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Of the first class

May 7, 2011

Ebenezer Brown

On June 5th, 1883 New Westminster was shocked by the “Sudden Death of Ebenezer Brown.”  A short notice made the evening paper, announcing the news.


Ebenezer Brown


“Ebenezer Brown was taken suddenly ill in court at noon today. He was at once taken home and died at four o’clock this afternoon. The cause of death was heart disease.”

Ebenezer Brown


Since coming to New Westminster at its founding  in 1859, Brown had steadily grown his business as a liquor importer, retailer and saloon-keeper. He had partnered in early road-building enterprises,  invested in land and developed his properties.  He built the Boundary Monument at Point Roberts.  In politics the “Hon. E Brown”  had never lost an election he contested, from the first city council in New Westminster, to the Provincial Legislature, where he had represented both New Westminster City and New Westminster District, and was once President of the Executive Council. He was an active Anglican, and a Mason and contributed to all civic endeavours.  As well as his extensive real estate holdings at Brownsville and further afield in Surrey, Ebenezer Brown held land at Port Moody at the head of Burrard Inlet, and had made purchases of the first lots auctioned at both Hastings Townsite and Granville Townsite ,  where he built the next saloon after Gassy Jack’s,   Brown’s death left a vacancy on New Westminster City Council and on the Board of Trade, where he was serving a term as President.



Ebenezer Brown obelisk The obelisk grave marker for Ebenezer Brown stands in the old Masonic section of Fraser Cemetery. It appeared to have had a further ornamentation on the top. The marker also reflects in small scale the Boundary Monument Obelisk at Point Roberts, which Brown erected under contract in 1861. The title “Hon. E. Brown” [Honourable E. Brown] was held by Brown in recognition of his service in the Provincial Cabinet, as President of Council.


Brown Obelisk
Hon. E Brown


Business matters

Ebenezer Brown’s death occurring in the absence of his daughter’s family, an ad announced-

“Mr Bonson has been put in charge of the late Ebenezer Brown’s business until the arrival of his son-in-law from Paris.”

Lewis Francis Bonson was a Scot who had joined the Royal Engineers and served in the Crimean War before coming out to Langley with the first contingent of Engineers.  Staying behind when the force was withdrawn in 1863, he worked as a contractor and builder.  He was a road superintendent in the district from 1876 to 1880.  He was a long-time associate of Brown and had operated a hotel for him.

Ebenezer Brown had been the prime force promoting the Fraser Valley as the route to the coast of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR),  and the branch to New Westminster.  He  was also a prime mover in the establishment of a  railroad south to the United States.  The completion of these projects in the years to come would have a significant impact on Lower Fraser region.  His son-in-law Knevett would adopt these projects as his own, and before leaving New Westminster would be a director with the New Westminster Southern Railway (NWSR), the Port Moody railway, and the first telephone company.

New status: Knevett de Knevett

Ebenezer Brown left his estate  to his daughter Palmyre Eugenie Knevett de Knevett  and in trust for his grandson Edgar and his granddaughter Eugenie, who was born in New Westminster.    Executors of  Brown’s will were Knevett and WC Ward, of the Bank of British Columbia.  Brown’s extensive business interests were to be managed  by his son-in-law JS Knevett,  with some put up for immediate sale.

The Merchant’s Exchange Hotel in New Westminster and the Hotel at Brownsville were sold to James Punch.  LF Bonson purchased the wine and spirit business, “E. Brown,”  which he would operate until 1892 before retiring to a farm at Katzie.

While living in England Knevett had legally changed his name to its historic longer form and now styled himself Joseph Sexton Knevett de Knevett.  He had a legitimate claim to the name, but did not adopt its archaic spelling “Knyvett.” One of his forebears was the Sheriff who uncovered the gunpowder plot of Guy Fawkes to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

Arriving  back in New Westminster the first week of July, he  settled back into City society, resuming an active role in the Anglican Church and in recreational pursuits. In August he reorganized the Cricket Club and instituted a pitch for practice at Brownsville.  He also sought approval for and constructed a tennis ground on Albert Crescent, nearby his residence on the heights overlooking Brownsville.

De Knevett engaged agents Woods & Turner to manage the many properties of the E Brown Estate and to sell off some of the more prominent, including the house at Brownsville.  Nevertheless the estate retained property holdings in Surrey for the next 15 years or more.

In October another notice appeared which showed the abiding interest of JSK De Knevett in the public viewpoint on Albert Crescent.    “Not long ago Mr Knevett at his own expense erected a seat on Albert Crescent for public accommodation. . .”

From this spot Brownsville lay forefront,   across the river, and  the vista extended easterly up the Fraser to the Cascade Mountains, and down to the west, where the river flowed  between the delta islands, out into the Strait.  Unfortunately the seat was shortly after vandalized and partly destroyed by some youths.

Bench at Prospect Park, Albert Crescent, New Westminster BC

Modern bench at Prospect Park. 

Nowadays the view of Brownsville from Albert Crescent is largely obscured by trees.





By November of 1883 JSK De Knevett had secured an unpaid appointment as Agent-General for the Province of British Columbia in Europe. He soon after took his leave and before the end of the year was established in Paris, at 17, Boulevard de la Madeleine.


Letterhead of JSK De Knevett, British Columbia Agent General, Paris 17 Boulevard de la Madeleine Paris - Address of JSK De Knevett
Gouvernement de la Colombie Britannique Bureau du Commissaire General – JSK De Knevett, Paris 17 Boulevard de la Madeleine Paris – JSK De Knevett, British Columbia Agent-General



Boulevard de la Madeleine, Paris Befitting the location of his New Westminster home on the prominent viewpoint at Albert Crescent, de Knevett had moved from one site of a “citadel of the first class” —Colonel Moody’s hand-rubbing phrase — to another: the origin of “boulevard” meaning a walk along a rampart or old fortification. [In its original Dutch, bulwark. Info from Paris city guide here.]
Boulevard de la Madeleine, Paris 1890s


Among his business dealings, de Knevett and partners had prepared a presentation to New Westminster Council “asking for an exclusive right to erect telephone lines within the limits of New Westminster City.” De Knevett was also  President of a consortium of some of the most prominent businessmen in the Province bidding for a charter to build a railway— a shortline connection to the CPR. The other directors were WN Bole, IR McInnes, JH Coulthard, James Cunningham, Robert Dickinson and John Hendry. An editorialist questioned his business acumen.

“De Knevett knows nothing of the little game played by the other six.”

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