, Lot 15, pre-empted land about two and a half miles downstream on the heights. Sandwiched between Armstrong and Kennedy’s farms was a 56 acre wedge of land, (latterly called Lots 23 and 24), claimed by the solitary Patrick O’Brien Murphy, who had first homesteaded on a small island in the river, generally known as Murphy’s Island.

The remaining lots of the twelve 45-acre parcels and one 74-acre lot in Group 2 were knocked down to speculators at the auction.  Charles S Wylde bought Lot 11 which would be soon sold on to San Francisco iron man Peter Donahue. Charles S Finlaison and William H McCrea partnered in the purchase of Lot 6.  Both were clerks employed by at the Custom House in New Westminster.  The largest lot of those surveyed by the Engineers was the irregularly-shaped Lot 14, farthest downstream. This was taken by Capt John Marshall Grant of the Royal Engineers.

Speculation was rampant among the moneyed British class, who could afford to purchase much land, while legitimate settlers, with little ready cash, were frozen out.  It has been often observed that the State of Washington gained many hundreds of settlers who had come to the gold rush, and had taken up land in that Territory, only because they could not obtain land in British Columbia.

Moody openly discriminated against Americans and even Canadians. John V Woolsey, who migrated from Quebec and was fortunate, as non-British, to gain a position as a clerk in the Treasury under Capt WD Gosset, wrote of Moody’s policies in June 1859.

“Col Moody called a meeting of Canadians in Queenboro the other day and made the following very liberal offer:  If Canadians got up a petition praying for a grant of land, which was done and presented at the meeting, they might select lands in different parts of the country and when the English Capitalists should come out, & choose the land they wished, then, if the lands picked out by the Canadians were not taken by them, they (the Canadians) would then be given a grant of such lands which very liberal  offer, was (as a matter of course) refused.”

“The Government here have killed one of the finest chances for starting a Colony that has ever occurred . . . since the world was made. Had lands been given out last year or even sold at the Government high prices, it is the general opinion here that country would have contained nearly 50,000 inhabitants at present with an increasing population, instead of about 4,000 and those leaving the Country by every opportunity.”

Speculation retarded development and Colonel Moody himself actively restricted the business of the city by trying to control property. In the City of New Westminster, Moody reserved many lots which he wanted to let out only on leased terms. Governor Douglas ordered him to put them up for sale.

Moody followed through with a list of the reserved town lots that could be sold, but advised the Governor it was against his wishes to issue a Public Notice of sale.

“I would as Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works, dissuade you from this step at the present moment. Continued applications are being made to me to rent these town lots from Government at very high rates.”

Moody presumed he could go over the Governor’s head in this matter, and once again employed a tactic he had found effective.

“This question of the disposal of Reserved Lots involves so important a principle that I must request Your Excellency to forward the enclosed duplicate for the information of the Secretary of State.”

The Governor, exhibiting an equal strength of conviction, was not to be deterred from his view that the Government ought not

“enter into competition as Lessor of Town Lots, with the lot holders who have purchased from Government at a high price: the measure would be odious, and the advantages of it doubtful.”

A correspondent of the Columbian accused Moody of using inside knowledge to acquire land in his own name.

“I am quite willing that the Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works should have enough land for his model farm, a thousand acres, if needful, provided he has it in one locality, but he ought not to have extensive tracts in various places, which will prove a great hindrance to the proper settlement and general opening up of our farming districts. . .
There seems to be an idea among officials and others from England that they can inaugurate a system of landlord and tenant. They will soon find out this is a mistake. This is not the country for serfdom.”

Capt Grant, as late as 1898, decades after returning to England, was still holding onto his 74 acres of “good bottom land” in expectation of some day cashing in on a “building site.”  This was farm land held vacant, just downriver from where Sam Herring, showing how it could be done, had developed his “banner farm.”

The lots along the river bank and elsewhere were held in hand, while settlers looking for farm acreage had to search far into the bush.

Most settlers were cash poor.  The price of land was dropped by the Government from its initial offering of 10 shillings an acre to just less than 5 shillings, but even so prospective farmers had a hard time to come up with payments.  Land policy evinced deeply held feelings in settlers, for whom a section of land represented their hopes of a stake hold for their families.

James Kennedy wrote to inquire about land at Hall’s Prairie, not the first to recognize its potential for farming. He could not bid on Section 22 at the sale on Feb 9th:

“not being prepared with all the money to pay down, I beg to request of you to take 25 per cent cash and wait until I receive Scrip for the balance.”

Kennedy would earn the Scrip on the completion of his Trail to Mud Bay.  At Hall’s Prairie he intended “to go to work at once to cultivate and raise Hogs, as the place would be well adapted for that purpose.” He spoke also for two of his employees on the Trail, brothers Robert and John Wylie.  John Wylie would buy Lots 21 and 22, consisting of 320 acres at the prime spot in Hall’s Prairie, in August 1861.

By 1880, of the landholders of 18 lots on the river bank opposite New Westminster, only the Herrings, Ebenezer Brown, WJ Armstrong and HV Edmonds were resident in the District, and with only the Herring family residing on their property.  Sometime after the initial sale in January 1861, Peter Donahue of San Francisco had acquired a holding lot, No 11, forgotten amongst his portfolio, and even Col Moody and WD Gossett, ex-REs, long since gone from the Colony, held on to Lot 5 and Lot 8, respectively.

Sir E B Lytton, who managed the creation of the Colony of British Columbia in 1858, proffered this, ever timely, opinion about “acquisition of property by non-residents:”

“This is one of the worst evils to which a new community is liable. The lots are bought by speculators, who hold them on the chance of a rise in value, with the effect in the meanwhile of obstructing the progress of the town, interrupting its communications, and creating a nuisance to the holders of adjoining lots.”

Continuity of Land Ownership Opposite New Westminster, 1861-1880

Public Auction of Surveyed Land Feb 9, 1861

Lot Acres Purchaser                 Occupation        Owner in 1880
1~   32  Samuel W Herring       farmer                 *+
2     45  William G Peacock      merchant            John Herring
3     45  Ebenezer Brown           saloon keeper   *
4     45  Ebenezer Brown                                           *
5     45  William Haynes            RE                           RC Moody
6     45  Finlaison & McCrea    Customs++         HPP Crease
7     45  Ebenezer Brown                                          *
8     45  WD Gosset                     RE & Treasurer  *
9     45  Philip Hick                     baker                      Hugh Ross
10  45  William Fisher              merchant              *
11  45  Charles S Wylde            Customs                Peter Donahue
12  45  William G Peacock                                      *
13  45  Jefferson Perry            +++                         HV Edmonds
14  74  John M Grant               RE                           *

From Laing’s Colonial Pre-emptions and government records.
One other surveyed lot was sold to WD Gosset, 64 acres in Mr Trutch’s survey, at Garry Point at the mouth of the Fraser River (B3N R7W Sec 9).
*denotes same owner in 1880 as 1861
~parcels A & B, by lease
+Sam Herring died in 1879, after farming on the south bank since 1860. The lease was still registered in his name. His wife Hannah and her children held on to the property. John Herring, owner of Lot 2 in 1880 was Sam Herring’s father.
++Charles S Finlaison and William H McCrea
+++Laing wrongly identifies Jefferson Perry as the man known as “Mountaineer Perry.”  The Mountaineer was Albert Perry.

Growing pains

On the north side of the river, New Westminster merchants were struggling to survive in hard times, following the drop off in mining. They found another target of criticism.  In a letter to the newspaper headed “official smuggling,” a writer railed against the perks of the military officers, who were permitted to import supplies duty-free.

“By the Otter which arrived here on the 21st, there was imported 35 cases,  each 4 dozen, total 140 doz beer, directed ‘Officer’s Mess, Royal Engineers.’  These goods brought in duty-free paid no wharfage and to save any carters being employed for drayage, their own men came and took them to the Camp.”

Some New Westminster pioneers looked to the Cariboo for new opportunities. In April 1861 Catherine Lawless put up for sale her Mansion House hotel and relocated to Quesnelle where she erected a new building. JT Scott, first to hold a liquor license at Queenborough, followed suit. Mrs Lawless did not find a ready purchaser for her Hotel and in December WH Woodcock advertised that he would auction the hotel, containing boarding accommodation for 150, and including “A Ten-Pin Alley.”

A Census taken in this month strictly within the limits of the City of New Westminster recorded 244 persons (adult male). According to Bishop Hills there were an additional 30 adult women. Natives were not included in this Census.

1861 Census of New Westminster

British males 21 years of age and over    164
Foreign  . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . .. .        80

British males under 21 years of age            14
Foreign . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . .             6
Official  Total                                                     264


Adding adult women British or Foreign                 30 (Hills’ count)
Total                                                 294

Hills noted there were another 300 persons at the Military Camp.

