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Walter James Walker, builder of St Helen’s

June 22, 2011

Walker_portraitWalter James Walker was born in Halifax, England, June 3, 1852. His father Edward Johnson Walker was the editor of the Halifax Guardian newspaper for more than 50 years and also wrote a history column called “Local Portfolio.”  Some of this series relating to the Halifax Parish was collected, and with some additional material added by WJ Walker, was published as Chapters on the Early Registers of the Halifax Parish Church. A copy of this book was donated by WJ Walker to the Legislative Library of British Columbia, where it remains to this day. WJ Walker wrote a second book while in England, on his own account,  but the title is so far unknown to us.

Walter James Walker (1852-1938)
Walter J Walker was an accountant working for a printing firm, and following the publication of the Early Registers he emigrated to British Columbia, in 1885.

Walker practised as an accountant, notary public, auditor and real estate broker at New Westminster.  He invested heavily in land in Surrey. As noted in the report on Brownsville School, land was very cheap throughout the 1890s, with the value of land only a quarter the value of the buildings thereon.

Walker was an alderman in New Westminster in 1891 and made an unsuccessful run for Mayor. He took a keen interest in civic affairs and even published a pamphlet: “Some thoughts and suggestions on municipal reform in British Columbia / by Alderman W.J. Walker.”

In 1889 and 1890 Surrey councillors got embroiled in a controversial diking program for the Serpentine River that left taxpayers on the hook for a large amount of debt.  The authorization of  a loan was deemed to be illegal. The public reaction to this deal led in January 1892 to the resignation of the newly elected Reeve (Mayor) of Surrey, William Brown. As a landowner with property affected by the dyke, Walker took an active role in the debate.  He was the only nomination to replace Brown and was acclaimed Reeve of Surrey for the remainder of 1892. (Such was the fallout from this “Tinegate” scandal that only one of the politicians sitting at the time was ever elected to council again, and that was John Armstrong, who served as Reeve in the following years.)

Following his stint as Reeve of Surrey, Walker returned to civic business, church work with the Anglican Diocese, and real estate.

In 1910 it was reported that Mr Walker

“has undertaken to erect and furnish six new church buildings in the Municipality of Surrey and to bear the whole cost of the support of one clergyman for one of these churches.”

It was mentioned further that Mr Walker

“is unmarried and takes the same keen interest in church work that another man would devote to his family. In the early days he invested largely in Surrey property when land values were considerably smaller than they are at present. . . It is exceedingly appropriate that the place where he made his money should be the point selected to enjoy the benefits of his munificence.”

Walker attended Holy Trinity Cathedral in New Westminster and also donated additional property to that church. Only three of the churches in Surrey were ever built.

St Helen’s on the Old Yale Road was erected opposite the Brownsville School on the property donated by Walker,  and opened in 1911.

The church towers once were covered with copper and the main tower contained a light, controlled by a clock to turn it on and off, that was visible for miles down the river.  The tower also contains a set of tubular chimes brought from England by Mr Walker.  The towers have since been remodelled, and tall trees grown up around the church,  but the chimes still call the congregation to worship each Sunday.

Walter James Walker returned to England in 1912.

In the library citations for his works, his date of death is incomplete.  A notice of his death appeared in the Columbian newspaper in February 1938.  A brief death notice in the Whitby Gazette confirms the date of January 9, 1938,  at Ropery Lane, Whitby.


Two early views of St Helen’s reveal very slight differences in detail.

St Helen's Church old view St_Helens_Church_historic

St Helen’s Church, Brownsville, Surrey –  with tower light

St Helen’s Church, Brownsville, Surrey –tower &  horse

St_Helens_Church As St Helen’s stands now, one hundred years old, the remodelled tower has lost its beacon and copper clad cupola and the trees have grown tall.

St Helen’s Church, Surrey BC 2011

Citations at the Legislative Library of British Columbia for books authored by Walter James Walker—

Chapters on the early registers of Halifax parish church : from the local archaeological collection of the late Edward Johnson Walker, for nearly half a century, editor of the Halifax Guardian / by Walter James Walker.
by Walker, W. J. (Walter James), b. 1852
Halifax, England : Whitley & Booth, c1885.

Some thoughts and suggestions on municipal reform in British Columbia / by Alderman W.J. Walker.
by Walker, W. J. (Walter James), b. 1852
New Westminster, B.C. : Lewis & Greig, Book and Job Printers, 1891.

St Helen’s Church is listed, with additional information, at historicplaces.ca.

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