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October 14, 2013

Annacis Island - Fraser River‘Hitherto a paradise for ducks and anti-social truck gardeners" was how McLean’s writer Charles Markham described Annacis Island before industrialization.  (McLean’s photo above.)

There was a time, in fact, when that island proved not worth any money at all.

On October 14, 1888 it was reported that New Westminster auctioneer TJ Trapp failed to hammer down a bid for Annacis Island at the upset price of just $12.50 an acre.

That is not to say none valued the land, just to say none that had the money to buy it, valued the land.

Such was the case in the great land sale of September 30, 1873, when 37,000 acres were put up for auction by the province of British Columbia.

Map of Part of New Westminster District, 1873No effort was spared in advertising the sale. The government even went to the expense of having 2,500 maps printed up by Britton & Rey in San Francisco.  Every subscriber to the Daily Standard newspaper received a free copy. A catalogue was produced with descriptions of the property.  A Seattle newspaper gave notice of the event.


In the auction room at Victoria most lots were announced to the sound of coughing and shuffling feet.  Property that did sell was bought up by speculators with an eye to letting it sit idle while they awaited the main chance at profit-taking.

Even so, they missed out picking up the site of Surrey City Centre for one dollar an acre. Many square miles of land located at Brownsville attracted not one bid.

Newspapers deemed the land sell-off a dismal failure of government policy. There were many who wanted land — would settle on it, farm it and prove its worth — but they could not afford the price.

In time the Brownsville flats became farmland. The poorer quality land on the hill  was settled by farmers — mainly raising poultry –  then broken into building lots and populated by small bungalows,  which flourished for a few decades before transit speculation throttled the life out of that community.

There may come a time when the value of Annacis Island as a haven for ducks and truck gardeners exceeds its worth as an industrial park and a time when the Brownsville flats return to dairying, orchards and vegetable gardens.

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