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Under the gentle slope of the hill

May 14, 2011

The commodious K de K

The first trip of Angus Grant’s steam ferry to connect New Westminster with Brownsville and the communities of the Fraser Valley was made on March 15, 1884.  She would first bear the moniker "K d K,"   pronounced by locals "Kady-Kay."

It is generally accepted that the vessel was named after Joseph Sexton Knevett de Knevett, said to be a friend of Capt Grant.  But the vessel was a humble one from the beginning.  K de K carried mainly livestock and farm wagons, with little comfort for passengers, and it was the object of much sarcasm and ridicule from City folk, despite its allusion to nobility, and so the honorific, and the friendship, is open to question.

By an Act of the legislature in 1883 a joint charter had been granted to the City of New Westminster and the Municipality of Surrey,

"to ply a Ferry from shore to shore on the Fraser River, between points designated, in the vicinity of New Westminster City."

Angus Grant won the contract to construct and operate the ferry.

Captain Angus Grant Captain Angus Grant had come out to the west coast in 1882 from Port Hawkesbury, Inverness, Nova Scotia with his brother Peter Grant. In 1884 they were joined by 14 other members of the family—their mother, brothers, wives and children.Angus Grant had extensive maritime experience.  He was the owner of a British-registered merchant ship, the Cornucopia. He was the first native of Nova Scotia to take a vessel across the Atlantic Ocean. In 1877 Grant had testified before the Halifax Fisheries Commission on matters relating to international fishing disputes.In British Columbia Angus Grant had gone straight to work along the new line of the Canadian Pacific Railway, operating a construction locomotive.
Captain Angus Grant  

The specifications for the river ferry were rudimentary and had stipulated only a scow to be towed by a tug boat from New Westminster to Brownsville. Captain Grant, with the assistance of two sons, William P Grant and George H Grant, devised a more ambitious boat. They took a steam engine which had seen service at the sawmill on Burrard Inlet and latterly put to use in railway building, and added a new boiler, installing both in the middle of a flat scow. Paddle wheels were added on the  side.  A wheelhouse, with a small cabin for the watchman and a few passengers, completed the craft. With the ability to dock at both ends, she could accommodate up to four or five teams of horses and wagons.  Classified by the Steamboat Inspector as a “Paddle, Ferry” the K de K was allowed to carry up to 20 passengers.

"K d K" or "K de K" Fraser River Ferry - Brownsville to New Westminster BC

The Fraser River ferry K de K

Angus Grant,  the contractor,  put his son William Philpot Grant in charge of the Brownsville ferry K de K as operating Captain.

The K de K would serve as the link connecting settlers south of the Fraser River with the City of New Westminster and, although sometimes out of commission due to ice floes or break-down, she would ply her way to Brownsville steadily for the next 6 years, until, with the advent of a new ferry, her contract would be bought out.  She was dismantled and her engine put to use once again in the lumber industry, passing through the hands of  mill owners George McLain and sons John and William at Tynehead,  and on to DG Robson who acquired the shingle mill in 1906.

While the scow ferry was now under steam, the wharf on the city side was not yet ready,  the object of much wrangling in the City regarding its location and the style of the landing.  James Kennedy visited Portland to observe the operation of the ferry there.  His rival boat proposal had included an apron on the boat, but Grant’s ferry required a floating wharf.

The inauguration of the regular ferry service was thought to be a boon to the district.  In anticipation of an influx of new settlers, Abraham Huck was laying out lots for development of a town at Surrey Center.

Further navigations of 1884

To aid navigation on the Fraser River, the Dominion Government put into service a snag boat, the Samson, operated by Captain Angus Grant.

Snagboat Samson

Samson V Fraser River

, pioneer snagboat of Fraser River. . . .and the Samson V

The snag boat, first recommended by MM English in 1878,  to aid the fish nets,  received immediate praise for its work. It would prove invaluable in clearing the river of trees hazardous to navigation, which were continually floating downstream and becoming stuck on the sand bars.

Snag in Fraser River

A snag in Fraser River at Brownsville

Capt Grant was acclaimed for finding a new channel for navigation down by the Sandheads, at the entrance to Fraser River.

StellaBy the end of September the Samson had also succeeded in clearing the way ten miles up the Nicomekl River, close to Hall’s Prairie Road (184 St). Farmers from Mud Bay to Clover Valley constructed riverbank wharfs and could ship their produce to markets in Victoria and New Westminster.  The Serpentine River was also navigable to steamboats almost to Surrey Center.

At Hall’s Prairie, farmers depended on the Campbell River for access to saltwater.  In September they protested that their way was cut off by a log boom belonging to the Dominion Sawmill Company camp, which now occupied the lands at the mouth of the river where once stood Camp Semiahmoo of the Boundary Commission. Twenty-two men were employed at the logging camp.

The berries of the later year

To a travel adventurer who had crossed a continent, now approaching New Westminster from the upper Fraser, its prospects in 1884 looked bleak. Passing the white building of Haigh’s Cannery opposite Tree Island, Morley Roberts came into view of the city.

". . .round the bend, the town built on the river front, and running up towards the crest of a hill that showed a gaunt fringe of pines and firs, robbed of their foliage and branches by a forest fire. And beneath them fields of stumps and clearings. . .
And we came to the solitary dark wharves, which made one imagine that this had been once a busy town, and was now living on the memory of the past and the hope of the future, like a bear in its winter cavern, supported by its accumulations of summer fatness, and dreaming of the berries of the later year."

Once busy wharves, Fraser River, New Westminster BC

Deserted wharves on Fraser River,  New Westminster BC

Saturday night, November 2nd, Morley checked into the Farmer’s Home, a short walk above Columbia Street. It was a temperance house run by Mrs and James Turnbull, the surveyor of the Sleigh Road,  who knew first hand the vagaries of building roads in a land where nature and fortune obliterated hard work in the passing of a season.

Later, Roberts, from the viewpoint on the hill at New Westminster looked out over the Brownsville side of the river—

"these narrow flats, with a few shanties on them scattered here and there, with blue wreaths of smoke above their chimneys, and a long, low, white cannery, reflecting the sun, under the gentle slope of a hill covered with fir and pine."

To where the river rounds Herring’s Point:

"Then see how the river spreads out above this to twice its breadth below, bending away to the right until it take no reflections, but throws out sparkles from the ripples of a solitary gust of wind and in a moment is lost to sight. . ."

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