Promoting Early Settlement

Governor Douglas made a trip up the Fraser in June 1861 and wrote his own progress report to the Duke of Newcastle.  At New Westminster he found new roads being constructed to the north in the direction of Burrard’s Inlet, attracting the interest of homesteaders, and he noted developments to the south.

“A similar result in promoting early settlement is anticipated from another new line of road [Kennedy’s] which is being formed on the left bank of the Fraser commencing a little below New Westminster and running in a southerly direction towards the frontier.  The forests opposite the town are beginning to yield to the woodsman’s efforts; and one enterprising proprietor Mr Brown has discovered on his ground a large tract of excellent land which certainly cannot be surpassed in point of fertility or quality of soil.”

It is perhaps surprising that land could be “discovered,” but this would happen throughout the district long for the next 25 years.  Along the Fraser across from New Westminster the riverbank was populated with trees in a band from 200 to 300 yards wide. Behind this was a large area of bog and grassland extending to the foot of the uplands.   This low land was described on Trutch’s survey map, and was the first to be claimed. Still, there existed throughout the district prairies hidden deep in the forest, known only to the natives.

Cut to the chase

The Fourth of July, 1861 was celebrated with the usual gusto in towns throughout British Columbia.  In New Westminster, festivities commenced with the firing of Scott’s cannon.  On the next day, up at Yale, a doctor was murdered point-blank with a shot to the heart. The gunman escaped in a canoe paddled by two Indians and headed downriver.  The colony was thrown into an uproar.

The murderer of Dr Fifer [also spelled Phiefer] of Yale was Robert Wall, and of the two Indians aiding his escape, one was the stepson of Tsimlana, the Musquiam Chief living opposite the RE Camp. There followed a rapid canoe chase through the Fraser Canyon, past Fort Hope and down into the Valley, but the Indian canoe could not be overtaken and Wall eluded his pursuers.  Word quickly spread down the river to New Westminster and a search was made as far as Point Roberts, with no sign of Bob Wall.

On July the 8th, the fugitive Wall was sighted by William Winnard, just above Langley, starting on the trail towards Semiahmoo. James Huston hastily paddled a canoe to New Westminster with the news.  The Chief Inspector of Police, Chartres Brew, dispatched Constable McKeon and some men with Huston in his canoe down the Fraser and around Point Roberts to the mouth of the Tah-ta-loo River, the Semiahmoo end of the trail, where the US Boundary Survey formerly had their camp. It was a gamble by Brew, who knew that the trail between Langley and Semiahmoo was, at that time, “nearly all but impracticable.”

At daylight on the 9th, they started upstream along the bank of the Tah-ta-loo (Campbell River).

“they closely examined the trail but finding no tracks in the soft places where it would not be possible for a man to walk without having foot marks, they concluded that the man of whom they were in search had not passed.  They remained watching the trail till after noon, then finding the man did not make his appearance Mr McKeon determined on sending home the canoes and proceeding with his men by the trail into Langley, hoping to meet on the way the man he wanted to arrest.  He despatched the canoes and started along the trail and they had not marched 300 yards when they saw the man walking towards them with his head down.  Mr McKeon’s party rushed towards him and he made an attempt to escape into the bush. He drew his Revolver and turned his head to look behind him when he tripped and fell. Mr McKeon was on him in an instant; a constable wrested his Revolver from him and he was secured. He was marched into Langley and brought down here by boat that same night.”

Wall was hanged over the grave of Dr Fifer, and both the Indians were convicted as accessories after the fact and sentenced to a year’s hard labor.  This aroused comment in the press:   “In reading over the evidence it will puzzle one to account for the sentence of the two Indians.”

One of the men was from Chilliwack, “where he has a garden tilled and is remarkable for his industry and sobriety.”  The other was Sna-en-Kumthen, “the stepson of Zimlanoh [Tsimlana] the Musqueam Chief who lives near the old Revenue Station. The lad is well known here and is particularly inoffensive and well conducted.” The Indians were perceived to have had no knowledge of Wall’s intent.

Governor Douglas agreed, and on Brew’s recommendation, authorized their release.

Converging lines

In July 1861 the newspapers reported that Captain Gosset was “about to erect a handsome granite obelisk on Point Roberts.”  The boundary survey party had moved on before arrangements had been made for permanent markers along the Border.  Iron posts were installed in the Fraser Valley, and a significant monument was to be put in place at the Initial Point of the land boundary, on the west side of Point Roberts where it strikes the Gulf of Georgia. The contract to build the obelisk was won by Ebenezer Brown, who was ever an active bidder on contracts for road-work and supplies to the government. The obelisk was constructed of gray granite, obtained locally and prepared by local stone-cutters. Half the cost of the monument was paid later by the American government.

Midsummer, Brown’s Ranch received a visit by Bishop Hills, who recorded his impressions.

July 30, 1861
“Day fine, cooler.  Visit to Mr Brown’s farm opposite N. Westr. I went over in Mr Brown’s boat this morning to see his clearing. He began in April, & has now some 13 acres either under cultivation or ready. There are some 5 acres of potatoes, a large portion ready for use, though put in only in May. Swedes Turnips are first coming up also there are 11 sorts of vegetables also cucumbers. The land is rich loam with clay bottom & if the water can be kept out must become very valuable. There is about 300 acres of the whole 500 such land.  If New Westminster goes on–this will be worth in my opinion a large sum in 5 years. Mr Brown has given L300 for the 500 acres. At the back there is about 60 acres of excellent feed.”

Ebenezer Brown drew more praise from the press in September for his farm, which included 10 acres of “chiefly horticultural produce.”

“We trust he may be amply compensated by and bye, of which we entertain no doubt, in the greatly increased value of his property as well as in a liberal return for his outlay of the productions of the soil.”

The murder of Murphy

In November of 1861 the residents of New Westminster and district were shocked by a horrible murder nearby the city.

“The unfortunate victim was Patrick O’Brien Murphy, an inoffensive old man of some 60 years, who has during the past two or three years resided on an island immediately below this city . . . public feeling is very much excited.”

Murphy was one of the earliest settlers, taking up residence on his island, commonly called Murphy’s Island, in the river below New Westminster, possibly since 1858.  On his first visit to British Columbia in 1860, Anglican Bishop Hills had been paid a visit by Murphy.

“A man named Murphy came in, a fine grey haired man who has squatted upon an island & has been fighting his way through difficulties.  The flood one year carried away his produce, next year the frost destroyed his potatoes & vegetables. Yet he battles on.”

In the summer of 1861 his produce had been lauded by the press:

“We had the pleasure last week of eating a mess of as fine strawberries as we have ever seen in any country. They were grown by Mr Murphy on his island immediately below this city.”

The location of Murphy’s Island is so far undetermined.  In June of 1865, WR Spalding requested a survey of Henrietta Island. It comprised ten acres about a mile and a half down river from New Westminster.  It was sold to Spalding by Patrick O’Brien Murphy in May 1861, some months before his murder.  The location of Henrietta Island is lost. It was possibly Robson Island, off the eastern point of Annacis Island, a tiny island now lost to maps having been incorporated into the main island.   A portion of Annacis Island itself—-which, like Macmillan Island opposite Fort Langley, was bisected by a slough—, Patrick Island, and Annetta Island have all been suggested as Murphy’s.

Magistrate Spalding had an interest in Islands.  He also applied to buy tiny Bay Island, just one and half acres in size, located two and a half miles downstream from the City on the South arm of the Fraser.  The location suggests it may have been near the shore of Murphy’s claim on the south bank, next to Kennedy’s property—what is now the spit of land along Annieville Slough.  Kennedy had told of his property fronting a small bay in the river.  Murphy also owned a small wedge of property located on the south bank between the holdings of James Kennedy and William Armstrong.

Murphy was believed killed by Indians, but the crime would go unsolved for some years.  On the day following his death, both Kennedy and Armstrong filed applications in the land office for his property. It would be split between them, Armstrong taking Lot 23 and Kennedy Lot 24.


In December 1861, Colonel Moody, in his role as Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works, announced his project estimates for the coming year.  His wish list included “improvements to Trails from opposite New Westminster through Derby, Langley, Sumas to Hope, with completion of branch to Semiahmoo.”

Moody received a complaint from one of his own Engineers, Sgt James Lindsay, who had acquired Section 30 in B5N R2W.  This section of Trutch-surveyed land lay immediately back of the string of 45-acre allotments along the river.  Lindsay found he had no way to access the property as the Department of Lands and Works had made no allowance for roads.

“[It is] impossible for me to get to it without trespassing upon the other peoples property . . . Grant me a right of way from the Fraser River and cause the same to be laid out by a Government Surveyor.”

The land-locked case was referred to the Attorney General who observed that

“Every purchaser of property has a right to a road of some sort through the other lands of the vendor as of necessity.”

This created a bit of a problem for Moody as he had already sold the allotments intact, without giving a thought to public access.

Frozen in

In late December 1861 winter was nowhere to behold. Observed Bishop Hills in Victoria:

“In walking today with the Archdeacon I passed a garden that of a colored man on Johnson St where there was a well-developed apple blossom on one of his trees, a sign of a remarkable mildness.”

