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Found Brick Bonds

June 29, 2012

This old brick was found near the old South Westminster ferry landing on Fraser River. It is a common red brick stamped VICBCo, likely a product of the Victoria Brick Company of Vancouver Island, and over a hundred years old.

VICBCo - brick 1 VICBCo - brick 2

Victoria Brick Company

On the road out of Victoria, now part of the Trans-Canada Highway, in the neighbourhood of Garbally Road, lay rich clay deposits.  Brickyards were established there in the 1870’s, with the firm of Elford & Smith’s “Queen City Steam Brick &  Tile Works,” being one of the first.

Elford & Smith - Brickmakers - Queen City Steam - 1889

Elford & Smith,
And Contractors.

Queen City Steam
Brick and Tile Works.

1889 Directory Advertisement

Elford & Smith

John Pitcairn Elford was born in Australia in 1851 and came to British Columbia in 1859 with his father Robert Elford. He trained as a carpenter and in 1875 formed his own contracting business.   William John Smith was born in England in 1859 and came to Victoria in 1884 where he opened a brickyard. Elford and Smith became partners in contracting and brickmaking, opening the Queen City Steam Brick and Tile Works in 1886. Employing 20 men, the company could turn out almost two million bricks annually.

Queen City Steam  evolved into the Victoria Brick Company Ltd.

VICBCo - Victoria Brick Co - 1905

1905 Directory Listing Victoria Brick Co.

In 1909, the VICBCo was one of three firms side by side along this stretch of road, the other two being Baker Bros, and the Humber Brickyard.

The following description is from the annual report of the Department of Mines:

Victoria Brick Co., Ltd.
‘The yard (formerly Elford & Smith’s) adjoins Baker Bros.’ yard on the south, the plant being located on a portion of the clay bed from which the surface clay has been removed. The clay is dug by hand from a bank, having a face about 12 feet high, is then conveyed by horse and cart a distance of some 400 yards to a disintegrator, then to the pug-moll, and passes to a ‘Monarch’ soft mud brick machine, having a nominal capacity of 40 M. brick a day.’

Victoria Brick Company

Brick manufacturing facility of the Victoria Brick Company, Victoria BC –BC Dep’t of Mines

A VICBCo brick was by no means rare.  According to the report,

“The capacity of this yard is about three and a half millions common red brick a year.”

Elford and Smith developed a reputation for quality building material and sound construction.


”  it is especially as contractors that Elford and Smith are known. Brick and stone work is their line, and they have erected many of the finest structures in Victoria.”
-British Colonist



St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church - Victoria BC Brick and stone buildings constructed by Elford & Smith include the Prior Building, H. Saunders Grocery, the WG Cameron Building, St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, and Jubilee Hospital.

See  listed heritage buildings  at Canada’s Historic Places.

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church

Brickworks near Brownsville

Brickyards 1890-1910

Brickworks located near Brownsville, 1890 to 1910

Brickworks at New Westminster

On the Mainland, the bricks required to build the new city of New Westminster initially had to be imported. Philip Hick, baker, was observed by Judge Begbie in March 1859, unloading bricks brought in by boat for the ovens at his “Government Bakery.” The Royal Engineers liked fresh bread,  and they also enjoyed the heat from a large brick hearth in their new barracks.

The first buildings built in the city were all made of wood. In 1860, brickmaker Henry Martin wrote to Colonel RC Moody requesting use of some land “at the head of Mary Street [6th St], outside Royal Avenue,” for the purpose of manufacturing bricks for the growing capital of British Columbia, the first of many who saw an opportunity in making brick locally. His application was endorsed by WJ Armstrong and Leonard McClure:

“From the drawbacks which have been so forcibly displayed during the last six months in New Westminster through the absence of a Brick Kiln, in retarding and preventing the growth of permanent structures, and affording to a great extent the present facilities for and liabilities to a general conflagration, we heartily recommend the above petition from Mr Martin as a matter we think worthy of your Excellency’s consideration.”

While Martin appears to have made the first attempt to make bricks locally, others followed.  The location which would prove the most enduring for brick manufacture, was at Queen’s Ravine.

In 1889 James G Ettinger took over some clay beds at this ravine and commenced brickmaking, the latest to engage in this enterprise here.  A year later Ettinger entered into a partnership with Thomas Hembrough, contractor and builder, and Stephen Williams, engineer,  to establish a much larger operation on the other side of the river just below Port Kells, along the old Telegraph Trail, near the line of the  New Westminster Southern Railway.

Thomas Hembrough & Company brickyard

Thos Hembrough & Co. was a family concern. Hembrough was Ettinger’s father-in-law. Hembrough’s  own father-in-law, John Popplewell, was also employed at the yard as a potter.  Stephen William’s father-in-law also resided nearby, and his brother-in-law James Hardison worked as a brickmaker.

This industry would become of the largest employers in the district, employing 35 men, many of whom were Chinese, and most of whom resided in the vicinity of the yard.

New Westminster was the prime market for the output of this yard. The industry shipped product on the new railroad, and established its own river port, called Leeds Landing, after the hometown of Thomas Hembrough in England.

Leed's Landing - Hembrough Brickyard - 1895

 Leeds Landing – 1895 directory

Leeds Landing was a regular stop for sternwheeler  steamers en route up the Fraser River.

The section of road at the plant became known as Brickyard Road.

Some maps identify 182A Street as Brickyard Road, and others refer to a lateral road now called Parsons Drive.

