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Johnnie Wise & The Blue Mouse Hotel

June 13, 2013

Wise's gas station Pacific HighwayJohnnie Wise’s gas station on the Bridge Road, shown here in 1936 when the Pattullo Bridge was under construction, was reported to be the first gas station south of the Fraser.  Wise was better known for his Hotel and stables which he opened in 1904, coincident with the opening of the first Fraser River Bridge, and which would disappear not long after this photo was shot from an upper storey.

Wise's Hotel and Gas Station on Bridge Road 1904-1936 -VPL

The Surrey Gazette of July 1, 1936 reported:
“Another old landmark is giving way to progress. J.W. Wise’s home, the old Clarendon Hotel, is being demolished on account of being too close to the new bridge.The hotel was opened for business on the same day as the present bridge was opened for traffic and has a very interesting history.”


Wise family upbringingJW Wise photo - Columbian

John William Wise, in photo at right in his elder years,  was born in 1874 at New Westminster. His father, Irish-born James Wise, came to the Colony with his brother Joseph Wise in 1859, seeking gold before settling in New Westminster. Here James Wise was engaged in various business pursuits, including a partnership with Alexander Ewen in the first cannery in the city, located near the foot of 10th Street.  He was best known for running a general merchandise store on Front Street and was later a fisheries overseer. 1888 06 13 stage line - Jos Wise - Whatcom - advert

James’ brother Joseph Wise ran a livery stable, with horses for hire, and hacks meeting every steamer. In 1888 he went into business with the Brown Brothers, running a scheduled stage from New Westminster via Brownsville to  Blaine, WA with connections through to Whatcom, in competition with the stage line of DS Miller on the same route.


James Wise and Joseph M Wise - adverts in ChittendenAs a youth, Johnnie Wise learned Chinook and the ways of the river, while gaining experience working in the businesses operated by his father and uncle, including driving the stage coaches, express wagons and hacks. He tended horses and worked some time on the Fraser in fishing, before getting into the hotel and stable business on the south shore of the river.

Johnnie Wise’s history on this side of the river spans the era of the K de K ferry, the ferry Surrey, the coming of the railroad, the first Fraser River bridge crossing, and the Pattullo Bridge.  In his time Wise went from driving a stage coach to Blaine to cruising  the concrete highway in an automobile.

Wise accommodation for travellers

Johnnie Wise is said to have started in business at Brownsville in 1898,  and by 1899 was running a hotel  with his spouse, Pennsylvania-born Armina Galloway.  By January 1902 they were preparing to move to a larger facility.

Boon to the Travelling Public – Extensive Improvements Being Made to Surrey Hotel at South Westminster-
The sound of blasting across the river yesterday is explained.  In moving one of the buildings, Contractor J A Calbick found it necessary to blow out several fine stumps which for years have decorated the property opposite the present site of the Surrey Hotel.
This hotel business, not the building, will shortly be moved across the road. The proprietor, Mr. John Wise, has just acquired the large building which for years has stood nearly opposite, and which is now being moved to a more convenient site, as near the ferry wharf as could be obtained.
The new hotel will be an improvement on the present one in every way. The building itself is a good one, and considerably larger. Upstairs there will be twelve bedrooms and a parlor, downstairs a large dining room, bar, etc., and a comfortable waiting room for the benefit of travellers awaiting the arrival of the ferry.
Telephone connection with the city will be installed, and generally the house will be up-to-date.
But what is also of great importance to the travelling public will be the ample and convenient accommodation for horses and vehicles. A stable 35×25 will be built, so that it can be entered  directly from the road, and a lean-to of the same dimensions will give dry housing for carriages, etc. In wet weather this will be particularly appreciated.
In fact, Mr Wise is bent upon making his house as comfortable and attractive to those driving to or from town as it is possible to have it.”
Columbian Jan 22, 1902.

Bridge Road Property

On September 16, 1903 Johnnie Wise wrote to John McKenzie, the Agent for Dominion Lands at New Westminster, making application for a small piece of land in Lot 1, the Government Reserve, near the approach to the Fraser River Bridge, then under construction.  View on Google Map of Lot 1, with additional information.


