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Shove the construction

July 9, 2011

In the latter part of 1889, with a new agreement in place with Nelson Bennett,  the line of the New Westminster Southern Railway was blazed and cut from Herring’s Point to Port Kells, and thence south to the American frontier. Real estate developers had been actively buying up land in the neighborhood of the proposed terminus of the railway at Herring’s Point.  Plans were made to construct a station and ferry landing to transfer passengers and cars to steamers for travel to New Westminster and Vancouver.

In late summer occurred the seasonal population boom on the left bank of the Fraser at Brownsville with native Indians arriving to work in the canneries. The population swelled to unprecedented levels with the presence of 700 Chinese hired to work on the railway.  At the same time, the large salmon pack produced a shortage of labor akin to the days of the Gold Rush, with a danger of men running off to better prospects.  Rather than escalating wages, the contractor released his men temporarily.

"Mr James Leamy, the contractor for the Westminster Southern Railway was in the city yesterday.  The scarcity of laborers at the canneries to pack the immense take of salmon compelled Mr Leamy to allow the 700 Chinese he had on the grade go to work in the 16 canneries on the Fraser River.  Very shortly, however, Mr Leamy will resume operations with some 900 men, he having received instructions to push construction as vigorously as possible.  He has found it impossible to get enough white laborers to enable him to organize camps of these in preference to Chinese."

As in olden times, the transient work-force overwhelmed the citizenry in shear numbers.

In September the large camps of railway workers reassembled.

"James Leamy, the contractor, is securing all the men that can be had for the work. There are at present about 200 employed grading between Brownsville and Nicomekl River. In a few days an additional force of men will be employed on the work between the above named points and the boundary line."


James Leamy James Leamy, construction contractor for the New Westminster Southern Railway, had previously been Superintendent of Construction on sections of the Canadian Pacific Railway from Emory to Boston Bar, and from Savona to Revelstoke.
Leamy had also built the CPR extension connecting New Westminster with the continental railway.
James Leamy, contractor  


By the end of the month there were 375 men and 25 teams of horses clearing and grading the route between from Brownsville to the vicinity of Barnston Island, and south through the Serpentine Valley to the Nicomekl.


Capt Angus Grant In November of 1889, Captain Angus Grant died at New Westminster. He was the owner of the ferry K de K and Captain of the snag boat Samson. Resident of the District just seven years, he had made a lasting contribution.
Captain Angus Grant  


Into February of 1890 railroad work had progressed to a point when the legendary head of the Great Northern Railway, JJ Hill, who had taken an interest in this railway, was on hand to take a trip over to Herring’s Point and then up the river a short way to Bon Accord.

"A stop was made at the Bon Accord Cannery, where Mr Munn, who was one of the company, escorted the visitors over the establishment. On returning, Mr Hill and party went by stage to Blaine leaving Brownsville at 11:30, en route for Fairhaven."

Daniel J Munn had taken over the old Haigh’s cannery, upriver from Brownsville and early on saw the advantages to his business of a connection with the railway.

JJ Hill’s interest in the line did not go unnoticed by the operators of the Canadian Pacific, who feared competition from the Great Northern would sap business from their road.  The CPR made plans for their own connecting road from Mission, bridging the Fraser and running to Sumas, Washington, thence down to New Whatcom via the Bellingham Bay and British Columbia Railway.  The first CP train would arrive at New Whatcom on May 28, 1891. 

With the line of the New Westminster road finally under construction, orders were put in for rails, locomotives and cars. In February two ships had left England carrying rails.  The first, the Cordelia, sailed from Liverpool, Lancashire and the second, the Astoria from Maryport, Cumberland. 

Nelson Bennett visited Herring’s Point to locate a site for a wharf for landing the material.  He announced:

"We are going to fit a convenient landing place for these rails at once. . .We’ll have that Brownsville wharf. . .constructed immediately.  We’ve got to get ready to unload those rails upon it.  We intend to shove the construction for all it is worth, and we are only waiting for those rails."

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