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Surrey Arrested — Robert Kennedy v City

October 3, 2013

This is an account of the owners of the SS Surrey and one man’s victory in collecting a debt from the city.  It involves some further adventures of the old Fraser River ferryboat.

The Surrey saves JG Scott

An hour before noon on the 6th of June 1901, the ferry steamer Surrey‘s schedule was interrupted when a call for assistance came in from Lulu Island where the shingle mill of the Pacific Coast Lumber Company was going up in flames. 
The SS Surrey dropped downriver to the east end of the island to direct streams of water on the blaze. 

Williams map of New Westminster City 1892The map of New Westminster  from Williams BC Directory for 1892, shows the ferry wharf at New Westminster and a mill site on Lulu Island below the city. A high resolution version can be downloaded from the City of Vancouver Archives.

The Surrey had been refitted after the great fire of 1898,  upgrading her fire-fighting capacity, and she was kept on standby when not running.

"The steamer Surrey has been furnished with a modern deck turret, capable of throwing about five tons of water, 250 to 300 feet, in a 2 1/8 stream, which can be brought into service in a few seconds, and manipulated with precision by one man. . .
steam is always kept up during the night and day, the crew of the boat are on the Fire Department, and under the same drill and discipline so far as fire fighting is concerned, thus adding four more efficient men to out Department, without extra cost to the city." -Columbian

The manager and major shareholder in the mill was Mayor JG Scott of New Westminster.  Scott was on the scene and while attempting to save some machinery nearly lost his life — his clothes were burnt off his back and his hair and faced scorched. 

With the strong coordination of firefighters on shore and the Surrey throwing streams of water from the river, the mill office was saved and the stockpiles of lumber, but the mill itself was nearly a total loss.

James George Scott and the Pacific Coast Lumber Company

JG Scptt - Mayor -  New WestminsterJG Scott, born in Stratford, Ontario December 23, 1860,  came west  to New Westminster and founded the Pacific Coast Lumber Company in 1891.  By 1898 Scott was elected an Alderman in the city and in December 1899 elected Mayor for the year 1900, triumphing over candidates WH Keary and AM Herring.  The following year he was elected again, this time by popular acclamation.

Pacific Coast Lumber Co and The Arena - Coal Harbour - 1925 - Vancouver Archives In 1902 Scott removed to Vancouver where he had built a new mill in Coal Harbour, at the foot of Cardero Street.    It was a huge enterprise consisting of a sawmill and shingle mill, side by side.  From the western end of the CPR railway terminus, a short line was extended to serve the mill.  A large pier jutted out into Coal Harbour to load sea-going vessels, and a loading dock serviced wagon traffic.  The mill dominated the waterfront on the approach to Stanley Park, in an area that had once been natural mud-flats.

The Pacific Coast Lumber Company in Vancouver BC is featured in an article in The Canada Lumberman, 1903.

Ferry connections

SS Surrey - Lonsdale - North Vancouver -VPLJG Scott established himself in Vancouver business circles and was a shareholder and director of the North Vancouver Ferry and Power Company, which won a bid to operate the ferry service between downtown Vancouver and the "ambitious city" on the north shore.

In 1904, when a bridge was completed between New Westminster and Brownsville, the ferry Surrey was deemed redundant, and she was purchased in February 1905 by the North Vancouver Ferry & Power Company to augment service on Burrard Inlet.

North Vancouver Ferry Schedule 1905The Surrey plied between the foot of Carrall street in Gastown, and the Lonsdale Gardens, a recreational estate established by the company. At the foot of St. Patrick street, the company erected a 360-foot long pier and landing dock.

Whereas the ferry Surrey on the Fraser River was a great success, serving as passenger boat and freighter, fire-boat and ice-breaker, and even turning a healthy profit in her latter years — a rarity for transit services —  she was not so well-suited for the Burrard Inlet crossings. 

When the St George, a more modern double-ended vessel and a virtual copy of  the Surrey, was out of service, the Surrey could not maintain the same schedule.

Company president A. St. George Hamersley, questioned in October 1906, said that the Surrey was "too slow, and did not think it advisable to put her on."  Not for this reason only, but for a perceived lack of interest in the ferry company investing and improving service, the ferry charter would revert to public control.

JG Scott saves the Surrey

It was in his capacity as a director of the North Vancouver Ferry and Power Company, that Scott was called upon one day in 1905 to save the old boat from the hands of the Sheriff.

