Skip to content

Face-off at Herring’s Point

June 4, 2013

The Paterson Land Sale Scandal

On April 12, 1905, Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier rose in the House of Commons to answer seven questions relating to a recent purchase by T. W. Paterson of 53 acres of land opposite New Westminster.

The property comprised a portion of Lot 1, Group 2 and had been occupied by the family of Tillman Herring since 1860.

Map below shows location of Lot 1 and adjacent property of Paterson.  Clicking will open  interactive  GoogleMap in new window.

[Map link updated from Classic to new Google Maps version 2015-05-12.]

Lot 1 - Paterson - Herring - map

Scottish-born Thomas Wilson Paterson came to BC in 1885 and made a small fortune as a railway contractor and land developer. In 1903 he was elected the Liberal member of the Provincial legislature for “The Islands.” His wife was the daughter of George Riley, MP (later Senator Riley), a member of Laurier’s Liberal government in Ottawa. Paterson’s brother was a prominent Liberal campaigner.

Tillman Willard Herring who resided on the property across from the Camp of the Royal Engineers since 1860,  had worked on the family farm and had delivered milk across the frozen Fraser River as a child, helped cut blocks of ice from the Fraser that they sold in summer down the coast, worked in the fishery of his father in the 1870’s and had piloted steamboats to Hope, was described by Paterson as a “squatter” and summed up by the local Dominion Land Agent thusly: “He lives on the river bank as a fisherman chiefly but in his social relations he is more like an Indian.”

In Reserve

The disposal of the old “Herring’s Ranch” property in Lot 1, at the south end of the railway bridge, had evoked a strong protest from Tillman Herring, the son of the pioneer settlers in this district Samuel and Hannah Herring, and raised suspicion in public salons that the sale had been arranged solely for the benefit of Mr TW Paterson, and at a very low price.

The Herring’s had held the property under a lease from RC Moody — Chief Commissioner of Lands & Works and also Lieutenant-Governor of BC — signed in 1861. Despite many efforts over the years to acquire title to the property after the terms of the lease expired, the government always told the Herring family it was not for sale. The property was declared an Indian Reserve, subject to Herring’s rights, in 1879, the same year Sam Herring died, and thereafter attempts were made to eject Mrs Herring.

In 1891, the New Westminster Southern Railway was completed from Herring’s Point to the United States border. Land to the east of Herring’s was boomed as the townsite of Liverpool, BC. It was officially opened on Valentines Day when Mrs Nelson, wife of Lieutenant-Governor Hugh Nelson, gave a short speech and in return was offered the  surprise gift of a choice corner lot by the developers.

Later in the year Indian Affairs abandoned the Indian Reserve and gave up the land to the Dominion government, Interior Department. This department refused to grant title or sale to Mrs Herring and continued efforts to evict her, while she steadfastly refused to move.

Hannah passed away in 1895. Of their children, only Tillman now resided at the old homestead.

Of interest to other parties was that the New Westminster Bridge had just opened in 1904 and there was now convenient access from this property at the south end of the bridge to the city across the Fraser. A new road was being surveyed along the along the south side of the section, which road would form a new route from the bridge to the uplands.

The land office received four other applications in 1903 as the bridge neared completion, for other portions of Lot 1.

Johnnie Wise applied for a site for a Hotel, the BC Electric Railway applied for a section for right-of-way and railyards, and the municipality of Surrey and the Department of the Militia duked it out for the lower corner of the Reserve amounting to 23.47 acres. The military wanted the land for an extension to the rifle range and assured access thereto. The municipality specified it needed the land for “public road, military parade ground, stock yards and other public purposes.”

All of these applications received serious attention. Yet as recently as March 1903, the Ministry responded to Herring’s offer to purchase, rather than be ejected, with the words “the land from which the Crown is seeking to evict Mrs. [sic] Herring, is not for sale, and therefore your offer to purchase it cannot be entertained.”

Open for business

The Reserve — Herring parcel — “came onto the market” upon application of Paterson, who also wrote to George Riley, MP, giving short shrift to Herring: “there is a squatter who lives on the water who believes he is going to get it.” He noted the Agent intended otherwise.