The pleasant conditions belied what was to come.  By the first week of January cold winds had descended the Fraser and brought “a week of continuous severe frost.”  Capt Parsons wrote to the Governor that New Westminster faced the possibility of being cut off by ice in the river.

The Fraser River was soon frozen up from the mouth to Hope, cutting off river travel and supplies.  The Kennedy trail to Mud Bay and the North Road to Burrard Inlet, were the only access to the vicinity of New Westminster.

James Kennedy, who had been hammered in the press and in public during the construction of his trail, took time to address his critics with a letter to the Columbian, trumpeting that the people of New Westminster had been “saved by that trail.”

“Nine fat beeves were driven on the ice from the mouth of the trail on the south side of the Fraser to New Westminster. These fat cattle were part of a drove which was brought from Oregon to Mud Bay by a party of enterprising Yankees. They were landed at Point Roberts after the ice had closed the Fraser, and brought across to Mud Bay, and from there by the trail (that I opened last season) to the river. This circumstance is the more worthy of notice for two reasons. The first is that [Thomas] Harris, who had the contract for supplying the [Engineer’s] Camp, was out of beef, and was obliged to get a supply from these Yankees, who invaded British soil with their fat cattle. And the other reason is, that at the time I first proposed to open a trail to Mud Bay, the people of New Westminster opposed it at a public meeting, and refused to vote for an appropriation for that purpose, and after I had succeeded in getting the contract for opening the trail, there was every possible effort made to stop it.”

Colonel Moody had previously ordered the eradication of trails to the south for fears of American invasion, and the people of New Westminster were jealous of protecting the commercial prominence of their port of entry.

Having been cut off by ice time and again, the colony renewed efforts to establish communication by road from the lower to the upper Fraser, but the necessary funds were not available. The British Columbian newspaper editorialized:

“a trail, if not a good wagon road, is much needed from some point opposite or near New Westminster to Langley. . .There was a futile attempt made something more than two years ago to open a trail to Langley, starting from a point about five miles up the river [Girard’s road].  But we think the starting point was not in the right place, and we know the line chosen was a blunder . . . by starting opposite this place it would intersect a longer extent of valuable country and would generally be more useful.”

Paths and Pastures

On the second day of 1863 Bishop Hills went out to view some property about three miles down river opposite the City.

“Day fine & open but cold. Went across the river with the Archdeacon to the clearing of Mr Kennedy. The Church has ground near Rural section 17. The locality is said to be favourable for a town at some future day on that side.”

This was near the head of the Kennedy trail to Mud Bay, which started at the lower boundary of Kennedy’s holding in Lot 15, and was still being touted as the junction of a trail to Langley. Lot 17 was purchased by the Bishop in August 1861.  “Col Moody gave up his interest in this acreage for a lot in Hope.”

The RE Meteorological Observatory report for January 1863 noted a low temperature of 15 below zero (Fahrenheit) on Jan 16, nine days of snowfall amounting to an accumulation of about 3 feet, and 9 inches of ice at mid-river on the last day of the month.

Improvements were made to the trail from New Westminster to Burrard Inlet, upgrading it to a wagon road.  Ebenezer Brown entered the low bid for the contract.

In the City, JT Scott contracted to construct a levee running from Lytton Square downriver to Henry Holbrook’s Liverpool Wharf, some 914 feet. This would open up a roadway which on the first maps was called Quay Side and Water Street (it was a boardwalk above the riverbank), but which would now be known as Front Street.

Projected roads to Semiahmoo and Langley did not materialize.  Ebenezer Brown, on his own initiative, set about constructing a road between two of his properties, just downriver from the Indian reserve.

In March 1863, Col Moody, Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works, informed Ebenezer Brown that he intended to build a road between Lots 8 and 9, presumably to give access to land-holders on lots back of the riverfront.

Brown wrote to Moody and made a case for the road going through his property, it being already constructed, his landing place being better located for a ferry, the road bed superior and the other location waterlogged and needing a causeway. He argued that the line between lots 3 and 4 can be a better road, cheaper and more convenient—“and be carrying out the road which I have commenced at great expense to myself.”

Brown also offered to

“make allowance for a road along the base line of Group II [the 45-acre lots], such allowance to be taken from Sections 19 and 25, Block V [North], Range 3 West . . . and I will also give a roadway from that road to Sgt Lyndsay [holder of the still land-locked Section 30].”

With Moody’s acceptance the layout of the principal roads in this district was established.  Brown’s self-made road between lots 3 and 4—even now running a little bit crooked— would become the start of the Semiahmoo Road, now the lower end of the Old Yale Road.  His baseline allowance would be the route of the Scott Road, even today running outside the southern boundaries of the lots of Group II on land given up by Brown from his 160-acre Sections 19 and 25. But these roads would not be improved into wagon roads until the 1870’s.

The side of the river opposite the City was becoming a popular place for picnicking and recreation.  The sandbars along the bank were amenable to bathing and the clearing of fine meadows afforded places for recreation and paths for strolling and riding.   In August the Methodist church advertised a day of relaxation.

“Picnic—The annual picnic in connection with the Mary Street Wesleyan Sabbath School will take place today on Mr Brown’s ranch opposite this city.  The boats will leave the dock shortly after 11 o’clock, A.M.”

Defences, departures and divestures

The force of Royal Engineers was recalled to Britain in 1863.  Every officer returned home, but many enlisted men and non-commissioned officers remained in the Colony, attracted by an offer of 150 acres of land on which to settle.

Military concerns had quieted considerably after 1860, and the Americans were preoccupied with their own internal struggle, the Civil War.  Still, with the recall of the Engineers to Britain in 1863, New Westminster was left feeling exposed and without defence.

A militia unit named New Westminster Volunteer Rifle Corps, No. 1 was organized with Ebenezer Brown taking a leading role, and an Artillery Corps also formed, each company comprising a large contingent of former soldiers.

The south side of the river assumed a new kind of military importance—as a practice range and as an artillery target.  Two field pieces would be trundled up to the bluff at Albert Crescent, and take aim at the Brownsville Butts, at a range of 1200 yards across the river. Years later shells and cannon balls would be dug up out of the South Westminster soil and no doubt there are many there still.

In December of 1863 came notice of the departure of Ebenezer Brown. As late as September, Brown had been increasing his investment in property in the District, purchasing Suburban Lot 203 at auction.  Now he was expected to divest himself of some holdings.

“The Departure of a Pioneer—We understand it is the intention of Mr E Brown, of the Liverpool Arms, to leave by the next steamer on a visit to England.  Mr Brown is one of the early Pioneers, and has been for several years a member of the City Council.  His departure will necessitate a new election in Ward No 5.”

“Mr Brown, who left for England on Wednesday, leased his farm on the opposite bank of the river at $500 a year, and shortly after the bargain was concluded $750 was offered by several parties.  We understand that during his five years residence in this city Mr Brown cleared upwards of $10,000.”

Brown’s place on the city council would be won by John Wiley.

A melancholy picture of disappointed hopes

Ebenezer Brown took an opportune time to leave. With the departure of the Royal Engineers New Westminster was plunged into another of its periodic depressions.

Governor Seymour first arrived in British Columbia in April 1864.

“I had not seen, even in the West Indies, so melancholy a picture of disappointed hopes as New Westminster presented on my arrival.
Here, however, there was a display of energy wanting in the tropics, and thousands of trees of the largest dimensions had been felled to make way for the great city expected to rise on the magnificent site selected for it.
But the blight had early come.  Many of the best houses were untenanted.  The largest hotel was to let, decay appeared on all sides, and the stumps and logs of the fallen trees blocked up most of the streets.  Westminster appeared, to use the miner’s expression, ‘played out.'”

The first snow of 1864 fell at New Westminster on December 10 and by December 14 the Fraser was choked with ice as far down as the Pitt River.   Cut off from above, the city called once again for a land route to the Interior.   The day before Christmas, with the interior still a “sealed book,” AC Elliott and JC Haynes arrived at New Westminster after a 10-day journey from Hope.

Cable laid

In 1865, a new enthusiasm and impetus to road-building came in the form of a telegraph line.  Intended to connect North America with Europe by land, the line would run right through British Columbia from south to north, and thence to Siberia.  The people of New Westminster relished the thought of being in direct communication with California and the rest of the world, especially since Victoria would be shut out.  The possibility of a land route to accompany the line would be salvation in winter when the river was impassable.

RT Haines, the Assistant Superintendent of the California State Telegraph Co, wrote to Governor Seymour asking that the Colony clear the way for the Telegraph from the border to New Westminster.

“I would suggest to open a good trail from a point opposite the upper end of the village of New Westminster, to connect with the present trail to Semiamoo about one and half miles south of the river, thence follow the trail to Mud Bay, thence by the most direct practicable line across the prairie and through the timber to the Boundary Survey Camp at the head of Semiamoo Bay.”

