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Routes and lines

April 30, 2011

With severe weather once again impeding river travel in the first weeks of 1883, complaints were voiced concerning the failure of maintenance on the trunk road through the Fraser Valley. One party of travellers took three days to get down to Brownsville from Hope, owing mainly to fallen timber on the road. When it came time to cross the river to New Westminster, mindful of the fate of Gillanders and Lewis a year ago, they waited until slack tide when the ice was nearly stationary and made to the other side. As they continued on the way to Granville, the upstart town on saltwater, they assessed that road to be

“absolute comfort when compared with the trunk road made by the government. . .then allowed to go to ruin. Not a bridge has been built, not a log put in, not a tree cut out; not was the underbrush cleared away by the late government in anticipation of what has now occurred, namely the closing of the river for steamboat or canoe travel.”

Work progressed on the national railway through Port Moody. Recent migrant from the east Angus Grant was laying track along the line with his Loco #4.

Pressure was also building for a public ferry to make regular crossing of the Fraser River. A contract to build and operate the ferry was won by Captain Angus Grant. As work progressed on the ferry, the year 1883 was dominated by debate over the best route for roads to the south. Rival settlements at Mud Bay, Clover Valley and Hall’s Prairie, and the Johnston Settlement (present day Sullivan) averred for the chosen route to pass through their neighbourhood. Roads were costly to build and difficult to maintain, being subject to flooding and tree falls. Without passable roads, the farmers were cut off from markets, their neighbours, schools and churches.

One writer criticized the Semiahmoo Road, which in its building had wound its way around large trees and swamp holes.

“But the Semiahmoo trail is an interesting road to travel over. You will see the sun first on your right hand, then in front of you, then on your left hand, then almost behind you.”

(This was typical of early road-making and contractors were allowed considerable deviation, this way and that, along the line of route.)

Anxiety intensified in anticipation of the new steam ferry across the river, which residents knew would bring increased interest and traffic across the river. The prosperity of each settlement would depend on the transportation pattern that would be established by the chosen routes for trunk roads.

Hall’s Prairie traffic was still moving southward, to the American side, for easier access to markets. A considerable portion of the forest wealth of British Columbia also continued to flow across the border. James E Murne of Semiahmoo, Washington Territory, operated two logging camps in Surrey and the logs were towed down to mills at Bellingham Bay, a practice that would soon attract the attention of the Dominion Timber Inspector.

During the heat of summer 1883, bush fires again flared up in the hills above Brownsville. Martin Nelson, whose occupation as a charcoal burner in the employ of the canneries earned him the sobriquet “Charcoal Nelson,” had taken up a section at the top of the hill at the junction of the Yale Road and Semiahmoo Road, opposite the Langley Indian Reserve (S28 B5N R2W). Nelson lost 100 cords of wood and barely saved his barn, which was twice on fire.

On the City side, it was decided the new ferry wharf would be located at the foot of Mary Street (6th St), entailing the demise of a public slip popular with farmers. City council also resolved to push mightily for a railway to the boundary line.

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