A second interested party who received consideration from the Agent was customs officer MW Minthorne, though his offer was considerably below Paterson’s.

The Agent believed Herring was deserving of something, but not much. Herring could have about 4 acres, sandwiched between the railway tracks and the river, on which he had his house. As compensation, any purchaser of the land drained and cultivated by Herring would have to pay him for his improvements

Right, sketch map of old Revenue Station location of Herring’s house, gardens and pasture north of the railway approaches, from Johnson survey. Sketch of part of Herring property - from field notes of AW Johnson DLS- 1904

McKenzie opposed any additional land going to Herring, even noting:

“the question is worth considering whether he (Mr. T. W. Herring) may be permitted to tender with the two others as to the fraction.”  [italics added]

McKenzie presented to the Department that it would be better to avoid the cost of advertising in the newspapers. That was a tack employed by his predecessor in the New Westminster land office, HBW Aikman, who in 1887 had sold the adjoining parcel — section 8 now owned by Paterson — by private arrangement, unadvertised, to hotelier JE Insley.

The Department sent posters and instructed McKenzie  to advertise with those and proceed with a public auction.

A gift for Christmas

Nearing the end of December, 1904, the Dominion Land Agent at New Westminster, John McKenzie, had still not held the public sale of Section 7 in Lot 1, nor even advertised the auction.

On Christmas Eve 1904, MW Minthorne declared his intention to withdraw from the competition with TW Paterson.

“In my application for said land I named the sum of five dollars ($5.00) per acres which I consider a fair evaluation for the property as it now stands, being totally unfit for cultivation until reclaimed by dyking.
I understand another party has put in a much higher tender for above property as it lies adjacent to some property he owns, and he wishes to include it in one dyking scheme involving the expenditure of some thousands of dollars to reclaim the land for agricultural purposes, and it is not my intention to stand in the way of its reclamation as it will be idle for years unless included in the above dyking scheme.”


This was followed up by a letter penned by TW Paterson to McKenzie, dated December 27th, declaring “the purpose for which I desire to purchase this corner is not for speculation but to include with the adjoining property which I am now clearing and dyking for general farming.” [italics added]

In expression of his sincerity, Paterson allowed that:
“I would be willing that the deed should not be issued until after the land is cleared and dyked.”

These matters came into better focus when, on the 5th of January, 1905, McKenzie wrote to the Department in Ottawa to offer his explanation as to why he had not carried out the clear instructions issued in November, to publicize and carry out a public sale of the land.

“I beg to explain that at the time of the arrival of the parcel of posters and for some days previously I was taken in illness — which compelled me to stay in bed some nine days — and when I was able to get to the office the weather was so broken with rainstorms &c that I could not move about to properly attend to the matter.””Owing to our great desire to see the land really made useful and fearing that speculators not knowing the ground might possibly bid over a person that would reclaim — and then let it lie unreclaimed I confess that Mr Patterson’s letter appealed to me as worthy of being laid before you in conjunction with Mr Minthorne’s letter of withdrawal.”There being no other application on file in the case it occurs to me that a satisfactory arrangement could be reached with Mr Patterson: and thus do away with the sale by auction.
But, of course, in submitting these letters with my comments I have only to say that were it not for the circumstances at the time, the sale would have been over by this time.” [italics added]

Given the similarity to the way the local Agency in New Westminster dealt with the sale of the adjoining Section 8 to JE Insley in 1887 – said parcel now owned by Paterson – one has to wonder if there was a departmental manual.

McKenzie has to be given his props for improving on the system. Such supportive letters as those of Minthorne and Paterson it would be useful to have on file.

Notwithstanding the ignoring of Herring’s claim, the Commissioner would brook no departure from normal procedure, attaching a terse reply to the request that the auction be dispensed with in favour of selling directly to Mr Paterson.

“No. he [McKenzie] should hold the sale in accordance with former instructions. It should be held so soon as it can be properly advertised.”

A very strange proceeding – post on a stable door.