That was not all.  He also asked that poles be laid out 20 feet tall, 71 yards apart. The Government was obliging. Such activity raised moral in this time of economic depression, and the construction activity would gift a boost to the prospects of New Westminster.

A route around the shore of Semiahmoo and Crescent Beach was blazed to connect with the Kennedy trail at Mud Bay.  When the telegraph builders crossed Semiahmoo Bay into British Columbia, they found the shoreline route too lengthy and instead cut a more direct line through to the Nicomekl, and from there it followed the Kennedy trail to the Fraser River.

On March 17 the USS Shubrick, in former days in the service of Boundary Commissioner Campbell, reappeared at New Westminster bearing Colonel Bulkley and the underwater cable for the Fraser River crossing.

The Governor’s tiny steam vessel, Leviathan, another historic vessel that made its first appearance at Semiahmoo in 1858, was employed to lay the cable across the Fraser, from the south-west corner of Brown’s farm to Albert Crescent.

The first telegraph message in British Columbia on the  line was received by JL Pitfield at the Telegraph Office newly opened in the City at the old Columbian Hotel, across Columbia Street from the Mansion House.

“Opposite New Westminster, March 21st, 1865, 11:45 a.m.
To the Editor of the British Columbian.
We have to announce that the cable is laid and working.
It was laid in seven (7) minutes.

Communication with the rest of the world would have to wait until April 18, when connections were completed on the line to Seattle.  The first news received was of the death of President Lincoln.

The advent of telegraphic communication with the largest cities in North America put the Royal City one up on Victoria, from whence it had often had to wait for late mails delivery.

There was much lobbying as to which side of the river the line would take from New Westminster to Hope.  A second company, the Collins Overland, had the contract to make the extension from New Westminster to Alaska.  Their line was laid down by the steamer Lillooet to the south shore, a bit downriver from the first line, and headed east, past Herring’s Ranch,  along the riverbank.

With much demand every year for a land route up the Valley it was decided to construct a road in conjunction with the line of the Telegraph.  The Surveyor in charge for the colony was Walter Moberly, and the surveyor who determined the route, James Turnbull, a former RE recently hired by the department and fresh from the survey of the Hudson’s Bay Company farm at Langley.

Mr Conway of the Collins Overland Telegraph Company proceeded with his crew to erect poles and run the wire, working alongside the road builders.  The surveyors and blazers had difficulty keeping ahead of the line, as it was put up so fast.   The route ran from Herring’s farm along the river to the start of Girard’s old road just below Tree Island, and followed that route thereafter across the uplands.  At a point past Barnston Island, around the present intersection of 96th Ave and 216th St, Conway and Turnbull ran into a dilemma.

Turnbull wrote to Moberly explaining some “difficulty in the route between the end of the Frenchman’s trail [Girard’s old road] and Langley.” Conway and Turnbull had met swamp and “almost impenetrable underbrush.”  They had a choice of three routes through or around the bog on the big bend of the river between Barnston Island and Langley. While telegraph poles can more easily run through a cranberry marsh, it was no place for a road.  Hence the line took a sharp right turn and proceeded along more solid ground to meet with the road between Fort Langley and the Langley Prairie.  This junction is today marked by a cairn on the side of Glover Road.  After crossing the Salmon River the line met the road of Brouse & Ross to Sumas.

The road did not always follow the telegraph line throughout its entire length, and although a great deal of money was expended, did not live up to expectations.  It was described as at best, a “sleigh road:” essentially, a cutting through the trees, wider than a pack trail, but unsuitable for wagons.


Having in recent years relaxed its concern over Yankee manifest destiny, the Colony was alarmed in the spring of 1866 by reports that Fenians at San Francisco were threatening to invade British Columbia.  The Fenians were Irish nationalists with an international grudge against the British Crown.  On June 13, 1866 the HMS Sparrowhawk, under the command of Captain Porcher, left Victoria “to protect the neighbouring Capital” of New Westminster.

The Sparrowhawk would spend a month at New Westminster with little to do for the officers but socialize and sightsee.  On her visits she anchored opposite the Camp near the Governor’s residence.

The Sparrowhawk made several trips to the vicinity of New Westminster during her west-coast tour of duty.  As with all ships of the Royal Navy, the Sparrowhawk was issued a supply of ammunition every month that had to be used up in exercises.  Favourite targets were various islands along the coast, including those in Active Pass.  But as with the Seymour Artillery, Brownsville was often the target, or butt for practice rounds.

From Porcher’s diary for October 15th, 1867:

“The water not being high enough for crossing the Bar [Sandheads at entrance to the Fraser], exercised the men firing at a Target, and then passed the light vessel at 3.30, made fast alongside the Wharf at New Westminster at 5.40 PM, as it was getting quite dark, and discharged the 24 pr. howitzers with the ammunition, we then cast off and steamed up to the Camp where we anchored at 7.0 PM.
Our guns fired this afternoon were heard distinctly at Esquimalt, a distance of 40 miles in a straight line, and the smoke of the guns was seen from San Juan.”

Diversions, molasses and flour

In April of 1867 the quiet life of William Henry Bevis, formerly resident at Queenborough Revenue Station and now the Keeper of the Light at Fisgard Lighthouse, was interrupted by a visit from the HMS Sparrowhawk.  Commander Porcher recorded his impressions.

“On our way back [from visiting Race Rocks with the Governor et al] we landed to see the Fisguard Lighthouse at the entrance of Esquimalt, which was also in good order, but the landing place had been washed up during the high tides, and wanted being put in good order.  Mr Bevis, late a purser of one of the West India steamers was living there with his Wife with a salary of $80 a month.”

On May 24th, the Sparrowhawk was anchored in the Fraser opposite New Westminster.  The events of that day, as described by Captain Porcher, were typical of the annual celebration.

“This being the Queen’s birthday, it was usual for the Indians to come down from the Upper country and partake of the festivities that were held at New Westminster on that day, at the expense of the Government. About 3,000 were present on this occasion, most of them having come down the Fraser in their canoes a day or two previously.”

The majority of this number would encamp on the Reserves and adjacent meadows of Herring’s Point and Brown’s Landing. It was a party atmosphere, but not without a serious side, as most canoes would participate in regattas and a delegation of Chiefs would meet the Governor on the heights of the Cricket Ground (located to the northeast side of where is now the north end of the Pattullo Bridge). An Address would be followed by a reception and the distribution of gifts—on this occasion, molasses and flour.

What was on view for the inhabitants of both sides of the river would match any modern holiday celebration.

“It was unfortunately a rainy day, which prevented a variety of games and race coming off, only a few taking place after 4pm.  At 9pm we burnt blue lights at the yard arms, as well as the Malacca.  After this I embarked with a large party on board the Lillooet and steamed down the river opposite the town, to see the fireworks set off from a scow which was moored in the middle of the river alongside the Onward.  The Fireworks that were very good of their kind had only arrived 6 days before in the Princess Royal of the Hudson Bay Company, at the cost of L160, two thirds of them were only consumed this evening.”

“May 25th. The next day was finer. Some horse races took place in the middle of the day in Columbia Street (the principal street in the town), and during the afternoon a variety of games took place on the Cricket ground. At 9pm, about 150 canoes formed a torch light procession astern of the Leviathan, and proceeded round the ships and down the river.”

“May 26th. This afternoon 10 Hyda Indians had a War dance on the lawn before the Government House, in the presence of 2000 Indians. They were painted and dressed up for the occasion, and accompanied by several Klootchmen (women) sitting down playing tambourines, etc.”

Unsettling times

Preemptor James Kennedy put aside an attempt at homesteading to become a teacher, removing to Derby in 1867. Kennedy opened a school in the old Barracks, advertising that it would accept “boarding scholars.”  The school remained at Derby until October 1869 before acquiring a more convenient location at Fort Langley. Kennedy settled there, where he remained teacher until 1872, afterward moving to Chilliwack.

The removal of the school from Derby had excited a flurry of interest in the abandoned Royal Engineer’s buildings, including a proposal from William Ross, but Joseph Trutch advised that the Government had no legal power over the Townsite Reserve and “could not convey any exclusive right of occupation.”

At the beginning of 1868 freezing winds spilled down the valley from Interior and the Fraser River was frozen over between New Westminster and Brown’s Landing.  James Clarke, engineer of His Excellency’s Steam Yacht Leviathan recorded “scating all day.”

A New Westminster editorialist fretted about the threat of invasion by Americans, Fenians, or Indians and he suggested New Westminster should be defended by the construction of “three small star forts” at strategic locations in the District.

In 1868 the Capital of British Columbia was removed from New Westminster to Vancouver Island. Unification and the loss of the capital entailed the departure of Civil Servants to Victoria and with them went the economic benefits of a large payroll and much government spending on infrastructure, buildings, etc. At a public meeting in April, Ebenezer Brown moved a resolution of protest and he was selected for a committee struck to seek “redress and compensation.”

