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Custom House Connections

October 12, 2013

This view from opposite the city, before the recent destruction of buildings,  ranges from the Westminster Building on the left  to the Trapp Block and Holbrook House, centre, to the Hamley Block, far right.   All of these sites, and a wharf  in front,  had a connection with the Customs department of  the Colony of British Columbia, and all have seen changes this year. 

Westminster - Trapp - Holbrook - Hamley - from opposite the city

Westminster Trust Building

The Customs House occupied the lot where the Westminster Trust building now stands. Built in 1911, the block this year changed hands.  It is the only one of the four buildings still standing.

Hamley Block

Hamley Block - new building - 1899-09-09The Hamley Block was this week razed by fire.

WO Hamley, the original owner of this building erected in 1899, was the Collector of Customs, one of the Colonial administrators sent out from Great Britain in 1859.

There is an old view of the Hamley Block in the book Royal City: A Photographic History of New Westminster, 1858-1960, page 93, which can be viewed online.

Unfortunately the facade of this structure as it existed recently did not do justice to the character of the building and its heritage has been underplayed in coverage of the recent loss.   The view from the south side afforded a better glimpse of its character.

Holbrook House

The Holbrook House (blue lower storey) and the taller window-panelled Trapp Block to its left, were demolished this year to make way for redevelopment.

1864 05 05 Henry Holbrook invoice Lands & WorksHenry Holbrook, “Wharfinger, Storage And Commission Merchant,”  was one of the first businessmen to set up in New Westminster and spur its development as a port city. 

"Mr Holbrook is erecting a large wharf 90 feet front on the river, near the Custom House, so that two vessels can lay alongside.  It is called Liverpool Wharf. The Government are building a Revenue Station on the lot adjoining.”  (1859-12-17)

Holbrook’s wharf extended from the Revenue Station upriver to McKenzie Street.

In 1877 Holbrook erected a new stone building housing the “Liverpool Arms,” of  Ebenezer Brown, who opened his new premises in December.

Liverpool Arms in Holbrook Building - Ebenzer Brown "The saloon, so to speak, presents the finest and most businesslike appearance of anything of the kind in the Province. . . . “   Stocked with “wines, spirits, &c.,” and a “formidable array of pipes. . .rum, whiskey, &c.”   “Our citizens should have good cheer during the holidays."


1884 04 02 Holbrook properties for saleIn 1884 Holbrook was returning to England and advertised all his properties for sale. The listing included:

“Columbia Street. Stone Building, containing 3 stores, lately occupied by Bank of British Columbia and J. McColl; also shop on 1/2-Lot 5, Block 5, 66 feet fronting Columbia street and about 66 feet deep.

Front Street.  Hotel called Holbrook House, and Butcher’s shop, all occupied on the remaining 1/2 of Lot 5, Block 5, 66 feet fronting Front street and about 66 feet deep.”

These buildings were destroyed in the great fire of 1898, and replaced the following year by the Holbrook House, recently torn down.

Holbrook House - new building - 1899-09-09

The Trapp Block

Trapp block - river side viewThe Trapp Block was built by hardware merchant TJ Trapp, who also had a building on the opposite side of Columbia Street (see previous post).

This 7-storey building completed in 1913 stood on the site of the Revenue Station, to which the officers were moved in 1860 from Queenborough Revenue Station, which stood on the other side of the Fraser river opposite the Camp of the Royal Engineers.

The Revenue Station at New Westminster

The city of New Westminster, with all its great heritage, came of grand plans and humble beginnings.  From a Vancouver commentator, writing in 1889, comes this assessment:

"The first revenue station, about opposite Sapperton, is still standing, though very dilapidated in appearance. There never were any public buildings of importance in the city in ye olden times. A mint was established in 1864, under the control of Capt. Gossett, in the building now used as a public library. A few specimen coins were struck, but nothing more was ever done. Some of the old machinery is still there. The old customs house is next to the Masonic Temple; the old post office building was torn down to make room for the present public buildings there, the old assay office, used by the miners, next to the post office, is used as a storehouse and occupied by the Indian Agent; the old Royal Engineer’s office is used as a root house for the penitentiary, and Laidlaw’s cannery was carried on in their old buildings, burned down several years ago, in front of the penitentiary."

The New Westminster Revenue Station occupied Lot 4 in Block 5 (now the Trapp Block.)  The officers of the Revenue Service transferred from the station on the opposite bank were not happy with the move.  Captain James Kirk, in charge at the former station, left the service soon after.  CS Wylde, who had a wife and family, was not happy to be housed in the barracks, with its paper-thin walls. He moved a small house onto the lot  (likely from the station on the other side,  formerly the residence of WH Bevis).

