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John Robson–Rifle Range–Scott Rd Station

March 29, 2014

John Robson standing

With a right to be pleased with himself, jaunty John Robson was Laird of Section 17 at Brownsville, wherein now stands Scott Road Station on the Skytrain line.

For most of the time since it was first surveyed, Section 17 has been best known as a place for target practice (rifle range),  or a place to park  (drive-in movie theater, park & ride.) It was once owned by a Premier of  British Columbia..

It was Robson’s second attempt at becoming a landowner over here. He had first landed on this side of the river in 1860 and chopped down some trees in anticipation of claiming a piece of land for himself.

A Canadian, Robson was thwarted by the niceties of English propriety and Colonial rules, losing out to Ebenezer Brown. If not a landowner, then a newspaper editor, life has its turns, and if this place is not called Robsonville, there is a Robson Street in Vancouver.1878 map of section 17 b5n r2w - John Robson - 179 acres

John Robson made his first payment on the purchase of Section 17, B5N R2W, in September 1863.
The irregular-shaped parcel of surveyed land amounted to 179 acres —  a normal section being 160 acres under Trutch’s survey of 1859. The lot lay adjacent to Lot 1 and Lot 2  of Group 2, which determined the odd shape under Colonel Moody’s new survey.
After his initial installment Robson did not make another payment until November, 1877 and was issued a crown grant in 1878.

1891  –  Subdivision Plan with a place for Brownsville School

1891 Orford subdivision of section 17Section 17 passed into the hands of Peter Orford, who in 1891 had plans to subdivide the section into small holdings. This was at the time of the arrival of the New Westminster Southern Railway and the situation of this section was advantageous.  Liverpool townsite was laid out on the Fraser River a half mile to the north and Brown’s Landing lay a half mile west.
When the Brownsville School District was organized in 1891, Orford offered a lot in Section 17 on the Yale road which was selected as the best location for the school.

Some lots near to the Old Yale road were sold. However,  the vision of a layout of streets and lots never did pan out.


1905 – A Plan for ‘market garden’ lots

1905 Surrey proposed subdiv - market garden lotsSubdivision plans for Section 17 were prepared again in 1905 for the municipality of Surrey, displaying a layout of “market garden” lots. The plan included adjacent property in Section 16 to the east and Lot 1 (Section 18) to the west.

1905 – A Rifle Range

1905 Dominion Rifle Range, 1905In 1905 the Department of Militia, which  had been looking for a site suitable for a rifle range, made formal application in Ottawa for Section 17.
Accordingly,  by Order in Council of May 15, 1905 the Dominion government issued an order to acquire the bulk of Section 17 for purposes of a rifle range.
An additional 20 acres in Section 16 — a safety zone beyond the butts — were also acquired from lot holders Pearson and Anderson.

Minutes of Order in Council

“On Memorandum dated 1st May, 1905, from the Minister of Militia and defence, recommending that he be empowered to expropriate or to acquire as the result of negotiations, for the purposes of a site for a rifle range at New Westminster, the land in the District of New Westminster and Province of British Columbia, shown within red lines on the blue print plan herewith,
The Committee submit the same for approval.
(signed) Wilfrid Laurier
Approved May 15. 1905.”

1912 Plan of Sections of Dominion Land - Rifle Range - contoursThe plan at right, prepared in 1912, depicts the extent of the Rifle Range, line-of-fire, hillside contours, and the location of the school.






Rifle Range for Training and Sport

Besides affording training and practice to those active in the Militia, the range drew large numbers of spectators to competitions held there over the years.
From a press report datelined New Westminster, May 12, 1908:

“The riflemen of the city are taking unusual interest in the sport of range shooting this year and an enthusiastic meeting of the local militia companies was held last night when an elaborate programme was laid out.
The new rifle range at South Westminster is now in good shape, and the riflemen here have decided to hold independent shoots in future and not to shoot in company with the Vancouver militiamen.
The local companies will enter two teams in the Canadian Military Rifle League matches for this year, and arrangements were also made for the holding of weekly shoots, and special trophies will be given.
The new men will be particularly encouraged to become proficient shots and special prizes will be offered to them, while the older members will be on hand to give them instructions and all rifles and ammunition will be supplied.”

