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The Wharf at Brown’s Landing

April 16, 2011

In July 1881 a new wharf was completed at Brown’s Landing. Paid for by the Provincial government and constructed for public accommodation by James Turnbull,  the wharf measured 60 by 64 feet, wide enough for teams of horses to turn about, with an approach 150 feet long and 17 feet wide.

An undoubted amenity to those travelling to the Fraser valley, the new facility was not without controversy, eliciting some cynical commentary from a Victoria editorialist:

"Among the items in the Estimates is the sum of $1000 for a wharf at the terminus of the trunk road opposite New Westminster. When it is remembered that this so-called terminus is private property and that the owner of the said property is Mr. Ebenezer Brown, the champion political flopper of the period, the cause of that gentleman’s support of the Government will be understood."

It had been suggested the new landing, rendered necessary by the expansion of the cannery buildings, should be built a quarter mile downriver from Brown’s.  This idea was put to rest when the critics discovered that place too was Brown’s property, and a swampy and impractical location besides.

The wharf was the crossing point to New Westminster, the head of the major roads of the Fraser Valley:  Yale Wagon Road heading east, Semiahmoo Wagon Road heading south, and the Scott Road heading west to connect with the road to Ladner.

The new wharf for the travelling public was built adjacent to existing wharves serving the English and Company Cannery.   The largest cannery on the river, English’s  was expected to pack 25,000 cases of salmon this season.   The outfit employed 40 white men and 160 Chinese.  Another 120 men worked on 30 fishing boats near the mouth of the river.  The catch was collected and conveyed to the cannery by river steamers, such as the Leonora.


The steamer Leonora,  built at Victoria in  1876— 57 feet long, 9 feet beam, 18 tons register, high-pressure double engines, capable of  7 – 9 knots, burning about a cord of wood a day. Indian Commissioner GM Sproat chartered her in 1876—“The cheapest and most suitable vessel we could find.”

Chinese worked alongside native workers with great efficiency.  One Chinese man was said to open, behead, betail, and befin 2,000 fish in a ten hour shift—a steady rate of 3 1/3  fish per minute. Still, labour shortages at the height of the season continued to plague the cannerymen.  Haigh’s cannery resorted to advertising in Victoria for 30 boys, from 10 to 16 years of age.

"The firm desire to employ only healthy boys of good moral character, who will be well looked after by the firm."

Ebenezer Brown’s wharf continued to attract carping criticism from the opposition press, who did not like a public wharf standing on private property, regardless that Brown had spent thousands building up the terminus of the  trunk roads and even constructing part of the road himself.  Brown’s enthusiasm for the hurly burly of political life had waned, and in April he allowed that politics no longer held any charm for him. By November of 1881, he’d had enough and announced his resignation from the Legislature.  He remained very popular with his constituents in the City and District.  His recommended replacement, WJ Armstrong, was returned by acclamation the same month.

At Brownsville in 2011 the wharf as long vanished, the small docks pulled ashore, and boats have drifted away from the old landing.

Brown's Landing - Brownsville Bar - Fraser River - 2011
Brown’s Landing – Brownsville Bar – Fraser River – 2011

Long after the old wharf had outlived its usefulness, its thick timber planking continued to be a popular fishing pier.    In the 1970’s the sprawling old wharf was so dilapidated it needed to be torn down. A movement arose to save the wharf or a replacement, but funding failed and it was removed.

Fishing on old wharf at Brown's Landing, Brownsville, Fraser RiverFishing on old Brownsville Wharf, Fraser River, Brownsville

Moorage at  Brown's Landing on Fraser River

Brown's Landing on Fraser River and bridges

Views of Brown’s Landing in 2011

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