The history of the seizure of the Surrey goes back to the Fraser River freshet in the year 1903.   In the third week of June that year, with the river running high, the landing place at South Westminster was in danger of being swept away by rushing water.  A crew from the city came over and dismantled the buildings on the dock and the decking, leaving only the pilings and the bridge to shore, to which they tied a scow to be used as a temporary landing pontoon.

South Westminster Ferry Landing

This deconstruction of the passenger facilities (shown above)  resulted in the ferry having to approach the landing from downstream and closer to shore.

Unfortunately for the ferry, a local businessman, Robert Kennedy, had a boom of shingle bolts tied to piles along the riverbank on the downstream side of the ferry landing.

(This is the shore at present day Tannery Park.)

Robert Kennedy, son of James Kennedy, was born at New Westminster in 1861, the same year John Robson established the British Columbian newspaper.  In 1888 the Kennedy brothers acquired the Columbian from Robson and ran it until 1900 when they engaged in other businesses and property development at present day Kennedy Heights.

On her first run,  in getting into a landing position, the captain of the Surrey cut one of the ropes securing the boom of shingles.  On her return trip the boat rammed the boom and set it free to drift away downriver.
Naturally, Kennedy was upset and tried to recover damages from the boat’s owner, the City of New Westminster.  The city was unsympathetic and refused to pay, but the matter remained open,  and in  August 1905 Kennedy succeeded in getting a court order to restrain the Surrey to satisfy his claim for 450 dollars.
So it was that the Burrard Inlet ferry Surrey was seized and taken into the hands of the Sheriff in Vancouver.

The Province headline read: “BIG FERRYBOAT UNDER ARREST”

It was JG Scott, representing the company that had bought the Surrey in good faith from the city, who was served the papers authorizing the seizure. He hurried over from Vancouver to meet with New Westminster officials. He warned them the city would be held liable for any losses to his company while the Surrey was tied up in litigation.
In lieu of the Surrey being held, the city put up a cheque for the $450, in trust, awaiting the outcome of legal action.
However the mayor stated it was the intention of the city to fight the case "to the bitter end.’

Admiralty Court

The case of Kennedy v ‘The Surrey,’ tried in Admiralty Court,  took into consideration eyewitness versions of events and a number of legal issues including the right to use the foreshore as a temporary mooring for a boom, and whether the boat was handled with proper caution in entering and leaving its landing place.
Two Brownsville residents, FW Smith and JE Murphy, testified they thought the action of the ferry captain was either reckless or deliberate.

"The ferry bore down on the boom, striking and breaking the pile to which it was moored, and turning the bolts adrift."

In defence, the purser of the boat, John Powers, testified the ferry struck neither the boom nor the piling.
The city further argued that Kennedy had no right to moor a boom there and that it was a hindrance to navigation.
However, even the captain allowed that it should have been possible to get in and out with damaging the boom, and the judge ruled Kennedy had every right to moor his boom there.

"On a consideration of all the facts and circumstances. . .
I can only come to the conclusion that she [Surrey] was not handled with that "ordinary care, caution and maritime skill " which it is the duty of a prudent mariner to exercise. .. .
the captain’s contention in the witness box was that a skilful mariner ought to have been able to get his vessel away without resorting to such manoeuvres, and without striking the boom, and he contends he did so. But the facts are against him, and I am afraid that he was more concerned in an effort to " make a schedule trip " as the witness Card calls it, than to lose time in taking the extra precautions that the dangerous state of the locality called for."

The bitter end

The decision came down in favour of Kennedy, with the headlines trumpeting "Kennedy Wins." 
Even then, the city was still reluctant to pay his settlement, preferring a costly appeal.  With the help of Alderman FW Howay, a skilled mediator, cooler heads prevailed and Kennedy, who had received 50 dollars more in the decision than he had offered to settle for, paid back to the city that amount and the matter was dropped.  Kenney’s generosity saved the citizens of New Westminster a considerable expense, while the civic face saved was only on paper.


Robert Kennedy eventually settled on a homestead at Pitt Meadows. He died at the farm on Kennedy Road 11/11/1946.  See the Kennedy family history site Kennedytimeline.

Former New Westminster Mayor James George Scott, born in Stratford Ontario December 23, 1860, ran his mill at Coal Harbour and for many years lobbied hard in favour of British Columbia lumber manufacturers and against restrictive US tariffs. He died on a visit to Chicago, June 9, 1924.

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