Ten years later, numerous prizes were being put up by local businesses for a rifle match involving members of the 104th Regiment on Thanksgiving weekend, 1918.

“Final arrangements were completed at a meeting of the executive of the 104th Regiment Rifle Association for their Thanksgiving Day shoot at the Brownsville ranges on Monday.
Shooting will commence punctually at eleven o’clock. Consequently all participating should be at the range by 10:45.
Major Bray has consented to be range officer for the day, which guarantees everything going off strictly to programme.”

Among those donating prizes were H. Morey & Co., TJ Trapp & CoKelly Douglas & Co, and Johnston’s Big Shoe House.

In range of local authorities

Interest in the rifle range subsided in the years following the First World War, although the tax-man was taking notice.
The Dominion Rifle Range fell within the boundaries of a diking scheme instituted to protect the Brownsville flats from flooding.  All properties were expected to benefit by the project and all expected to pay a fair share.
In 1923 J O’Hara of the South Westminster Dyking District sought to obtain a “proper proportion of the cost” paid for by the Militia.
It appears the range had by this time fallen into disuse by the militia, but inquiries were being made about the property.
“Upon completion of the South Westminster dyking scheme this land which has been a low lying swamp, will be considerably enhanced in value.”
The municipality also took aim at the Dominion agency, seeking to extract some revenue from the property.
It was perhaps a move to pressure the federal government into action on a new purpose for this 143 acres of land.

Flight plans

In 1929 Surrey, after making an attempt to purchase the property and finding the price too high,  suggested the old rifle range be used as an airport, a proposal that received serious consideration including endorsement by the Associated Boards of Trade of the Fraser Valley.  Plans got as far as an inspection of the site by RCAF Vancouver commanding officer Squadron Leader EL McLeod.

The disposal of the old rifle range

1930 rifle range auction Dominion Lands advertIn 1930 Dominion lands at South Westminster including the Rifle Range were put up for sale at a public auction in three parcels.

Parcel One was the remaining portion of the Government Reserve in former Lot 1, 11.7 acres. The upset price was set at $125.00 an acre.

Parcel Two was a portion of the western part of Section 17, 15.9 acres, also asking a minimum of $125.00.

Parcel Three comprised the bulk of Section 17 and a part of Section 16, 134.2 acres in total, with an upset price of just $20.00 an acre.

Following on previous controversy over land sales in the area, precise instructions for advertising the sale were provided to local Dominion Land Agent, E. Walmsley.

The auction had to be advertised for two weeks in newspapers and by poster.

Parties who had expressed an interest in the property must be contacted directly.

These included the municipality of Surrey and JG Robson of Timberland Lumber Co.

The auction was held April 30, 1930 in the offices of the Dominion Land Agent, in the Post Office building at New Westminster.

1930 rifle range auction Dominion Lands map

1930 Rifle Range land sold at auction


Parcel One was sold to Valley Lumber Ltd for $126.00 an acre.


No bid was received for Parcel 2.

Parcel Three was sold to D. Balcovski of Vancouver for $21.00 an acre.





Later years in Section 17

1953 - Westminster Drive-In under constructionThe Westminster Drive-In theatre opened in September 1953 and was  for many years a landmark home of the late night double bill.

Westminster Drive-in under construction from larger print at New Westminster Archives.

The Dutchman’s Restaurant was located at the northeast corner of Section 17.

Nowadays the most prominent feature of John Robson’s 1863 claim is the Scott Road Station and its expansive parking lot.

The properties discussed in this post, and the following post about Valley Lumber Yards, can be viewed on a Google Map with clickable features.

Related posts with property maps-

Face-off at Herring’s Point

Early Land Sales Opposite New Westminster

For John Robson’s early disputed land claim see first post:

Not the Country for Serfdom: Land Settlement and Roadmaking Opposite the City of New Westminster, 1858 – 1879.

Below, a creek in Section 17.

Section 17 creek

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