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Fraser River Tannery

March 21, 2012
Fraser River Tannery - South Westminster

Fraser River Tannery Co Ltd  -  1906

The Tannery Founder — EJ Fader

The Fraser River Tannery, located on the old South Westminster ferry road, was formally opened on Saturday, January 6, 1906 by Lucy Fader, wife of Elijah John Fader, founder and first President of the Fraser River Tannery Company.

EJ Fader was a Maritime-born venture capitalist and business promoter residing at New Westminster, with many business interests in British Columbia, and a storied career.

Operation of the plant was in the hands of Charles G Bennett, Manager.

EJ Fader

Elijah John Fader

Tannery Road

The address of the Fraser River Tannery was 11691 Tannery Road.

J Leckie Tannery directory address

The location at the foot of Tannery Road has been made into a park.

  Cosmo Tannery Map

Tannery Park Map

The Tannery Business Opportunity

The new tannery was intended to serve as a market for hides and to produce leather goods.

The first tannery on the Lower Mainland, James Rousseau’s Tannery at Sapperton, had long since gone out of business and hides from this province were being shipped to San Francisco for processing.   Rousseau Tannery -  Sapperton - 1888

The development of the plant on the south bank of the Fraser River had taken three years to bring to completion.

Forest Resource Development – Value in Hemlock

The tanning process requires hemlock bark, a supply of which Fader obtained by developing logging operations up the coast at Tobi Inlet.  Hemlock was not in any demand for lumber at that time, and despite having stripped the logs of bark and floated them down to Fraser River, no mill would take them.  Nevertheless, the first investors in the tannery were men who developed major stake holds in British Columbia’s forest resources.

Outside Interest  — President WS Dwinnell

Founder EJ Fader did not stay long in charge of the tannery once it was up and running. In 1907 the President of the company was William Stanley Dwinnell of Minneapolis, a lawyer and State Senator in Minnesota with investments in the British Columbia timber industry.  
WS Dwinnell President Fraser River Tannery

WS Dwinnell

Chinese delegation to South Westminster

In 1908 the tannery was a going concern and was visited by a high-profile delegation from China, escorted to South Westminster by a prominent Vancouver businessman, reported by the press to be “Sam Kee,”  but who was likely Chang Toy, owner of that firm.

The Chinese were shown over the operation by manager CG Bennett and studied the methods employed to turn raw hides into finished product. They informed their hosts that leather goods, for instance boots and belts for the army, had to be imported from Europe. They left with samples and an intention to start a factory in China on their return. It was deemed likely they would obtain their supply of hemlock bark from British Columbia.

MJ Scanlon

In 1912 the Columbian newspaper reported that the tannery was running at full capacity. Cowhides obtained locally and from down the coast were primarily shipped to the company’s own outlet in Montreal to be made into logging boots.

President of the company was another Minnesota investor, MJ Scanlon of the Brooks-Scanlon Lumber Company.

The plant was a large employer for the local population, and workers residing on the city side were ferried across the river by a company launch.

  MJ Scanlon President Fraser River Tannery

MJ Scanlon

Timberland Lumber Company

In 1918 JG Robson built a large new sawmill, the Timberland Lumber Company, on the adjoining property, just downriver from the tannery.  South Westminster, a name coined by the real estate firm that  first marketed these lots for agricultural, residential and commercial development, was now the home of two large industrial plants.

Timberland Lumber & Fraser River Tanneryl -  per Boyd 1919

Map of Timberland Lumber Company and Fraser River Tannery, 1919

John Leckie

Local Ownership

The proprietorship of the Fraser River Tannery passed out of the hands of those whose prime interests lay in forest resource development  — the supply side of the business –  and into the hands of a company whose interest lay in the end-product.   The tannery was now being operated by the John Leckie Co. Ltd.,  and was styled Leckie’s Tannery.

John Leckie  had immigrated to Canada from Scotland. He  established a dry goods store in Toronto in 1857.    His business evolved into  fishermen’s supply store, selling oilskin clothing, imported netting, sails, tents, and marine hardware.  The firm began to develop its own products by manufacturing on premises.

John Leckie Toronto store marine hardware

Leckie’s – marine hardware

Knox's Salmon Ticket Nets

Leckie sold Knox’s nets

John Leckie Toronto store clothing and fishing equipment

Leckie’s – clothes – oilskins

A pioneer Vancouver firm

In 1892 John Leckie’s sons moved to the west coast to establish a branch in Vancouver.  Under the guidance of  Robert James Leckie  as vice-president and manager and William Henry Leckie as company secretary, the Vancouver firm soon outstripped the Toronto store  in sales volume.