Brickyard - AJ Hill map Brickyard Road - Conway map - 1954
Brickyard – AJ Hill map c1897 Brickyard Road – Conway map c 1957

Leeds Landing - Brickyard Road

Location of Leeds Landing on Fraser River – Link to BingMap

This neighbourhood became known as Anniedale in 1891 with the opening of the schoolhouse on the Townline Road (96 Ave) directly south of the brickyard.

The  brickyard was visited by a Columbian reporter in 1894.

“The works are very advantageously located for shipping purposes, being on the south bank of the Fraser River with the Great Northern Railway almost at the kiln door, thus giving both water and rail facilities.  . .

The clay at this point is probably the best in the coast district for brick manufacture, and as a consequence the product turned out by Hembrough & Co. is of superior quality, and is spoken of in highly favourable terms by builders generally.  . .

The pottery department is very complete and the three kilns are constantly turning out all sorts of earthen wares.

Just now the staff is chiefly engaged in the manufacture of water pipes, tiles, etc. for which there is apparently ready sales, as large quantities are being made while the stock on hand does not materially increase.

Of more interest, however, is the fancy goods department, as it might be called. The man who supervises the manufacture of these wares is certainly an artist in clay.  There are flowerpots of beautiful pattern, lawn urns of most graceful design and tasty decoration, handsome earthen vases, first-rate statuettes, and quite a variety of other tasty ornaments in ordinary potters clay and in fire-clay. A large quantity of the latter material is used for the manufacture of fire bricks, stove backs, etc.”


By 1896, the firm of Hembrough and Company was breaking up.

Downriver, the extensive clay deposits near Queen’s Park formerly mined by JG Ettinger, were now being worked by the firm of John Coughlan and Sons of Vancouver, a large building material company.

John Coughlan & Sons - Brick - 1914

J Coughlan & Sons, Brick Manufacturers, Queen’s Park, McBride Boulevard, New Westminster

Offices in the Exchange Building, 142 W Hastings St, Vancouver

– 1914 directory

The British Columbia Penitentiary Brickyard

At the adjacent British Columbia Penitentiary, Warden William Moresby had observed that the site was ideally situated for brickmaking, and such an industry would prove a useful endeavour for the inmates. In 1896 he visited the Hembrough estate at Leeds Landing and arranged the purchase of brickmaking machinery.  It would prove to be the last project for the highly respected Warden, as he died the same year.  Moresby’s successor JC Whyte completed the deal.

“I am pleased to say on assuming duty on the 23rd of December [1896], I found everything going on in first class condition, and continued to carry out the contemplated improvements and works as started by the late warden, and have much pleasure in being able to say that for a very slight expenditure I bought a horse power brick machine and necessaries, and with the assistance of guards and working convicts we are now turning out first class brick at the rate of about 3,000 per day, which can be increased if necessary without any additional outlay, by this we have added to the institution another industry without the necessity of employing any more officers and making more work for our convicts.”
–JC Whyte, Warden,  British Columbia Penitentiary,  October 1897


Thus was established the Penitentiary brickyard where, some years hence, celebrity outlaw Bill Miner and his cohorts plotted their escape.

outlaw trainrobber  Bill Miner This sketch of train robber Bill Miner appeared in the New Westminster Columbian newspaper subsequent to his escape from the BC Penitentiary, where he had laboured in the brickyard.

Bill Miner

Following the closure of the brickyard at Anniedale,  Captain Thomas Hembrough worked on Fraser River as a Fisheries Warden, including service on the fisheries patrol vessel Claymore. He died in 1930.

Fraser River Brick Company

The Great Northern Railway, which had enabled the establishment of the brickyard at Leeds Landing, reprised its role in the establishment of a second brickyard. When the branch of the railway from White Rock to the  New Westminster Bridge was cut in 1909, clay beds were unearthed at McAdam Creek on the old pre-emption claim of James Kennedy, at Lot 15, about two miles down the line from South Westminster.

Vancouver building supply firm Thomas W Hemphill  & Co. began making bricks at this ravine in 1910, under the name of Fraser River Brick and Tile Co.

Fraser River Brick  -Thomas W Hemphill - 1910

Fraser River Brick & Tile Co  – Thomas W Hemphill Mgr

Offices in Loo Bldg –  Abbot & Hastings – Vancouver

“The works of the Fraser River Brick Company lie in a small valley on the south side of the Fraser River, about two miles [southwest] of New Westminster. The product consists entirely of common brick. As the plant was originally constructed, clay had to be put through a pug-mill, rolls, and auger machine. It is claimed, however, that long pugging softens the clay too much, and since the elimination of the pug-mill better results have been obtained. The Company contemplated changing to the soft-mud system. The green bricks are sent to a tunnel dryer and burned in a scove kiln.”

Heinrich Ries and Joseph Keele, Preliminary Report on the Clay and Shale Deposits of the Western Provinces, Geological Survey of Canada, 1912.


This firm operated for about four years and had since lay forgotten, even to local residents, until rediscovered by Delta historian Gwen Szychter ten years ago.

Bricks were also made in small quantities, and for a short time, by HT Thrift at Hazelmere. A larger commercial operation, the Bear Creek Brick Company, was in operation on Archibald Road (144 St.) at least into the 1950’s.

The brick shown at the beginning of this post may be from a local building in the Brownsville area— from a chimney in one of the Hotels built in the 1890’s, or a from a local farmhouse,  or perhaps from a kiln at the mill or the tannery.  However the brick was lying on excavated ground, and given the amount of fill that has been dumped on this boggy area over the years, it may well have been trucked in, or even dredged from the river.

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