His applications to the local Dominion Land Agent ignored, Tillman Herring made representations to the Department of the Interior. On February 23, 1905 Joseph Martin KC, acting on Herring’s behalf, wrote to the Deputy Minister in Ottawa. He cited the long residence of the family on this portion of Lot 1 and adjacent section — “a piece of land known as Herring’s Point across the Fraser River from New Westminster”  — and told of their repeated attempts to obtain title, while in the meantime other applicants had been given consideration and “one party has built a Hotel on the land.”  (That would be Johnnie Wise, getting in close to the bridge, subject of a later post.)

Commenting on the arrangements of sale, Martin continued:

“On Sunday last [Feb 19], Mr. McKenzie, the agent of the Department at New Westminster, came over and posted up a notice on the inside of a stable door, the said stable being part of the premises connected with the said Hotel. A notice has also been posted up by Mr McKenzie in the Post-office at New Westminster. This notice states that this land is to be sold to the highest bidder, subject to a reserve bid on the 4th of March next.
It seems to me this is a very strange proceeding. It would appear where a man has gone into possession of Crown lands under arrangement with the Crown and has continued in possession through himself and his family for forty-four years, that the present representative of the family should not have the lands sold over his head without his claim being adjusted by the Government. In any event Mr Herring should surely have the first right to purchase this land even if the Government are not prepared to give him the right of buying the land at a price less than the market value.
I hope you will take this matter up at once and look into the correspondence and other documents that are on file in your Department with regard to it, and I hope further that you will by telegraph immediately on receipt of this letter instruct Mr McKenzie not to proceed with this sale. . .”

Mr McKenzie,Dominion Land Agent, reported to Ottawa that the posters advertising the sale had gone out.

“The notices were issued on the 18th inst — sale to be at 2 P.M. on Saturday 4th March. These notices were put at the General Post Office here, Public Market here — at Building on road to bridge quite near the property — Real Estate offices here — Dominion Lands office — and distributed to a number of Post Offices in the District — copy also specially to Mr Minthorne [interested party] and to Mr Patterson — the latter stated that day would suit him.” [italics added] 1905-03-04 Dominion land sale poster

A peculiar aspect.

On the eve of the auction the Columbian newspaper heralded the event in a small story.

“Peculiar Land Sale
To-morrow afternoon at 2 o’clock there will be a public auction sale in the Dominion lands office, when the property of Mr. Tillman Herring, on the south bank of the river, will be disposed of at the order of the department of the interior. The sale has a peculiar aspect in that on the plan of the property in the government office some of the land is painted yellow and a note added to the effect that it is proposed to sell this to Mr. T.W. Patterson, while another patch is garbed in shamrock green, another note explaining that it is proposed to dispose of this to Mr. T. Herring.”
Lands proposed to be sold to TW Patersn 1905


The Colonist headlined the outcome: “River Ranch Acquired. TW Paterson. M.P.P. Adds to His Holdings on the Fraser,” with further details from the Columbian:

“At 2 o’clock this afternoon Dominion Lands Agent McKenzie held the sale of the fifty acres on the south side of the river opposite the city, which is claimed by Mr. Tillman Herring.”

To a crowd of five huddled in his office in the Post Office building, New Westminster, McKenzie read the notice of sale. He noted he was instructed by Ottawa that the sale was not important enough to warrant hiring an auctioneer, consequently, “he would have to take the block himself and manipulate the hammer, which in this case was the rubber end of a civil service pencil.”

“The tracing of the property, [shown above] which hung on the wall, looked somewhat changed in appearance. About the same hour yesterday it was possible to read on the bottom of the map the information that the lands marked in green were proposed to be sold to Mr T. Herring, while those painted yellow were proposed to be disposed of to Mr. T.W. Paterson, who owns some of the adjoining property. This section of the tracing, however, had been turned up in the meantime and was kept in the background by a stout brass thumb tack.”


Although Mr Paterson was the only bidder, he offered 10 cents more than the upset price of $10 per acre. Tillman Herring was not present, but told a reporter it was “his intention of lodging a protest.”

Making hay – A land scandal.

The Columbian newspaper, of a decidedly Conservative bent, smelled patronage in this sale of land to TW Paterson, a reward for services rendered, with TW Herring the fall-guy and the public interest subverted.

