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Darkness brooding

July 9, 2011

Rails go up

In May of 1888 a new resident of Brownsville, JW Stein, made an immediate impact on his neighbours through an act of carelessness.

"A man named Stein, of Brownsville, set out a clearing fire some days ago on his property at the bottom of the hill near the Yale road. Mr LF Bonson had 3,000 fence rails cut and lying ready for removal at the top of the hill, and he warned Stein to be careful not to allow the fire to spread in that direction.  Stein replied that there was not the slightest danger. This morning the fire spread to where the rails were lying and the whole lot were consumed."

John William Stein had come to Brownsville from Mud Bay, where he had homesteaded since 1885.    In May 1889 it was reported he intended to set out a large orchard on his Brownsville farm.  His purchase of fruit trees from JL Walworth of south Langley "is considered the largest ever made in this province." 


High pressure, high times

In the early summer of 1889, a heat wave enveloped the Lower Mainland and fires raged across hundreds of square miles of forest, alternately exhibiting  as attractive and brilliant flashes of colour  to observe from the safety of the City, and otherwise as vision-obscuring cataracts in grey, drifting  over the river and pressing up against the window-glass, challenging the newspaper scribes in their depiction.

"That fickle luminary  retired completely behind dense clouds of brush-fire smoke, and the darkness that brooded over the city was Egyptian in intensity."

Strange phenomena of nature were beginning to occur. It was reported the water level was rising in Harrison Lake, when at this time of year, with no snow left to melt and the days simmering, the lake should be shrinking.  A mammoth salmon run was making its way into the Fraser and tributaries, prompting high excitement among fishers and cannery workers.  It was concluded  the lakes were rising due to the staggering influx of fish, said to be so close in the waters that one could walk to shore on their backs.

In the Hotels along Columbia Street, in a haze of cigar smoke and under the clinking of  whisky tumblers,  some tense negotiations were underway.  The drawing rooms of the Colonial Hotel—the hostelry of choice for well-heeled visitors— were the setting for relaxation between business dealings, and with a meeting of cannery men and railway men on hand at one time, both groups notoriously hard living, the scene was set for a boast that cannerymen Henry Doyle and Alexander Ewen would recall with relish many years after.

"Do you remember Mr Ewen, when you drank the American buyers of the BC Southern Railway Co under the table without turning a hair and then went down to your office and did a day’s work?"

It can be relied upon that neither would the railroad men be sleeping late. In the sweltering July  of ‘89,  six weeks without rain,  and as yet little progress being made on the New Westminster Southern Railway, Senator Eugene Canfield was seen leaving a meeting at the Colonial Hotel in New Westminster in a state of great agitation, threatening a law suit. He had been eased out of the agreement with the City by a new arrangement with Nelson Bennett to purchase the railway.  Canfield’s ego took a beating, yet by all accounts he would do well with his land investments.

Bennett declared that he was interested only in getting the railway built and into operation–"straight railroading" was his motto.   Rumours swirled about that JJ Hill was looking at Bennett’s road as a way of getting a Great Northern connection into Vancouver. Denied and denied.
Bennett for his part, made no commitments to destination points and stops on the line. As for ambition, he told a reporter,

"I have got one eye on the Arctic circle and the other on the  Antarctic.”







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