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Pacific Highway, 1928 – Peat Moss Industry

October 15, 2012
“In 1928, my father sold two acres on the southwest corner of Hjorth Road and the Pacific Highway to Elmer Carncross to start his peat moss business.”

Michael Hoshiko’s father was Tsunehachi Hoshiko,  who around 1922 had purchased 15 acres on the southwest corner of Hjorth Road (104 Ave) and the Pacific Highway (King George Blvd.)   He had got the land relatively cheap “because it had about three acres of peat bog, but this turned out to be an unexpected asset when poultry farmers and others started using peat moss.”   On the better part of his property,  Hoshiko started a poultry business and cultivated fields of strawberries.   Carncross also acquired rights to the larger area of the peat bog on the north side of  Hjorth Road.  On the west side of the bog was the farm of Naotaro Sunada, also raising chickens and growing strawberries, asparagus and rhubarb.  — Quotations and information from Michael S. Hoshiko, Who was who : pioneer Japanese families in Delta and Surrey.

Western Peat Company

E. E. Carncross began harvesting peat in 1928 at South Port Mann,  just a year after exploring the bog with Hugo Osvald.   Carncross had attended  Agricultural College at Guelph, and with his newfound knowledge about peat manufacturing in Europe,  and the needs of local farmers, he quickly seized on the commercial potential for peat products  both locally and in the United States.   As indicated in the report of  Anrep, the time was right.

Formerly an agent for the Soldier Settlement Board,  Elmer E Carncross was now President of the newly formed Western Peat Company.  After digging some test trenches,  Carncross shipped 2,000 bales of peat Stateside in 1928.    The results must have been favourable because by  the summer of 1929 operations had been considerably expanded  and a new building for drying and baling had been erected.

Peat Moss Plant on Pacific Highway
Western Peat Company drying and baling barn near the corner of Hjorth Road and Pacific Highway, Surrey.

Pacific Highway peat harvesting - 1929 The photo at left  shows just how extensive the Western Peat Company peat harvesting operation was by the second summer of operations in 1929, complete with long trenches and a narrow-gauge railway.

Following is a business report from the British Columbian newspaper.

“This year [1929] trenching was done on an extensive scale with drag lines, and by summer the entire acreage was covered with heaps of drying peat blocks. The crop is estimated at 25,000 bales, with about eight years’ supply still on the site.
A drying and baling plant has been erected by the highway. This will treat and prepare the peat during the winter months. The dry product is like white tobacco and is valued for packing fruits and eggs.”

In 1936 peat moss harvesting and processing was still underway at the Pacific Highway bog.

“’If the gods are good and it doesn’t rain for the next three days,’ said Elmer Carncross of the Western Peat Company on Monday morning, ‘we shall have all our stuff under cover.’

The hot, dry weather has been excellent for drying peat. . .

The Western Peat Company has peat to last for another thirty years on Road 19, Lulu Island.  . .

The company has also over five years’ cutting to do on the piece of peat land that lies alongside the Pacific Highway at the intersection of the Hjorth road.  . .” -British Columbian

Nature Reserved

Following on the study by Hugo Osvald, a further detailed scientific exploration of the bogs in the Lower Mainland  was conducted by Henry P Hansen and completed in 1939.  Given the industriousness of the peat harvesting operation on the Pacific Highway, the findings of Hansen’s study of what he calls the “Pacific Highway” bog are rather astonishing.

“The first bog is located about four miles southeast of New Westminster near the Pacific highway. It lies on the Surrey Terrace, a remnant of glacial drift which apparently has not been disturbed by the shifting and erosion of the Fraser River. The depression in which the bog has developed is either a kettle or merely a depression left in an irregular ground moraine. Thus it probably had its origin soon after the recession of the Vashon ice and records most of the postglacial forest succession which has occurred in adjacent areas. The total area comprises about forty acres and is several hundred feet above sea level.
It is covered chiefly with an ericad associes, including Labrador tea . . .bog laurel. . .cranberry. . .and salal. Other plants present are sundew . . . cloudberry . . . hardhack . . . sedge … bracken fern … and Sphagnum … Lodegpole pine … is invading the margins of the bog, and in several places where it has been burned, western birch … seems to be the chief arboreal invader along with fireweed.” (Scientific names omitted.)

Hansen confirmed the interesting layer of volcanic ash, found between the 2 and 3 meter level, in a total depth of 4.25 meters.

“The ash is an important chronological indicator and aids greatly in the correlation of postglacial forest succession in the various climax areas in the Pacific Northwest.”

Having survived for so long — until the 1940’s —  in the rapidly developing Whalley area, it appeared the bog’s days were numbered.

“The peat is being removed for commercial purposes, and in a few years all the virgin aspects of the bog will have been removed.”

The Future of Western Peat Company

Following its first commercial success in Surrey, the Western Peat Company acquired much larger holdings, including a thousand acres on Lulu Island, also explored by Carncross and Osvald in 1927.

bog strawberry farm Lulu Island - Carncross photo Lulu Island  bog 1927 - E Carncross photo
Bog strawberry farm – Lulu Island – 1927 – E Carncross photo Burnt-off area of Lulu Island bog – 1927 – E Carncross photo.

From a 40 acre site on the Pacific Highway,  the Western Peat Company evolved  into Sun Gro, now the  largest horticultural  supply company operating in North America.

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