Ebenezer Brown meanwhile continued to expand his interests, seeking land on Saltspring Island, and early in the year 1869 he had written to Trutch.

“My intention is to build on Burrard Inlet. For that purpose I have chosen lots 25 and 26 according to plan of the surveyed town of Hastings near Oliver Hockings. If you can inform me how I can get obtain them I should take it as a great favor. I will either pay for them at once or take them on the same terms as Hocking. An early answer will greatly oblige as my intention is to start business at once. I remain yours respectfully Ebenezer Brown.”

Brown obtained lots in a forthcoming public auction.  The Mainland Guardian reported in 1869 that Brown had opened a branch of his business at Burrard Inlet under the management of former Royal Engineer Lewis Francis Bonson.

James Kennedy, now living in Langley, advertised a sale of stock and land of his old pre-emption downriver from Brownsville.

“After the trees are sold, the land will be offered for sale in three lots, viz.: 14 acres at the termination of the Mud Bay road [Lot 25]; 34 acres adjoining the fishery [Lot 24], and between the above mentioned lots is 135 acres [Lot 15], ‘The Rampart.'”

The same autumn, an Indian was tried and hung for the murder of Patrick O’Brien Murphy, Kennedy’s neighbor who was murdered in 1861. Murphy was the first owner of the 34 acre parcel of land adjacent Kennedy’s Lot 15 preemption.

A wicked business

In January 1870 another spell of cold weather bound the Lower Mainland and renewed calls for improvements in roads.

“The present severe frost and the immediate probability of the entire cessation of traffic on the river, brings forcibly before us the urgent necessity for a road from this city to Yale.”

It is evident the telegraph route had fallen into disuse from lack of maintenance.

Interest in Burrard Inlet, the site of lumbering camps and mills, prompted requests for property at the rough settlement of “Gastown,” named after John “Gassy Jack” Deighton, formerly of the Revenue Service and now running a Saloon there.  The government surveyed a townsite and dignified the settlement with a new name, Granville.  Among the successful bidders at the auction sale of lots in April 1870 were Deighton and Ebenezer Brown, both of whom would operate busy saloons in the fledging town.

If Granville was the place of action in 1870, Fort Langley was now a quiet backwater. Even so, schoolmaster and settler James Kennedy found cause to complain about the sole licenced establishment there, run by former HBC blacksmith James Taylor at the landing.  Kennedy’s vituperative missive to Governor Musgrave echoed complaints of the long ago free-wheeling times of the gold rush.

“I refer to this abominable Rumhole which is licensed by the government.  I have refrained hitherto from making a complaint to authority hoping to be able to persuade this man to give up such a wicked business on account of his own and other families in this place but such remonstrance is of no avail . . . It seems a strange anomaly for the Government to support a School for the moral and mental training of youth and right along side to establish a Rumhole to corrupt and destroy both parents and children.”

Kennedy’s invective was provoked by the rumor that Taylor’s establishment had been selected for the Post Office.  The first Postmaster at Langley, post gold rush days, and after William Bevis and William Winnard, would be W W Gibbs.

In January of 1871, James Taylor sold Lot 79, Group 2, to Captain William Mitchell.  This preemption lies on the Fraser, east of the Salmon River between Derby and Fort Langley, a locale familiar to the Captain from his days stationed there while in command of the Revenue brig Recovery.

Several deviations would be necessary

In March 1871 an ad that would run for many years appeared in the newspaper, announcing Ebenezer Brown, “Wine and Spirit Merchant.”   The same day it was announced that

“The contract for building a wharf and felling the timber on the new road to Semiahmoo is already completed and the work will be commenced without delay.”

While the announcement of roadwork was a little premature, there was indeed great pressure from commercial interests in the City for construction of a road that would bring them new business. They looked to the growing population of Mud Bay and on the American side, Semiahmoo.

“Our hotels that are now so comparatively empty . . . We should become here the market for English goods for the whole of Puget Sound. . .direct transmission of the mails. . . a good practicable trail would answer the purpose for a year or two. . .it is essential for the prosperity of the Fraser valley, particularly of New Westminster.”

Dominion Day, the first in this Province, passed with little notice.  The first Dominion flag would not be flown in New Westminster until the Queen’s Birthday of 1872. The flag was borrowed for the occasion from Mr J Deighton of Granville—former employee of the Revenue Service, steamboat Captain, and now established saloon-keeper, Gassy Jack—, and was flown in front of Ebenezer Brown’s Hotel.

In the summer of 1871 an attempt was made once more to open up a road through the valley.  Going over Turnbull and Moberly’s New Westminster Sleigh Road (telegraph route) was Edward Stephens, CE.

“in accordance with your instructions dated 30th June. . .to examine the New Westminster Sleigh Road and after four days of incessant toil arrived at Matsqui . . . Throughout the whole course of the road a dense growth of tangled brush briars and ferns 10 feet high has sprung up…the sum appropriated for the whole route from Westminster to Yale, would not suffice to construct a passable sleigh road between the first point and Matsqui … I purpose…to open up the road …10 feet wide so that cattle may be driven over it…six men one cook and three Indians for packing …”

Edward Stephens was a former Royal Engineer, though not a part of Colonel Moody’s detachment. He was a veteran of the Crimea, and when first coming out to British Columbia, had worked for some time with the Boundary Commission. At New Westminster he surveyed the Suburban Lands under contract.

A month after starting out, Stephens reported from Sumas on his efforts.

“I have opened up the Sleigh Road between this place and New Westminster . . . with the exception of about two miles at the commencement where I was driven out by high water.
I purpose finishing that up on my return from Yale.  There is now, with said exception, a good trail for cattle.  All logs and brush cleard.
Where necessary bridges have been repaired.  A bridge at Salmon river would be too expensive to attempt—there is a good ford and no difficulty in driving across.
I have hitherto averaged about two miles per day (working)…The Telegraph party has been working in  conjunction with me…the most difficult part of the work is over…

Another month later came his final report on Re-opening the Telegraph Trail from New Westminster to Yale.

“The whole route was covered with a five years growth of brush and a great quantity of heavy fallen timber. The latter I cut out 12 feet wide and the brush about eight feet…It is, or was on the 13th September, a good cattle road. The Hudson’s Bay Co had eighty two head driven over it immediately after its completion and reported favourably on it. The traffic over the greater part of it has hitherto been confined to the persons employed repairing the Telegraph wires. In its present condition it can have no pretentions to the name of Sleigh road as it is sometimes called. A large amount of grading would be necessary to fit it for such a purpose.  The whole of the present would not be available for a waggon road. Several deviations would be necessary. “

Such were the conditions of road building in the lower Valley. In a month after Stephens report, the road may easily have been covered with blow-downs and eroded by washouts.  Without constant traffic and maintenance such trails were merely routes and suffered a hasty obliteration.

Surveyor Edward Stephens later moved to Victoria. He died by falling down his front steps and hitting his head.

Road construction would accelerate in the next few years, with improvements being made to the Yale Sleigh Road, the long-awaited cutting of the Semiahmoo Road, a road from Ladner to connect with the Semiahmoo Road, a second road to Brownsville along the line of 120th Street to connect with the Ladner Road, and ultimately a new road to Yale through the middle of the valley.

In November of 1871, a strong wind again rattled window panes in the City.

“We have again been visited by a severe gale which has prostrated amongst other things the flag-pole before the house of Mr E Brown, on Columbia Street.”

It is not known if Sam Herring’s wine was on the bill at the annual dinner of the Seymour Artillery at the close of the year, but one can assume some imbibing during the post-Christmas feast and presentation of awards held at the Drill Shed in New Westminster.  Among the prizes for marksmanship given out was “Mr Brown’s Silver Kettle,” donated by Ebenezer Brown.

New roads and new fields

A cold snap broke in the first week of January 1872 but the break up of ice carried on the flood tide in the Fraser River wreaked havoc at the New Westminster wharfs.

“Immense fields of ice, most of which was fully twelve inches thick, came slowly up the river, but with the weight and force of a thousand tons, carrying everything before it.”

Holbrook’s lower wharf and the Liverpool wharf were severely damaged. The ebb tide later in the day,

“brought down the whole of the ice from above the city as far up as Langley like an avalanch, and carried away the corner of the Enterprise wharf . . the ice sweeping everything before it.”

Fifteen miles from the sea, at New Westminster the rise of the Fraser River at full tide is about five feet.

The last week of April 1872 work began on the cutting of the new route to Yale.   From the Landing, Ebenezer Brown was footing the bill for the road through his property, between Lots 3 and 4.  His involvement would extend to the base of the hill.   From the point over the hilltop where the Semiahmoo Road branched off, the Yale Road would be cut ten feet wide, making a bee line for Mt Baker, through the next settlement at Langley.

The Semiahmoo Road at last saw some progress after years of promotion and including petitions from the American side of the border.  In Washington State a Post Road was gazetted from Whatcom to Semiahmoo and settlers there looked for a northward link to New Westminster.

