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A Derby Too

April 9, 2011

The eight’s seal

Robert Johnson of Brownsville was elected to the first Surrey Council on Tuesday, January 6, 1880 at a meeting held at Clover Valley.  Some weeks of cold weather with deep snow made travel arduous and Johnson, situated opposite New Westminster, was delegated to obtain a seal suitable for stamping official documents.  By February the winter conditions had moderated, and when Johnson hosted the second meeting of the Council at his Hotel at Brownsville, he presented the Warden and his six fellow councillors with the small beaver seal that was to become the emblem of the district of Surrey.


Beaver Emblem Surrey BC Canada Beaver Emblem Surrey BC Centennial 1879-1979

Beaver Emblem of Surrey BC

Centennial Beaver Emblem of Surrey BC



Beaver new era Surrey emblem embodied

While the natural beaver is still at work in the year 2011 cutting trees and fashioning ponds from the waterways of Surrey, a stunning emblem of the new city, inspired by the old, emerges from designers Sue Biolsi, Wendy Fok, Jenny Chow, and Vasilis Raptis.

More about this project here.

Surrey beaver of the new era


Ball at Brownsville

Advert, Mainland Guardian, February —

“A Social Dance will take place at R. Johnson’s Hotel, Brownsville, on Wednesday, March 3rd, ‘80.  Dancing to commence at 8 P.M.   —  Gentlemen’s Tickets $1.00 – Ladies Free.”


The morning after, reviews were favourable.

“The Ball at Brownsville—The well known welcome and good cheer which awaited them, attracted a large number of our citizens over to Johnson’s Hotel on Wednesday evening last. The Ball turned out all that was expected of it, the music was good, the company agreeable, and the supper excellent. Dancing was kept up with great spirit, and everyone seemed happy.”



The inaugural trip up the Fraser River to Yale of the impressive sternwheeler William Irving was marred by an accident at Brownsville on May 18, 1880.    Heading in to the dock with excess  velocity,  her bow pushed right through a  piling and slid beneath the wharf,  snapping off her prominent flag-staff and crushing two deckhands against some cargo on the forward deck.  A Indian named Toby was seriously injured.


Steamer William Irving

The 166-foot William Irving was built at Burrard Inlet, mainly of local fir, with some hardwood beams and sheathing of cedar, she sported powerful engines, and on the inside her seats could be converted into bed.

“The boat is finished in the best possible style for pleasure and durability.” (British Colonist)

The remainder of her voyage was triumphant and she was greeted by crowds and band music on arrival at Yale.

Steamer William Irving



Summer meadows

Sporting interests were represented in Brownsville through the summer of 1880.   It was announced in May that the Irish  thoroughbred horse, Bryan O’Lynn II,  "will stand at Brownsville Dairy” —Johnson’s farm.

"Charges, $40 for the season . . .  Not responsible for any accident to mares."

His gig ran from May through June and July, alternating with engagements in Victoria, finally earning him a rest as the summer wore on into the second week of August.

A second Derby

Late in the year 1880 ice once again choked the lower Fraser River, but with an accompanying heavy snowfall in early January 1881 the road up the valley was passable, the newspapers reporting "it is now good sleighing from Barkerville down to Brown’s Landing."

With the approaching continental railway—so long hoped for by New Westminster as a boost to its aspirations to becoming the premier city of the west, and now threatening to challenge it with the prospect of a rival city at its terminus—the citizens of the former Capital  looked about themselves with shaken confidence and dissatisfaction. A Grand Jury noted overcrowded institutions and an inadequate infrastructure, recommending large sums of public money be spent on improvements.

A New Westminster editorialist went so far as to construe the proposed terminus of the railway at Coal Harbour, as an enterprise "intended to injure this city."  And with perhaps some latent guilt at the way Queenborough usurped New Langley (Derby) and the Victoria businesses located there in 1859,  rendering it a short-lived ghost town,  he fretted:

"This, also, is a scheme of which the principal promoters are Victorians, and if it could be accomplished it would make a second Derby of New Westminster."

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