“A Land Scandal.
On Saturday the Laurier government made a clear gift of upwards of three thousand dollars to Mr. T. W. Paterson, a Liberal member of the provincial legislature, by selling to him at $10.10 an acre fifty acres of land at the southern terminus of the new million dollar bridge across the Fraser at this city.
The job was deliberately planned, and carried out with careful attention to detail ensuring that it should not miscarry. It appears to have been one of the series of rewards for services in this riding. . .
Nominally, this land was sold by ‘public auction.’ Really, it was a private sale, on terms arranged beforehand. The property is worth easily $75 per acre. Adjoining land less favorably situated, because not so close to the bridge, is advertised as for sale at a bargain at from $75 to $100 per acre. Yet the department put the upset price of $10 per acre on the property, and to warn the public to keep away had the map marked ‘proposed to be sold to T. W. Paterson.’ No auctioneer was engaged, the Dominion Lands Agent being instructed to conduct the sale himself, which he did in the privacy of his office upstairs in the post office building. There were a few bills put up to announce the sale, one inside a stable on the property to be sold, and another about four miles up the Yale road. If there were any others posted, we have not heard of them; certainly there were none on the public billboards in this city. . . .
Another sinister feature of the affair was that this land was and is claimed by the fisherman who resides on it, whose family have been in possession for forty years, and who asserts a definite agreement for deeding to him which the department has failed to carry out. . .” (Columbian, March 6, 1905)

A harsh course  –  44 years for naught.

Following the sale of part of the Herring Ranch to TW Paterson, Joseph Martin, acting for TW Herring, wrote again to the Department of the Interior in Ottawa.

“[Mr TW Herring] has at all times been willing to pay a reasonable price for the land but has contended that in view of the circumstances that he had been resident thereon 44 years, he ought to be allowed to purchase it at a nominal price. To reserve 4 acres, under circumstances of this kind, for a man to live upon and deprive him of the remainder of the property does not appear to be very fair. . .
Mr Herring also contends that in view of the fact that the people in that portion of the Province are well aware of his squatter’s claim to this land, neighbors who otherwise would have been glad to have give a quite high price for the land have always refused to make any offer to purchase it.
Mr Herring feels that he has a very strong grievance on account of the action of your Department in, as he alleges, backing up the attempts which have been made from time to time for many years past by Mr Patterson to get this land into his hands. Under these circumstances, I would again urge upon your Department that the harsh course which has so far been adopted be not persisted in, but that Mr Herring be allowed to purchase the property at a moderate price. . .”
(J Martin to PG Keyes, Sec., Dept. of the Interior March 16, 1905)

Question Period –  Sir Wilfrid Laurier Responds

The issue of the Paterson land scandal reached the House of Commons in April 1905, with questions submitted to the Ministry by EA Lancaster.

On Wednesday April 12 question period began at three in the afternoon, and soon after the Conservative (Opposition) Whip Mr George Taylor rose to question the government over the “Sale of Land Near New Westminster.”

Answers given by Rt. Hon. Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Prime Minister are shown here paired with the questions.

Q 1.What were the circumstances under which certain valuable lands south of and close to New Westminster recently sold to T. W. Patterson for $10.10 per acre?
A 1. The land in question was vacant Dominion land situated within the railway belt in British Columbia, and applications to purchase the same were made by M. W. Winthorne [Minthorne] and T. W. Patterson [Paterson]. The former withdrew his application. The agent of Dominion lands at New Westminster recommended that the land be put up for tender at the upset price of $10 per acre, the successful tenderer to pay also for clearing and fencing improvements. The department gave public notice by poster that the land would be sold by public auction. The land was sold accordingly on the 4th of March, 1905, to T. W. Patterson, who was the only bidder, at $10.10 per acre.

Q 2. Why was advertisement for sale or map marked that land was proposed to be sold to T. W. Patterson?
A 2. The copy of poster advertising sale on file in the department does not show that it was proposed to sell the land to T. W. Patterson.

Q 3. Did government or department know that land was worth $60 to $80 per acre?
A 3. No

Q 4. Was the government or department advised from New Westminster that land was valuable?
A 4. No; the agent of Dominion lands simply reported it was difficult to fix a valuation as dyking, ditching and pumping would be required to raise the value of the land, and considered $10 an acre a fair upset price.