Neither were the citizens of New Westminster pleased with its situation.   In 1861 the city council, on  a motion by Ebenezer Brown, got up a petition to the Governor to have the station moved further downriver to the site designated on the town plan as Customs House Wharf.

What prompted the petition was an incident involving  Revenue Officer Wylde and an illegally parked paddle-wheeler.   Below is the petition, giving the citizens view,  followed by the explanation of CS  Wylde,  justifying his action.

"To His Exellency Governor Douglas C.B. Governor of the Colony of British Columbia, &c, &c, &c.
The humble petition of the undersigned inhabitants of New Westminster,
‘Sheweth,’ that the Steamer Col. Moody and other up river Steamers, have been in the habit of receiving from the ‘Otter,’ and other Victoria Steamers, at the ‘Liverpool Wharf’ situated at the west end of this City, a great portion of the goods and merchandize designed for the Upper Country.
The wharf beforementioned is built on part of Lot 6 and Lot 5, Block 5.
A few days ago, the ‘Steamer Col. Moody,’ was moored as usual, bow on to the west end of the Liverpool Wharf, for the purpose of receiving her freight, but thereby her body and stern extended across a portion of Lot 4, now occupied by the ‘revenue station.’
The person in charge of the revenue station, named C.S.Wylde, conceiving for some inconceivable reason, that the Steamer was infringing on the water front opposite the Lot, complained to the Harbor Master, and through him to C. Brew J.P., who forthwith gave orders to have her removed, to the detriment and injury of the B.C.&V.I. Cos legitimate trade; and to the injury of those who rented water frontage lots, and built wharves, for the accommodation of the commerce of the City; as well as exhibiting an unfortunate evidence of the willingness of the public servants of the Colony to use their official power in retarding the private enterprise of individuals.

Your petitioners desire that Your Excellency would, in view of the above facts, direct that the Revenue Station be removed to the Block set apart on the official plan of the City for a Custom House, and the sum that the present Lot would produce if sold, would erect the necessary buildings on the special block alluded to, and besides would be the means of allowing private enterprise the opportunity of fostering and facilitating the trade of this City, instead of allowing property to be used for the public service, to the great injury of those who have been so unfortunate as to purchase property in its neighbourhood.
Your Petitioners, as in duty bound shall ever pray &c &c.
New Westminster August 1, 1861"
[list of names following]

SS Col. MoodyThe upriver Fraser River steamer, SS Colonel Moody, 1859. (Lewis & Dryden)





The Governor sent the petition to the Collector of Customs,  for WO Hamley to settle. Wylde was asked to respond and addressed his reply to W. Hamley, Esq. Collector H.M. Customs, B.C.


"New Westminster B.C.
Aug. 9th 1861
Mr MacCrea has handed to me a petition from the inhabitants of New Westminster with instructions from you to report on it.
Last Saturday week on the appearance of the Barque Isle of France at the entrance of the Harbour the steamer "Col. Moody" dropped down from her usual place in front of Liverpool Wharf to the west end of the wharf, occupying not only the whole front of the Revenue Station Lot, but also of the two lots adjoining.  (The steamer being over 150 feet in length.)
Knowing that no steamer was expected from Victoria until the following Wednesday, and that until then, there would be no freight for the ‘Col. Moody’ to embark, I applied to the officer in charge to remove her, so as to allow the boats of the Revenue Service free access to and from the River.
This he refused to do. I then went to Mr Cooper the Harbor Master and requested him to order her removal, he also refused and I then applied to Mr Brew.
Mr Brew talked the matter over with Mr Cooper and at the request of the latter he wrote a note to him, to the effect, that the steamer was an obstruction to the Revenue Service in the due performance of their duty, and requested him as Harbor Master to order her removal.  This closed the affair, and the steamer dropped down to the wharf rented by their owners.
You are very well aware that no opposition has ever been offered to any steamer lying in front of the Station, for the purpose of receiving freight, but in this instance, the ‘Col. Moody’ went there to remain four days, and it was very well known that at the expiration of that time, she would be obliged to go elsewhere to receive her cargo from the ‘Otter,’ the Barque occupying the whole of Liverpool Wharf.
Your local knowledge of New Westminster will also enable you to see that some of the signatures to the petition are there for other reason than to promote the trade of Liverpool Wharf.
I have the honor to be
Your obedient servant
Charles S Wylde
Revenue Officer

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