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Captain William Philpot Grant

February 21, 2012

William Philpot Grant was born in 1853 at Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia. In 1883 he came out to New Westminster where his father Captain Angus Grant had obtained a charter to operate the first public ferry across the Fraser River from New Westminster to  Brownsville. At the age of  20 Grant was employed to captain the ferry K de K when it went into operation in March 1884 and remained her master until she was retired in 1891 when the City of New Westminster put into service a new ferry, the SS Surrey. WP Grant was appointed to command the Surrey and remained her master until 1893 when she was let out to JL Card. Grant found employment as a pilot with the new steamer Transfer which went into operation in summer 1893 calling at landings and ports upriver from New Westminster to Chilliwack.


K de K Capt WP Grant  photo from New Westminster Archives steamer Surrey

First public ferry on Fraser River K de K
Vancouver Archives Photo

Captain W P Grant –
about 31 years of age

WP Grant’s second Fraser River ferry command, SS Surrey

New Westminster Archives photo


On January 11, 1898 the Columbian newspaper reported the following news:

Mysterious Disappearance

Of Capt.  Grant and a Deck-hand of the Steamer Transfer — Grave Fears Entertained

Much anxiety is felt over the disappearance of Capt Wm P Grant, mate of the steamer Transfer, and Hans Johnsen, one of the deckhands of the same steamer.
On Sunday [Jan 9]  the two men came down to the city on the Royal City Mills steamer Gipsy for rope, shovels, &c with which to facilitate the floating of the str. Transfer from her present high and dry position on the sandbar near the entrance to Parson’s Channel, about nine miles up the river, where she grounded on Saturday last.
Having secured the necessary articles, they set out to row up to the stranded steamer, leaving the CPN Co’s wharf between six and seven o’clock Sunday evening. Since then nothing has been seen or heard of them.
. . .
Both men were experienced water men and as the night was calm, with clear moonlight, it is hard to offer any reasonable explanation why the short trip should not have been safely accomplished.  From all that is known so far it is feared that the missing men have perished in the icy waters of the Fraser.
SS Transfer - Fraser River - Delta Museum Photo

The steamer Dunsmuir went to assist the Transfer, without avail, and reported no sign of the missing men.  The next day, the News-Advertiser reported, the men’s rowboat was found. “The boat was discovered lying bottom-up near the banks of the river on the opposite side from New Westminster.”   The mate of the steamer Edgar righted the boat and brought it over.  The Transfer was  later pulled off the sand bar by the steamer Princess Louise.

Nothing more was known of the two men for many months, leaving the family held in a state  of “terrible anxiety and suspense.”

On June 20, 1898 the steamer Rithet from Victoria was entering the Fraser River when a body was sighted near Steveston,  “floating out to sea.”  On arrival at New Westminster a boat was sent down to recover the body, which was identified as that of  Captain Grant.

Disappearance of Captain Grant map


Captain Grant’s death left wife Mary Ann a widow with  six young children.

WP Grant - Fraser Cemetery The gravestone for Captain William Philpot Grant at Fraser Cemetery in New Westminster reads 1853 – 1897. He was last seen on Fraser River  in January, 1898.

William Philpot Grant monument at Fraser Cemetery

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