The road from Brownsville was surveyed by Alfred Howse, but his route, which followed in part the old Mud Bay trail, was deemed unacceptable.  George Turner laid out the final route, following a more direct line. Howse and Turner were both former REs.

Ebenezer Brown continued to invest in new enterprises.  In November 1872 the paper announced that,

“One of our old citizens, Mr Brown, has leased from the government a piece of land on Mud Bay, for the propagation of the oyster. . . An example of such enterprise as that of Mr Brown, is most valuable, as it stimulates the desire to seek for new branches of industry, and opens up new fields for all who are willing to work.”

Difficulties encountered

Under the Terms of Union with Canada in 1871, a restriction was in place upon land in the Fraser Valley which might be claimed by the Dominion for the railway.  This placed a straightjacket on settlement south of the Fraser and since the Trutch contract of 1859, and the small survey done by the Royal Engineers on the lots opposite New Westminster in 1860, no systematic survey of the lower Fraser Valley had been attempted, nor could any map be produced which would identify those lots which had been preempted or to provide a guide to prospective settlers. Accordingly, the Surveyor General wasted no time in acting when the Railway Belt freeze expired.

“On the 21st day of July last, viz., the day upon which the clauses contained in the Terms of Union in reference to Provincial lands terminated, Messrs. Mahood and Turner were instructed to run the exterior lines of Townships in New Westminster District, and upon the 31st July, Mr. William Ralph was dispatched to subdivide Township No. 1 into sections of one mile square.”

Such was the ignorance of the region, that 16 years after the reconnaissance of the Boundary Commission and the fine maps they produced which had since been lost to view, Mr John Fannin was sent out in advance of the surveyors on an “Exploration” of the lower Fraser, which resulted in a crude sketch of the general characteristics of the region.

Following the surveys a map was produced showing only the outlines of the townships surveyed and the locations of existing preemptions.  The Surveyor General noted that it

“it shows clearly the difficulties encountered by present or prospective settlers until surveys are made.”

Indeed, it contained none of the topographical details so important to finding suitable land for farming.  The map functioned more as a marketing prop in showing the grid location of lots available, but with a dearth of practical detail for a prospective settler.

According to official maps, 100 acres of land surrounding the old Revenue Station was designated a “Government Reserve.”  It was indicated to be occupied by an “Indian Village,” but not included on a list of Indian Reserves proper.

The south side of the river, from Brownsville to Semiahmoo, was sparsely settled, and remained so, even after a Government Auction of lands on September 30, 1873.  In the south, along the border, some 15 sections of land, each 160 acres, attracted a buyer for one section only, at the upset price of one dollar an acre.

Some lots were available above Brownsville, “situated at the back of Mr Saml Herring’s dairy farm, opposite New Westminster city.”  The newspaper reported them to be “mostly of an inferior character, and consequently no buyer offered.”  At a time when only agricultural land held value, the forested district now comprising a City Centre could attract not one dollar an acre.

Contracts for the trunk road, Brown’s Landing to Semiahmoo Bay, were let this year in four sections. It would take some years before all the contracts were completed.

At Semiahmoo Bay on the American side, James E Murne, an Irish-born American businessman with active lumber interests on the Canadian side, was appointed Postmaster in 1874. Murne’s store and Post Office on the Spit also served settlers at Hall’s Prairie by way of a wharf and ferry he operated across the Bay.

A new military defence for New Westminster was formed in 1874 in the shape of the Seymour Battery of Garrison Artillery.  Commanding officer was JT Scott, 1st Lieutenant, with Ebenezer Brown as 2nd Lieutenant.

Brown continued to invest heavily in his Brownsville property, with continuing improvements to the wharf and road employing a party of 15 men.

One of the earliest fisheries on the Fraser was located at Brownsville.  In the season of 1874 the Vancouver Island Company, backed by British capital, cured and put up 3,500 cases and 100 barrels of salmon.

Right of the Mainland

The year 1875 brought a reunification of the family of Ebenezer Brown. His daughter Palmyre and grandchild Edgar, with son-in-law Joseph Sexton Knevett sailed from London in the steamship Canada.

Brown was busy with politics in 1875. He was included as a director in the presentation to Parliament of articles for the “New CPR Co,” introduced by Edgar Dewdney.  In September he was running for the Provincial Legislature, with a platform appealing to the voters of New Westminster.

“I am in favor of opening up the country by the construction of roads . . . I would insist that any compensation offered to British Columbia for the delay which has occurred in the fulfillment of the original Terms, should include a railway from Burrard Inlet to some central point east of the Cascades; and I would oppose any scheme of compensation which did not fully recognize the right of the Mainland… “

Under the terms of Confederation, British Columbia had been promised a railroad connection with the rest of Canada.  The delays in fulfilling this agreement, and argument over the route of the railway, would preoccupy Provincial politics for some years.  Vancouver Island favoured a northern route and a line down the Island. The Mainland favoured a route to the coast through the Fraser Valley.

Brown ran as an Independent and received the highest number of votes, with WJ Armstrong also elected as the second member.  Voting was conducted by a show of hands.

Brown’s House, at the foot of the Semiahmoo Road was a voting place, these being far and few between. The next was Langley School House in Fort Langley.

On November 22, 1875, at New Westminster, a daughter, Eugenie, was born into the Knevett family, a second grandchild for Ebenezer Brown.  JS Knevett settled down with his young family at New Westminster and in December took over the insolvent stationery store of GB Murray.

Fearlessly and independently

Early in 1876 the new provincial government was defeated in a house vote, with a significant role played by Ebenezer Brown, who when push came to shove, ignored party lines and always voted to the interests of his constituents.

In the new administration, Brown was appointed “President of Council,” a member of cabinet without portfolio and without salary.

His actions met with acclaim in New Westminster and he, and the other City MPP, Robert Dickinson, were given a fine welcome.

“On the arrival of the [members] last evening, a very large assembly of citizens, and a number of farmers from the neighboring settlements, joined in the three hearty cheers for the Hon President of the new Executive Council, E Brown and three cheers for R Dickinson . . . Everyone was glad to see them and pressed forward to shake them by the hand. ..Mr Brown has done his duty by his constituents, fearlessly and independently… his actions endorsed by every member.”

The issue on which Brown would make his mark was in speaking up for a railway down the Fraser Valley in opposition to a line to Vancouver Island, which would follow a more northerly route to the coast.

Joseph Knevett, established in his new home and occupation, advertised himself “JS Knevett Bookseller & Stationer.”  He offered subscriptions, toys, games and watches repaired. He took a role in the Anglican Church and was a forming member of the “Parochial Association.”

Catch them at it

Following Confederation in 1871, responsibility for the military defence of British Columbia was assumed by the Dominion Government, but the local forces remained all-volunteers and were poorly equipped.  Nevertheless, they carried on practicing their skills.  There were indications, however, that the Brownsville side of the river was not fond of the barrage from the bluff opposite.

In 1876, a curious dispute between John T Scott and Ebenezer Brown, noted pioneers, saloon keepers, businessmen and militia officers, wound up in court.

“Information was laid by Lieut Commanding the Seymour Artillery, JT Scott, against Lieut Brown of the same corps, to the effect that defendant did, on 28th May, willfully destroy an artillery target, the property of the Dominion Government . . . Mr Scott deposed that the target was erected, saw the defendant in a boat on the river, saw the boat near the target and the target fall, but could not say who knocked it down.”

The “Target Case” was dismissed for lack of evidence.

The Fraser River reached flood stage again in June 1876. At Soda Creek on the upper river the water rose 12 feet in one day.  Temperatures in the Canyon reached from 98 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit and in the lower Valley 82F. Residences and farms throughout the Fraser Valley were inundated, leading to some complaints from Herring’s farm.

“Sam Herring says the sturgeon are eating all his cabbage at the other side of the river. He’d like to catch them at it.”

The flood wreaked havoc with the newly upgraded lower section of the New Westminster and Hope Wagon Road.

From the Report of Public Works:

“This thoroughfare was seriously damaged by floods, caused by the unusual rise of the water in the Fraser River in June last.  That portion of the road from the landing to the foot hill, on which large sums of money had been expended, was practically destroyed, the corduroy being scattered in every direction.”

Through the property of Ebenezer Brown and to the base of the hill, the road was put back into condition under L F Bonson, the road Superintendent.

One mile of road 20 feet wide was gravelled and another 660 yards were corduroyed 14 feet wide. Two bridges had to be constructed, each 60 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 8 feet high.  The entire roadway one and half miles from the landing to the foot of the hill was raised two to three feet.

The system of surveys commenced in 1873 was completed this year and further systematic surveys would await a larger immigration.   A summary map of the Surveys to date was produced by the Department and, providing a good overview of the entire Fraser Valley, and the major roads which had been completed in the previous few years, notably the Semiahmoo Wagon Road, the New Westminster and Yale road and the Ladner and Langley road, as well as vestiges of the old Sleigh Road/Telegraph Trail from Brownsville to Langley and Sumas.