“Dear Sir:– I beg to herewith apply to purchase that certain piece or parcel of land being situate at Brownsville, New Westminster District, and lying between Lot 2 and the south approach of the Fraser River bridge. I enclose rough sketch of same. It is my intention immediately after purchase to erect an hotel and stables upon the premises. Kindly notify me when a tender will be required. Yours truly, John W Wise.” 1903-09-16 JW Wise application map
JW Wise -  Bridge  approaches map Limited by section lines and rights-of-way, the lot would amount to barely one and a half acres, pie-shaped. Its location was prime.
Wise did not wait for his purchase to go through, and by the time the bridge opened in 1904, he had a commodious hotel on the site with large detached stables.
In 1907, Mr McKenzie valued the land at $40 an acre, noting: “It is low land and Mr. Wise had to ditch and dyke &c.”

It would take seven years before Wise was issued a patent for this parcel.
“NW Portion 1.10 acs. Sale. John W. Wise Patd 1st Apr. 1911”

Fraser River Junction from above

Wise’s hotel and stables,  visible in this 1920’s air photo, stood on the Bridge Road at Pacific Highway.  Three railroads converge at Fraser River junction.

Bridge Road & railway approaches to New Westminster Bridge


The Blue Mouse Hotel, by any other name

The name of  the hotel run by Johnnie Wise is variously given as the Clarington Hotel, Clarendon Hotel and Blue Mouse Hotel.
From the time the Fraser River Bridge opened in 1904, Wise’s hotel was located near the bridge on the Bridge Road,  for most of its length made of planks,  that connected the bridge with the Yale Road to the west.  The Bridge Road was gravelled in 1910.
The hotel itself became an instant landmark. All traffic over Fraser River by train, vehicle or on foot, passed the premises
In connection with the Hotel was a large stables. Wise also grazed horses and cattle on adjacent property.  He was well known in racing circles.

British Columbia Automobile Touring Guide, 1913

1913 - Stop at the Blue MouseAt least at some point, Wise must have leased out the Hotel to an R. M. Burns, who is listed as Proprietor in the BCAA Touring Guide for 1913.
Driving directions to Cloverdale via Scott road  are given using the bridge as a landmark.
“Cross the bridge, turn to your left, following the road (planked) leading from the bridge, passing the Blue Mouse Hotel on the right, where lunch, dinner or refreshments may be obtained, also passing new Yale road on the left.”

Notorious Mouse

Wise’s hotel was a familiar place, and over the years sometimes a place of notoriety.
In October 1918 the Blue Mouse was raided by the police and the bartender arrested.

“The Clarington Hotel in South Westminster, popularly known as the Blue Mouse, was raided yesterday afternoon by the Surrey police.  William Miller, the bartender, was arrested on a charge of selling liquor and some thirty bottles, alleged to contain whisky, seized.”
Keeping with the confusion over names, another newspaper reported,
“The Surrey police raided the Blue Mouse (Clarendon) hotel at South Westminster Tuesday and found a quantity of liquor on the premises. W.C. Miller was arraigned on Wednesday. . .”

At a later date, Wise is reported to have been the first south of the river to hold a Provincial Government Liquor Vending License.
He also opened the first gas station on the south side, believed to be in 1922.
In the 1927 directory his listing reads:

“Wise, John W comr So Westr Dyk Dist vendor BC Liq Bd and gas stn. ”
Wise was a staunch promoter of land reclamation and served the South Westminster Dyking District.
He was elected to the Surrey Municipal Council in 1919 and 1920.
Johnnie Wise retired in 1938. His wife Armina Wise, whose needlework won many firsts at the Provincial Exhibition, died in 1948.  Her brother Robert Galloway a sometime employee of the hotel and stables, was also employed by the Leckie Tannery.
Johnnie Wise ended his days in residence at Kensington House in Whalley and died in 1961.

Mr John Wise who sold his hotel and two acres of land at South Westminster to Mr R M Burns, received $35, 000 for the property. Mr Burns is an experienced hotel man, having come here from South Fort George, where he had an hotel. Mr Wise has had the South Westminster hotel since 1896.  He has not yet decided what we will do in the future.”  (BCWeekly March 5, 1912)
This old reference clarifies the transfer of proprietorship to RM Burns.  This was apparently Robert Michael Burns, formerly of the Northern Hotel at South Fort George.  How long Burns kept the Hotel is unclear. In later directories Johnnie Wise was living at 11147 Bridge Road, — the same property as the Hotel — and remained there into the mid 1950’s.  Wise appears to have enjoyed his later years racing his own Brownsville horses at tracks from Vancouver to California.

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