1895 John Leckie -  Importer - Vancouver

John Leckie – Granville St

Leckie ad

Leckie’s twines ducks ropes rubber

John Leckie Co Ltd -  532  Granville Street

Leckie’s on Granville

Off on a good foot

Following the lines of the parent company, the Vancouver Leckie’s specialized in fishermen’s and marine supplies, but also saw an  opportunity in  cannery equipment.  Over the years, sales of boots to loggers, fishermen and miners – workers in the major industries of the west coast—formed a large portion of the local trade.

J Leckie Co Ltd Vancouver BC  Ad for Boots

J Leckie Co Ltd  – Vancouver BC – Boots – Shoes


Leckie’s had always developed their lines, from importation to sales to manufacturing, and it was a natural move from selling footwear to the manufacture of boots and shoes, for which they became renowned, and which would eventually draw them into the tannery business.

1910 J Leckie Company

Leckie TM Boot


The Leckie Buildings — A Vancouver Legacy

The Vancouver premises of J Leckie Ltd were located on Granville Street between Pender and Dunsmuir. In 1898 they erected a new building, with the Imperial Bank of Canada as prime tenant, on the east side of Granville Street, above Pender Street.

Leckie Block - Granville Street

The new Leckie Block for Granville Street, 1898

  Leckie Building -  Granville Street - Vancouver

The 1st Leckie Building – Granville Street –  at left  -VPL Photo


The first Leckie Block is still standing today, although somewhat modified at the front.  The building has a beauty that reveals itself up-close.

Leckie Block built 1898 Leckie Block window Leckie Bldg - Granville view
1st Leckie Building built in 1898    

Ten years later, in 1908,  the  firm erected a large building at Cambie and Water Street that combined warehousing, manufacturing and display under one roof.  

This second Leckie Building is  also still in use, and as a backdrop to the Gastown steam clock, it may be the most-photographed building in Vancouver.


Leckie Building - Steam Clock
Leckie Building – 220 Cambie Street


Company founder and president John Leckie moved to Vancouver in 1920 to join his family.
He settled out in Marpole at 54th and Oak.
  John Leckie

John Leckie

Fire at Fraser River Tannery

In 1926 Timberland Lumber Company bought out the property and buildings belonging to the tannery, with the intention of allowing Leckie and Company to continue operating the facility under lease.  The sawmill wanted the property for its waterfront, which they used for booming grounds.

Only weeks after the sale the tannery caught fire and burned to the ground in a spectacular blaze viewed by many across the river. The tannery was gas-lit and had no hydrants. A fortunate wind and damp weather prevented the sparks spreading to the neighbouring sawmill.

Fraser River Tannery Map - 1907

Fire Insurance Map of Fraser River Tannery at South Westminster


Since the retirement of the Surrey ferry, there was no pump-equipped fire-boat nearby. The tug John D McCormack, owned by the Fraser Mills Co further upriver, was equipped with fire-suppression nozzles but it was  not called upon, and likely would have not arrived in time in any case. Chemical extinguishers were on hand but proved ineffective.

Standing opposite the tannery was the Grandview Hotel, one of South Westminster’s old boarding houses. It was guarded carefully and escaped serious harm.

The owners of the tannery announced their intention to rebuild.

Recent Times

Tannery Road Wharf

A wharf existed at Tannery road until at least 1968 when work began on the  Fraser River "training wall" that now runs from Tannery Park to near the Surrey Fraser Docks.  About a dozen small boats that used the wharf for moorage were given notice to vacate by the end of the year. Owing to silting, only small boats could get into the wharf in any case. Their options were to move to the wharf at Brownsville , at the  foot of Old Yale Road, or to Gunderson Slough, downriver.

  Tannery Park from Fraser River  

Tannery Park from Fraser River – Upper end of river diversion wall


The  End of the Tannery

In January 1970 the "J Leckie Shoe Company Tannery" was engulfed by a second disastrous fire.  According to reports in the Columbian newspaper, firefighters, assisted by favourable weather conditions, prevented the blaze spreading to neighbouring properties.

"The wooden, multiple-storey tannery was shaken by a number of explosions as drums of chemicals blew up."  – Vancouver Sun

The tannery establishment was a total loss.

  Tannery Blaze,  1970

Tannery Fire 

Spot Photograph by The Columbian


Viewing the Tannery Site

  Tannery BingMap  

Tannery Park has a parking lot and fine views of the Fraser River, wildlife and industry.  A trail runs downriver a short distance.   Nearest bus is at Scott Road.  A walk can be made along the Manson Canal to Timberland Road and Scott Road,  thence to 104th Ave and the City Centre, though the route is as yet undeveloped for strolling.

Another trail connects with Brownsville Bar Park, a half-mile upstream at  Old Yale Road,  about a kilometre from Scott Road Skytrain Station.

Manson Canal at Tannery Park

Manson Canal

Geese at Tannery Park

Geese at Tannery Park

Along Brownsville Dike Trail

Brownsville Dike Trail

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