Bright lights, sounding gongs and salmon by the light of the moon—A night of drama on the Fraser River, featuring The Earl of Dufferin, Ebenezer Brown and Sam Herring

In August of 1876 the Governor General, the Earl and Countess of Dufferin, visited British Columbia. In Victoria at Government House they received the wealthy, the distinguished and the influential society of British Columbia, including the Honourable Ebenezer Brown, President of the Executive Council.

Brown had been facing some political heat, being criticized in the press for accepting travel expenses while serving as President. He responded to the charges with his accustomed dignity.

“When I was approached by the Premier with the offer of a portfolio, I declined, as I considered that three [ministers] were quite enough. It was then suggested by the Premier that I should accept the position of President of the Council with travelling expenses, which I accepted without hesitation.”

On the 5th of September His Excellency’s party on board the Amethyst arrived on the Mainland at Granville, Burrard Inlet, where they stopped to watch the final moments of a large tree being felled, before steaming up to Hastings and taking a dusty stage coach ride to New Westminster via the North Road.

Burrard Inlet was one of the two harbours in contention as the terminus of the trans-Canada railway, the other being Bute Inlet to the north, favoured by the Islanders and requiring a ferry.

In the Royal City the Earl and Countess found a welcoming guard of honour, a band, and decorative banners and arches, one of which featured a model train running back and forth over the street, and bearing the motto “Speed the Railway.”

After meeting with local dignitaries His Excellency received a visit of Indian chiefs on the hillside overlooking the Fraser, below which canoe races were in progress.  The Chiefs were accompanied by the native Volunteer Brigade, outfitted in surplus blue uniforms of the United States Cavalry.

His Excellency’s party headed to the steamer Royal City, where, in rather different circumstances than their introduction to the Honourable Ebenezer Brown in Victoria, they met up with pioneer farmer and fisherman Sam Herring.

“On our way we got out to look at a great sturgeon hanging in front of a fishmonger’s door, and he invited us to catch salmon by the light of the moon, which invitation we accepted for that night.”

Following dinner His Excellency and party drifted mid-stream in the Fraser River to view a floating procession of Indian canoes adorned with masts and flags and lit with torches. On shore, residents and visitors raced along the riverbank with the same fiery display, below the hillside of brightly illuminated stores and houses. The population of New Westminster City, numbering only 600, had attracted a majority of the Lower Mainland population to celebrate and welcome the Queen’s representative.

Mid-river in the darkness of the night, the Royal City held steady against the foaming stream of the Fraser, the slapping of the current lost below the chanting of the Indians and the cheering along the shore.

Unnoticed amid the drama of this pageant, a launch silently approached the Royal City and hailed her Captain.

With faces lit by the glow of the lanterns, a delegation of prominent citizens of New Westminster and the Fraser Valley was welcomed on board.

After the formality of greetings, the men revealed the purpose of their nocturnal visit, presenting to Lord Dufferin a document.

Conveyed to Lord Dufferin by a deputation of the citizens of New Westminster and District, during his Lordship’s visit to this city.”

The brief included a request that before deciding the route of the railway, “that a thorough survey of the Fraser Valley be made,” and protesting its continued delay.

Noticing the strength of convictions on this matter, and expressions of anti-federal sentiment that had been heard from some quarters, the delegation affirmed their loyalty to Canada.

“That we desire to express to your Excellency our disapproval of any threats being held out of separation from the Dominion, as we feel that such a course is unworthy of an intelligent loyal community.”

Heading the names of the signatories was the Honourable Ebenezer Brown.
The list included Brown’s son-in-law,   “JS Knevett, Esq., Secretary.”

Other signatories included local MP James Cunningham, WJ Armstrong and Robert Dickinson, MPPs , Mayor TR McInnes, Henry Holbrook, Esq. JP., WD Ferris, J Kirkland, WJ Harris and D McGillivray.

Official business concluded for the day with a rendition of “God Save the Queen.”

“By the time the deputation, the members of which had some private conversation with Lord Dufferin, had departed, night had well settled in, the canoes had carried their loyal occupants to their homes; even the Chinese gongs, which had been going all day, had ceased, and all was once more quiet and at rest.”

Late as it was, the Lord and Lady were not prepared to retire for the night, remembering their meeting with Sam Herring.

“We then prepared to go out fishing, and, conducted by ‘Mr Herring,’ we had settled ourselves comfortably in the boat, when ‘Mrs Herring’ was announced, and we had to make room for her; she proved a most talkative lady, and, in the language of the country, “clouch tum-tum’ was the burden of her song. The ‘beautifulness’ of various fishes and dishes occupied her whole mind, and to the Commodore of one of Her Majesty’s fleets, she enlarged with fervour upon the merits of a particular bit of fat in a particular place in the inside of a particular fish. The Royal City she likened unto the Garden of Eden, only giving the preference to the broils and the stews, the currant wines and the potted salmons of the Westminster Paradise upon earth.
“A boat in advance of us put down the net, and after waiting half an hour, it was drawn up in our presence, and we caught 6 salmon and a sturgeon.”

Ebenezer Brown had placed himself and the Premier in some difficulty with his position opposing the so-called Carnarvon Terms, which was contrary to that of the Government he supported, especially as he acted “without first tendering his resignation as a member of Cabinet.”

Within a few days it was announced “Hon E Brown, President of the Executive Council, has resigned.”  The press noted-

“His absence from the Cabinet will be regretted. He is a clear headed and practical business man whose advice on public questions was always sought and valued by his colleagues.”

Noted departures

Harkening back to the days of the gold rush, a ship from Semiahmoo was seized by the Customs service of British Columbia.  This time it was James E Murne running afoul of the revenuers. The Customs officer at Nanaimo had seized the sloop Minnie, for allegedly bringing in shingles from Semiahmoo, an American port, and declaring they were from Mud Bay on the Canadian side.

Compounding the infringement, James E Murne and two accomplices attempted, after nightfall, to make off with Minnie and the Custom gig to boot.  They bound the watchman hand and foot, nearly strangling him in the process of subduing him, and set sail.  Rough weather prevented their leaving the port and they attempted to negotiate their return, offering the watchman the boats back if he would keep quiet about the affray.  He agreed, but later duty called him to report the matter and Murne and his cohorts were arrested.

In the fall of 1876 JS Knevett advertised the sale of his business, including “a handsome trichord piano.”   At the end of October he was leaving New Westminster, his stationery shop sold to WH Keary.

“Going Home- The Enterprise bears away this morning, Mr JS Knevett and family, who go to England by next steamer from Victoria. Mr Knevett has earned the respect and esteem of our citizens during the time he has been amongst us, and we trust will have a safe and prosperous voyage home.”

Ebenezer Brown continued to develop his City properties.  He began construction on a new brick building on the corner of Begbie Street and Columbia Street.   His old premises on Columbia would be torn down and a new brick building started there by Henry Holbrook the following year.

Hatching plans—the Cannery men

The fishery expanded in 1877 with the addition of two new canneries. One down near Ladner’s was operated by Finlayson and Lane, with Peter Birrell managing.

Opening at Brownsville was the modern and spacious facility of the English & Co Cannery. A description of the cannery appears in the Mainland Guardian of August 11, 1877.

“This fine establishment belongs to our enterprising fellow citizen, E. Brown, Esq. MPP, who, with a large outlay, erected the buildings in question; his public spirit doing much to develop the valuable business which now forms so prominent a feature in this city.”

The cannery industry had transformed the waterfront on the south side of the river.  The land hitherto the object of great efforts of clearing and cultivation for the produce of the soil, was being taken over by mammoth sheds, wharfs, and machinery.  In equipment alone the investment was huge, with steamboats, sail-boats, nets, and a plant on-site to manufacture the cans, the nets and the packing-cases.  The cannery being powered by steam, there were separate engine and charcoal houses.

At the height of the salmon run the cannery employed 50 Indians, 250 Chinese and 50 white men. The Indians camped along the river, and the Chinese and whites were put up in boarding houses, not far from the cannery.  Housing at Brownsville for men employed in the work gangs was rudimentary and, for those sticking through the winter months, conditions were harsh. In December 1879 an inquest was held on a Chinese man found suffocated to death in his house by charcoal fumes. Two other men were dragged out foaming at the mouth. The three, living in a shack with walls lined only with paper, had broken into English’s store for the charcoal in an attempt to keep from freezing.

It is not likely there was any threat of bombardment from practicing gunners on the bluff opposite Brownsville. The Mainland Guardian dryly noted:

“in these warlike times . . . Half the Seymour Battery (ie one gun and one caisson) are without wheels.”

Ebenezer Brown announced the construction of another cannery further upriver from English’s.

