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Mud Bay graveyard

November 21, 2012

In August 1883, when the municipality of Surrey was already three years established,  the local council resolved to ask for a land grant to establish a public cemetery.

“That the Clerk do Correspond with the Right Honble Sir John A Macdonald Minister of the Interior, and the Hon JW Trutch requesting that there be 25 acres of land on the SE corner of the South West 1/4 section 11 Tsp 2 reserved for a public cemetery also fully setting forth the circumstances of the case Carried.”

Although settlers had been living at Mud Bay since the 1860’s there was as yet no public cemetery in the municipality of Surrey.  At Brownsville burials took place across the river at New Westminster.  Some settlers far out on the Semiahmoo Road  were buried at their homesteads, but there were at least seven graves in an informal graveyard on this piece of property along the Hope and Ladner Trunk road to the west of Serpentine River.

The only problem with the council resolution was that the land had already been occupied by one Richard Stephen Yeomans, who had registered his claim on July 20, 1883.  The convention for unsettled land in the railway belt was to squat on the land, while notifying the government, and in due course of improving the land,  title would be granted after 5 years.

This  land had been previously claimed, seven years before, but was long abandoned when Yeomans moved there.

The first settlers

The first homesteader on the property was William Martin,  a young Englishman, about 30 years old,  who hailed from a village in Somerset, England not far from Weston-super-mare.   Martin had applied for the quarter section of land  at Mud Bay in the summer of 1876 and was starting a ranch, “endeavouring to earn some money by teaming, to aid in stocking his farm.”  In September of 1876, small pox was again ravaging the population of the lower mainland, with many sick and dying.  William Martin caught the disease and succumbed to it on September  24th.

Following Martin’s demise, the land sat idle and abandoned. When the first grave was dug at this place is not known. Perhaps Martin was first to be buried there. Perhaps all seven graves visible in 1883 were from earlier years, or perhaps the land was only adopted for this use after Martin’s death.

Many early residents of this district were interred at New Westminster. Others were laid to rest on their own property. Kaye Lamb, who grew up at Mud Bay, wrote that children believed the Huntley place was haunted, because Mrs Huntley was buried beside the house. At Campbell Valley park, east of Hazelmere, members of the Wallworth family are buried at the top of the hill, also victims of smallpox.

HRL Morgan grave New Westminster The grave of early Mud Bay settler HRL Morgan is at New Westminster.  A veteran of the Maori wars in New Zealand, Lieutenant Morgan acquired extensive grazing lands by Military Grant and lived a solitary life  at Mud Bay from 1868  until his death in 1919.

The Clerk Writes to Ottawa

In accordance with the resolution of council, clerk Henry T Thrift wrote to Sir John A MacDonald. However, while the council minutes record a request for 25 acres, Thrift now writes they “endeavour to obtain ten acres of land.”  Expanding on the reasons for the land grant, Thrift wrote —

“I would further state that there are already interred on this plot of land some seven or eight persons, that it is in the Railway Reserve and is the only place within the limits of the Municipality used for cemetery purposes.”

(Thrift obviously meant for settler cemetery purposes, as the section known as Langley Reserve 7 had also been set aside as a graveyard for natives.)

Thrift further states that the residents had applied previously to the province for this land. However the motivating factor seems to be an effort to thwart the development aspirations of RS Yeomans, who “has taken possession and already commenced the erection of buildings over where the aforesaid person are interred.”   Taking a swipe at Yeomans’ ambition, Thrift adds –

“the said RS Yeomans does not need this land for his own uses as he is a single man and already is holding (333) three hundred and thirty three acres on the opposite side of the road.”

Thrift also wrote to JW Trutch, who was at this time the government agent for Dominion lands in this province.

Mud Bay graveyard map

Mud Bay graveyard map location – Click to open in Googlemaps

Iron Will

RS Yeomans had caught wind of Surrey council’s plans and wrote indignantly to Trutch in Victoria, reminding him of his prior claim and questioning the sincerity of the municipality’s proposal.

“I see now that the Municipal Council of Surrey have asked the Government to grant them 25 acres of this place for a graveyard and they want the very spot where I have done my work — Therefore I object to their application — I will give them all the land they want for a graveyard including the place where there are a few graves now but the corner they ask for they cannot have. I am not going to surrender my work in this way.”

“The Council have applied for the land from personal motives — they could just as well apply for the land 30 rods west of the corner as to run the line to the corner but they know that I want to build at  the corner that is why they ask for it there. The graves are 40 rods west of the corner.”

In a second letter to Ottawa, Yeomans refers to the Thrift’s adjusted request for “10 acres,” and refutes his facts as to the seven graves.

“It is not true that the neighbours asked the British Columbia govt for the land for a graveyard, the neighbours never expected to make it a permanent graveyard.”

Iron Post Script

In January 1886, Richard Stephen Yeomans presented to council the resolution of a public meeting of Surrey residents that the municipality acquire a piece of land from the government of Canada “to be used as an international park, . . . at or near the Iron Post Semiahmoo Bay.” Semiahmoo Bay - Iron Post

This issue of the two land grants to Surrey was kicked about, from BC to Ottawa and back, for a few years,   and  in the latest correspondence at hand, it is evident that in 1887 the matter was still unresolved.  With Trutch having left the scene,  the Deputy to the Minister of the Interior at Ottawa wrote to HB Aiken, the new Agent of Dominion Lands in New Westminster,  inquiring of him:

“I should be glad to know, in order that I may be enabled to bring the matter to the attention of the Minister intelligibly, what your views are in regard to the whole question involved in the petitions of the Municipality and the protest of Mr. Yeomans in that behalf.”

What became of the Yeomans’ resolution for an international park at the boundary line is the Peace Arch Park. What became of the municipality’s resolution for a graveyard at Yeomans’ homestead and what became of those there interred, we leave to local interests to determine.

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