Q 5. Why was sale not advertised in the newspapers?
A 5. There was so few applicants to purchase that it was not considered necessary to advertise the sale in the newspapers.

Q 6. Did the government or department instruct the Dominion Land Agent of New Westminster to hold the sale upstairs in his office instead of in a public place?
A 6. The notice of sale announced that sales would be held in the agent’s office, post office building, and notices were placed in the most public places, including the general post office, the public market, the Dominion land office, real estate offices and post offices throughout the district.

Q 7. Did the government or the department know that this land was occupied by one Herring for the past forty years?
A 7. The department knew that one Herring occupied a portion of the land (4 acres), on the river front for a considerable time, which Herring was allowed to purchase.

Petition of Pioneers

A Petition was got up by supporters of TW Herring’s cause to own the old family ranch and forwarded to the Minister in Ottawa.

“We therefore, being pioneers and knowing the long years of toil, as well as money, spent by Mr. Herring, on this property, humbly pray that you will be pleased to graciously allow Mr. Herring to purchase this his old home, at the same rate as offered to Mr. Patterson, to wit $10.10 per acres.”

Leading off with the names of Col. JT Scott, Alexander Kigour and EA Atkins,  the list of signatures include such names as Meade, Wiggins, Bonson, AM Herring, Calbick, Wintermute, Morey, Murray, Townsend, Mackie and Rogers… more than 125 old-timers in all.

My little house – final conclusions

Following the sale of the larger portion of the old Herring Ranch to TW Paterson in March 1905, Dominion Land Agent John McKenzie enlisted settlers Daniel Johnson and Thomas Biggar to submit an appraisal of Herring’s improvements — clearing, fencing and ditching  — on the land bought by Paterson, and Paterson paid the money to the Dominion Agent. Paterson griped that the improvements were over-valued, dating back to Crown Colony days.

Herring was allowed to purchase only the 4 acres of garden and orchards surrounding his house and barn on the riverbank. However, after signing a release on the Paterson section, and paying down his money on his own small portion, Herring was, after a further two years, still looking for a property title from the Government and still awaiting payment of the money paid on his improvements.

“Brownsville Surrey B.C.
June 28th 1907
. . . I have been anxiously waiting for now two years for information respecting the issue of patent on four acres agreed to be sold to me and that I have paid for . . .May I therefore Respectfully request that action in  the issue of patent be no longer deferred; but that I may be in fact, entitled to believe my little house is my own and my family’s actual possession.
Also may I further request that all monies collected by Mr John McKenzie Dom Land Agent at New Westminster from Mr Thos W Paterson, for improvements on lands formerly held by me, but recently purchased by the latter party, as per letter from Mr McKenzie to me dated 20th July 1905, may be turned over to me.”

Herring’s Patent must have been “in the mail.”  Records show the patent was issued June 11, 1905.

Brownsville Agog – And $1,800.00 per acre

Thomas Wilson Paterson never again was elected to public office. He was defeated in the Provincial Election of 1907 and in taking a run for Mayor of Victoria, his campaign was troubled by the past land dealings.

“Not a Land Grafter – Mr. Paterson spoke bitterly against those who claimed that there had been graft in connection with the purchase of a large area of land at South Westminster, by him, some years ago.. . .
‘During the whole time that I have lived in British Columbia,’ said Mr. Paterson, ‘I have never bought an acre of land for speculation, or with any other end in view than to increase its value in the legitimate way. I think that I have improved more land in this province than any other man in British Columbia..'” [Colonist, 1907-01-15]


In June 1910 a party of prominent railwaymen crossed over the bridge to south side, the Columbian headline reading— “Railway Chief Visits Surrey  . . .  Brownsville Agog.”

“Brownsville, B.C., June 20 — Mr. William MacKenzie, president of the Canadian Northern Railway, and a party of eminent railroad men motored to Surrey last week. His visit, of course, caused a flutter in the breasts of residents, fraught as it is with such important possibilities in their commercial outlook. He expressed himself freely and admiringly upon the appearance of Brownsville and stated that he saw no reason why it should not form the nucleus of a thriving city.. . .”

