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The latter days of the Brownsville hoteliers

June 13, 2013

With construction  of the New Westminster Southern Railway and subsequent to its opening in 1891, hotels proliferated at Brownsville. Connection from New Westminster to the railway terminus was by ferry. There was a steady need for overnight rooms and stables on the far side of the river.

In earlier posts can be found some information about early hotel-keepers at Brownsville, including Robert Johnson, James Punch, Michael R Barry, Robert Crossman, John and Katie George, Phil H. Smith, John Falk and John Burd. Both Crossman’s hotel, in 1891, and George’s hotel, in 1892, suffered major losses due to fire. 

(Johnnie Wise, a later hotel owner who was said to have gotten into the livery stable business at Brownsville in 1898 will be the subject of the next post.)

Katie George of Clayton Store and the Surrey Hotel

Katie George had operated a hotel on the south side of the river since 1891, first with her husband, John George. Before coming to Brownsville the George’s had run a store out on the Yale Road at a place they called Clayton after a former hometown in the States. They came to BC from Minnesota but had also lived in Wisconsin.

John George appears to have left Brownsville, but Mrs George carried on with running the hotel. Daughter Jennie George married local lad George Gairns at South Westminster in 1903.

When the ferry service was shut down following the opening of the bridge in 1904, this locale became a backwater and the hotel struggled along with only  a few lodgers,  the business surviving mainly on revenue from liquor sales.  This came to a sudden end in the summer of 1905.

From the Columbian of July 3rd-

“Death of Mrs. George – Proprietor of Surrey Hotel Succumbs to Shock Following Loss of Liquor License-

"The death occurred at the Surrey hotel, South Westminster, on Sunday of Mrs Kate E George, aged 40 years. . .

The deceased leaves a daughter, Mrs. Jennie Gairns, and a son, Bert, [LeBirt] to mourn her loss.

The late Mrs Kate E George was a native of Minnesota and came to this country about fifteen years ago. For some time she has been the proprietess of the Surrey hotel, South Westminster, which, in the days before the building of the bridge, was the centre of a good deal of transient trade.Katie George - Fraser Cemetery

A few weeks ago Mrs George applied for the renewal of the bar license of her hotel. The application was heard before the board of commissioners for the municipality of Surrey and after due consideration it was refused.

Notice to this effect was mailed to the owner of the Surrey hotel and as she read the letter, which practically ended her business chances in that locality, Mrs George was struck down with paralysis. She never really rallied after the stroke, though there were hopes entertained at first of saving her life.

On Saturday, however, she showed no marked signs of rapid sinking, but in the evening she took a turn for the worse and passed away a few hours later."

The last owner of this Surrey hotel appears to have been George W Little, who ran it strictly as a boarding house, but gave it up around 1916, as shown in the following report from the Columbian of Dec 20, 1919.

"Surrey Hotel is burned – Hostel Which Did Thriving Business in Former Days, Destroyed by Fire Last Night

South Westminster, Dec. 20 —

Fire last evening destroyed the building here known as the Surrey hotel, together with the contents, which were composed of household furniture which had been left there since the place was last used as a rooming house some three years ago, by the owner Mr. GW Little, now residing in Grandiers, Alta.

The cause of the fire is as yet not ascertained as the building was supposed to be unoccupied. . .

The hotel is an old landmark of days before the Fraser River bridge was built. The house was at one time run by a Mrs. George, who did a flourishing business when the ferry Surrey was the only means of trans-river navigation.. . "

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