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Loose ends–Acts of God & governance

July 9, 2011

Flood and fire

On January 10, 1895 the home of JW Stein at Brownsville was destroyed by fire. This was followed five days later by a natural calamity of Biblical proportions.  An rare winter thaw, combined with an abnormally high winter tide, and  strong storm winds blowing inland, resulted in the Fraser River overflowing across the lowlands of Brownsville, inundating field, barn and house alike with water extending right up to the hillside.

Later that year, summer bush fires descended the from the forested uplands above Brownsville, “threatening the destruction of many houses.”

“Most of the time the smoke covers the Mainland like a dense fog and the sun is a very dark red.”

In February of 1896 the home of JE Murphy at his Surrey Dairy farm on the Scott Road in South Westminster was consumed by fire. And in August a fire at the farm of Donald Stewart destroyed his house, which dated back to 1874, “one of the oldest buildings in repair in that part of the district.”

K de K dismantled

The venerable old ferry K de K was being dismantled.

“The scow has been sold to up-river parties to be used in fishing operations, and the boiler is now lying on the wharf at South Westminster.”

K d K -  Fraser River ferry -  1884
K de K ferry, Fraser River, Brownsville

The steam engine would find its way into another stage of Surrey history, being put into service in logging operations of the McLain brothers at Tynehead.  Their shingle mill was later taken over by James Goodfellow Robson and Gibson. Robson would go broke with a year, but rebound in glorious fashion, later opening a large mill at Craig’s before relocating in 1918 on the Fraser at Brownsville. The Timberland Mill would become a mainstay of the local economy for many years to come. Robson Road is named after JG Robson, Timberland Road after the mill.

Donahue v Howison and Manson

At South Westminster, William Manson, “gentleman farmer,” and a major landowner, found himself in a sticky dispute involving the purchase of Lot 11, Group 2 from Mrs Howison of New Westminster.  This was one of the original 45 acre allotments surveyed by the Royal Engineers.

The lot had in early years been acquired by Peter Donahue, the noted iron man of San Francisco. Peter’s brother Thomas Donahue built the first saw mill at New Westminster in 1859.

Donahue Union Iron and Brass Foundry
Donahue’s Union Iron and Brass Foundry, The First Established in the State, Corner First and Mission Streets,—-Happy Valley
Peter Donahue Manufacturer
Peter Donahue — Manufacturer

The land  was of little interest for many years and had fallen from the view of  Donahue, who neglected to pay the yearly assessment  The 45 acres of Lot 11 was advertised for taxes due in 1884, and was sold to JW Howison.

With the death of Peter Donahue in 1885, his title to the property came to the attention of his estate, which made a claim to the lot, throwing the sale by Howison to Manson under a cloud before it could be completed.  At the time the suit of Donahue vs Howison and Manson was initiated, reported the Colonist:

“The land was worthless for years, but with the growth of Westminster it is now reckoned to be worth between $100,000 and $250,000.”

In the meantime, owing to a drop in real estate prices after the land boom promoted by the ferry and railway interest subsided, Manson wanted out of his deal with the widowed Mrs Howison.  A notable court case ensued. Donahue’s claim was found to be extinguished and Manson had to pay damages for reneging on his deal with Howison.

[For details of the legal cases see the BC Reports, online at UBC, here.]

Changeover at Brownsville PO

James Punch resigned from the Brownsville Post Office in September of 1898 and it was taken over by his long-time employee, Michael R Barry, who would also run the Hotel until his death in 1903, the Brownsville Post Office closing with his passing.

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