“Mr E Brown, proprietor of the extensive premises known as English & Co’s Cannery, is about to erect premises just above English & Co’s for a like purpose. Although the structure will only cover about 4200 square superficial yards, it will so constructed as to serve all the purposes of the former, and afford even more facility from the most approved modern form being adopted.  The new buildings will have a most effective appearance, as the upper portion of the main structure will have an elevation of seventy feet from the floor.”

The new cannery was built in Lot 11, B5N R2W, opposite Tree Island and the mouth of the Coquitlam River, at the start of the Girard road to Langley. It was operated by Benjamin Haigh under the name Quoquitlam (Coquitlam) Cannery, later Haigh and Sons.  In its latter years under the proprietorship of Daniel J. Munn it would be known as the Bon Accord Cannery.

Marshall Martin English, operator of the cannery at Brownsville, hailed from a prominent family in Virginia.  Associates of English in running the cannery were John Adair and Samuel B Martin, with a financial interest by William T Coleman of San Francisco, who was the selling agent for the cannery’s output.

In the same year his cannery opened, English’s son, William Barclay English, was born at Brownsville, BC.

English would operate the cannery at Brownsville from 1877 to 1884.   His business was taken over by WT Coleman who created the “Phoenix” brand. MM English came into the fishery again in 1888.

The newspapers of the time gave credit to Brown for building the canneries.

“Mr E Brown is in treaty with a company in London who are going to invest a large capital in a new cannery, and Mr Brown will shortly start the erection of new buildings for the purpose on his valuable land at the other side of the river.”

Bishop Hill visited the cannery in May 1877-

“Crossed the Fraser . . .  & visited the Cannery of English & Co of which Mr Adair whom I know is manager. The building & machinery are calculated to put up 500 boxes a day, each box containing 48, 1-pound tins—24,000 lbs a day.”

Hill also noted the presence of a little steamer no longer in the service of the Lieutenant Governor since its sale to Edgar Marvin.

“The Leviathan steamer brings the fish from the fishing grounds.”

And a newspaper reported that:

“SW Herring puts up 75 barrels of salmon a day . . .
English & Co, at Brown’s Landing, is the largest cannery on the river, and at present about 300 hands are employed by it.
Two small steamers—the Leonora and the Leviathan—are at present employed in collecting the fish from the company’s boats, and bringing them to the cannery.
The average ‘put up’ is some 400 cases or about 20,000 lbs of fish a day.”

Bishop Hills recorded in his diary—

“Mr E Marvin told me that the two Mr Adairs put $12000 & Mr English $8000 into the Cannery on the Fraser [English’s], and at the close of the year [1877] divided double the amount, $40,000.”

A convenient brochure

JS Knevett took the opportunity of the long journey back to England to write a book about British Columbia, and wasted no time having it published.  In July 1877 a complimentary review of “British Columbia & Vancouver Island” appeared in the Victoria paper.

“Mr JS Knevett, a whilom resident of New Westminster, and son-in-law of Hon E Brown, who went back to England a few months ago, has issued from the London Labour News publishing office a small and convenient brochure containing some valuable information on the Province of British Columbia.”

The price of the publication was intended to discourage no one, being just One Penny.

Down at Mud Bay, towards the southern end of the Semiahmoo Trail, loggers were harvesting the extensive timber lands. A concern, expressed as early as 1877, was the loss of jobs due to the export of raw logs to mills on Puget Sound.

“A very valuable belt of timber at Mud Bay is being rapidly removed to American mills on the Sound and manufactured into lumber.”

It was said that upwards of 5 million feet of timber had been cut and exported, at a great loss to the economy of British Columbia.

An editorialist condemned the wholesale export of raw logs to American mills as “stealing our timber.”  The looming imposition of an export tax on lumber threatened to close the profitable Semiahmoo operation of the Royal City Planing Mills at the mouth of the Campbell River.

Recalling old surveys

Ebenezer Brown, as a staunch supporter of the Lower Mainland’s aim to get the railway down the Fraser Valley, was beseeched to run for a federal seat—the sitting government favouring the Fraser Valley route.  But Brown had lost his appetite after so many personal attacks.

“I have made up my mind not to run for the District, in fact, I had made up my mind to retire altogether from politics, but a great may of the prominent men here are urging upon me the necessity of representing the City.”

In April 1878 Ebenezer Brown was once again up for election to the Provincial Legislature. In an address to the electors of New Westminster City he asked them-

“to recall to memory the active part I took during the visit of Lord Dufferin, which, I think, assisted materially, in securing the survey of the Fraser Valley.”

Brown’s opponent was his former colleague and neighbor WJ Armstrong, but it was expected Brown’s popularity would win the day.

Roads remained the main issue for settlers in New Westminster District. In June 1878, a petition signed by 160 men, mostly at Halls Prairie and Clover Valley, called for better road access to the City.  Arthur J Watson of Halls Prairie, a future councillor for the Municipality, pointed out that:

“The settlers on Halls Prairie and vicinity are compelled to pass through American Territory (USA) in order to obtain an outlet.”

The old trail from Hall’s Prairie to Shaw’s Bluff remained the main road.

In February of 1879, GW Gift, one of the men who had a hand in upgrading the road in the boom year 1858, died in California of consumption at the age of 46.  George W Gift had gone on to serve in the Confederate Navy, and later was involved in Agricultural development, including pioneering the importation of indentured Chinese farm laborers to the American south. In 1875, while Editor of the San Rafael Herald, he wrote a guide book to California. At the time of his death he was the Editor of the Napa City Reporter.

Former residents pass on

In the spring of 1879, Ebenezer Brown prepared for another trip abroad, advertising-

“During my temporary absence from the Province my son-in-law, Mr. J.S. Knevett, has authority to transact all business on my behalf, and he holds my power of attorney. E. Brown. New Westminster, April 23, ’79.”

At the busy place now generally called Brownsville, a new generation of agriculturalist, in an ad reminiscent of Herring’s 17 years before, offered milk for sale at three bits per gallon. Robert Johnston, the farm proprietor, also operated the Hotel, all under lease from Ebenezer Brown. The Brownsville Hotel was a favourite stopping place for travellers and a venue for dances and parties held by the city dwellers from across the river.

Longtime neighbour and sometime adversary, Ebenezer Brown, arrived back from his trip to England a few days too late to attend the funeral for Sam Herring, who passed away at the age of 49.

Customs enforcement returns to the frontier

Before the year 1879 came to a close, a plea, like an echo from 20 years past, was voiced in the newspaper at New Westminster.

“Smuggling—There is good reason for believing that no inconsiderable amount of smuggling is done in our frontier settlements bordering on the sea, where all possible convenience exists for carrying on much illicit trade with impunity, and we respectfully submit, whether the time has not come when the services of a Revenue Officer should be brought into requisition. It is quite certain that the legitimate trade of this city is suffering there from.”

The districts near the border—Hall’s Prairie and Mud Bay—had been dependent for years on supplies obtained at Semiahmoo and places along the coast. Trading sloops ventured up the Tah-ta-loo (Campbell) River.   Among those engaged so engaged were neighbours at Hall’s Prairie William Brown and AJ Watson, partners in a sloop.   Others made Nicomekl their port of call. Among these were Charles Hunt and James Hatt, both coastal traders of the old mould, with native wives, who homesteaded on the river above Blackie’s Spit.

Settlers just south of the line were dependent on the Canadian side too. They freely grazed their cattle on the natural pastures of Hall’s Prairie and at Mud Bay.

New Westminster had subscribed money to finance the opening of the Semiahmoo Road, expecting thereby to profit from additional trade.  This did not materialize to any great extent, as farmers lower down continued to take the easier routes to Semiahmoo and even to Victoria.

Yet another complaint–

“We are informed that an organized system of smuggling is constantly proceeding at Mud Bay.  Logging camps and settlers in the vicinity are supplied with all the goods upon which our citizens pay a portion of duty—-free; besides, this contraband trade is diverting the trade and money of the settlers to the American side, to the great loss of the businessmen of this city. Most assuredly this illicit trade must be put an end to by having an officer at Mud Bay, or the smuggling trade will become chronic to the detriment of the revenue.”

It was Colonel Moody’s commercial fears of 1859 coming to pass, though on a much smaller scale than he imagined.

A Customs office was opened in 1880, at Elgin, where the Telegraph trail and the Semiahmoo Road crossed the Nicomekl River, enabling the officer, William C McDougall, a timber operator and homesteader in the Mud Bay district, to monitor both land and river traffic.  Thus was revenue enforcement re-established on the frontier side of Fraser River.

Maps of Brownsville – Early History


Colonel Moody’s Military Reserve 1860



Lots, Surveys, Roads to 1860



Disputed Lands Opposite New Westminster, 1860-1861 -The Royal Engineers Survey



Ebenezer Brown’s own Roads,  1863



Telegraph Sleigh Road 1865

tel road


Roads and Settlements to 1876



Brownsville BC on Survey Map of New Westminster District, 1876

Brownsville 1876

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