McKenzie, Mann & Co planned to sell townsite lots in conjunction with a railway and shipping terminus just upriver from Brownsville. The new highway from the bridge up the hill, surveyed in 1905,  was completed this summer of 1910, obviating  the winding hill on the old Yale Road.

One of the visiting party remarked to a local as to the “fertility of the low lying lands and to express a pained surprise at the paucity of the cultivated area. There are about 1000 acres of oats, but there is more than double that acreage still virgin soil. The inhabitant while deeply deploring that state of matters ascribe it chiefly to the lamentable condition of the flood boxes. . .”

In November of 1910 the Paterson property — which was bought at a price of $10.10 an acre in March 1905 — was put up for sale at $1,800.00 per acre.


1910-11-03 Auction sale of Paterson ranch advert

Cup runneth over

TW Paterson had not fared too badly. In 1909 he was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of British Columbia, completing a circle with the first Lieutenant-Governor of BC, RC Moody, who had signed the first lease on the Herring property in March 1860, and with the wife of Lieutenant-Governor Hugh Nelson, who had been surprised with the gift of a lot at “Liverpool” on the occasion of the opening of the townsite on Valentines Day, 1891, on the completion of the first railway.

In 1912 His Honour Thomas Wilson Paterson donated a cup to be the championship trophy of the new Pacific Coast Hockey Association. The league played at the highest level, with local teams stacked with Stanley Cup veterans from the East. Both the New Westminster Royals and Vancouver Millionaires played at the Arena in Vancouver as the Royals had no home rink.
Nearing the end of the first season of play, the Royals had a one-game lead over Vancouver, with two games remaining.
It was decided by the league that if the Royals won, the last game would not be played.  They wanted to make a challenge for the Stanley Cup, and in the east, with only outdoor rinks, a spell of warm weather could bring an end to the hockey season.

The advert shown at right  announces  the penultimate match as the “Final Game.”
As it happened, it was the final game, and the New Westminster Royals won the first Paterson Cup, ending the season in triumph.
1912-03-19 Vancouver Arena - BCHA  hockey final advert

Perhaps because of the advertising –surely not because of the association with Paterson—some claimed the match outcome had been decided beforehand . . .though newspaper reports all declared that New Westminster outplayed the Millionaires. Below, the cup winners:  a team of seven, including player-coach Jimmy Gardner, one substitute and trainer.

1912-03-26 photo of Royals - Pacific Coast League champions - DNA - Stuart Thompson photo

Paterson was not on hand to present the trophy, nor did the Royals get a chance for a run at the Stanley Cup — it was too late: the ice surface in Quebec City had turned to slush.

Thomas Wilson Paterson died in 1921.

The Paterson Cup.
Vancouver Archives Photo.
The Vancouver Archives have also a good poster of the 1912 champion New Westminster Royals.
For more information on the origins of west coast professional hockey, see Empire of Ice-The Rise and Fall of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association.
Paterson Cup - PCHA -  1912

Extended benefit

Tillman Herring came into some late good fortune of his own with a claim for a further 3.4 acre strip of land between the railway and the river, which lay adjacent his property on the upstream side. This fraction had been applied for in 1908 by TF Paterson (brother of TW Paterson) who wanted access to the river from the family property. Competing applications came from CW Tait for a lumber mill, and McKenzie, Mann & Co, in connection with their Port Mann railway development.
Samuel Maber, new Commissioner of BC Lands for the Dominion, made a thorough investigation in which he reviewed the entire history of the land, capping it off with a lengthy report. The plan below is just one item in Maber’s extremely thorough report, containing dozens of documents.

Plan Showing Certain Lands in Section 7

In 1915, the TW Herring claim for an additional 3.4 acres of land was approved.
Tillman Willard Herring, born 1856 in San Francisco and resident in New Westminster District since 1859, died in 1937.


Note: Documents from Samuel Maber’s Report Concerning  Claim of T.W. Herring and others relating to Lot 1, Group 2, are sourced from the BC Land Files online at the Historical Records Collection of  This is a convenient resource,  albeit difficult slogging, and may sometimes make you yearn for microfilm (horrors).  Best used in conjunction with a search at the BC Archives.  More about this later.

No comments yet


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s