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Adrift in the ice on Fraser River

February 6, 2014

ice in Fraser River above bridge

Where once Sam Herring cut blocks of ice to sell in the heat of July, a building drifts down toward the New Westminster Bridge.

In pioneer times attempting to cross the river from Brownsville to the city was a risky venture, with many perishing in fragile canoes or in making the crossing on foot over treacherous slabs of ice.

Even during the years of the K de K, the public ferry was often laid up during times of freeze up or heavy ice floes.

The new ferry Surrey, built by the city of New Westminster for service in 1891,  was designed as an effective ice-breaker, iron-clad and equipped with powerful engines.

"The great ice crusher is 100 feet long by about 40 feet wide, very stoutly built of picked timber with beams set 18 inches apart from centre to centre.
The boat will draw, when heavily loaded, about 18 inches of water and will be protected from the pressure of ice by an iron armour above and below the water line…
The boat is so strongly built and thoroughly braced that it will stand an immense strain without injury."

Not just the ferry boat, but the ferry landings were engineered to withstand ice.

"Like the hull of the twin built steamer, the plans for this work are made with a view to durability and imperviousness to the ravages of floating ice rather than symmetry of outline or beauty of form."

"The piles for the guides are to be tied together with planks and filled in with rock, and will have a strong ice breaking protection which will be set at an angle of 45 degrees to the line of the wharf, downstream."

The ice was not just an inconvenience to navigation:  in 1890 the bridge between Lulu Island and Sea Island "collapsed under pressure of ice coming down the Fraser river." The bridge was less than six months old.

Ferry Surrey departing New Westminster

Ferry steamer Surrey departing New Westminster.

Photos from New Westminster Archives.

1862 ice for sale by Sam Herring

Mining the frozen river, Sam Herring cut blocks of  ice from the Fraser River in winter and sold it in the summer.

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