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By Maple Tree, Post & Parcel–WJ Brewer and his father Sampson Brewer

July 29, 2014

WJ Brewer in Maple Tree Gastown photo by DevineWilliam John Brewer, the man who named Surrey BC, was, "by a happy circumstance," according to Vancouver historian Noel Robinson,
"in the historic Maple Tree picture, which was taken by Harry T Devine shortly before the Great Fire, and is seen there talking to the late George Byrnes, at that time a well-known Victoria auctioneer."

The tall bearded man in the foreground has been identified as Byrnes, and so WJ Brewer — who identified himself in the picture – must be the  man standing with his back to the camera.
Brewer’s own Vancouver premises were located just a block south, at the corner of Carrall and Cordova.

Only God can make a tree -Maple Tree Square plaqueA gathering of pioneers at the maple tree — which stood outside of John Deighton’s saloon at the corner of Water street and Carrall — is also commemorated on a plaque placed there in 1931, and now attached to the statue of Gassy Jack.

After Gassy Jack, the next to build at Granville Townsite had been Ebenezer Brown, whose saloon was just two doors west on Water Street.  The Vancouver pioneers memorialized by the photo are late-comers.

The Historical Marker Database has a comprehensive page titled “The Old Maple.”  The Vancouver Archives have the original maple tree photo by HT Devine.   Below, the same scene as per Google Street View.

 Maple Tree Square - GoogleStreetView - from Water Street looking south on Carrall Street

Vancouver after the fire

The street scene depicted in the photo and plaque was destroyed shortly thereafter by the great Vancouver fire of June 13, 1886,  in which Brewer’s own wood frame building at the southeast corner of Carrall Street and Cordova Street was burned to the ground.

 Past Tense blog features a photo of Brewer’s still smoldering corner lot, the morning  after the fire.

Brewer erected a new brick building on his lot at 24 East Cordova Street, occupied for many years by The Vancouver Warehouses Ltd.,  then the Crown Paint Company with Brown’s Reliable Messenger Service at rear, and lastly by Pumps & Power Ltd.  (24 E Cordova disappears as an address after 1941, however Pumps & Power continues at 40 East Cordova.)

From Semiahmoo Road to Cordova Street and Victoria Drive

Since establishing his homestead on the Serpentine River at Mud Bay in 1870,  William Brewer had worked on construction of the Semiahmoo Wagon Road which ran from the Fraser River at  Brownsville to the United States border. 
In 1884 Brewer had turned his attention toward Burrard Inlet, purchasing lots at Granville townsite and a large acreage off the False Creek road, south of Trout Lake.
The former municipal clerk in Surrey BC ran for alderman in the first election in the new city of Vancouver in 1886 and was defeated. He was elected in 1889.
Continuing  to develop property downtown, Brewer’s interest was increasing diverted to his homestead on Victoria Road, just north of the Westminster-Vancouver Road (KIngsway).
In 1892 Brewer was instrumental in organizing the outlying districts, which included North Arm and Point Grey, into the new municipality of South Vancouver, for which he served the first term as Reeve.  Brewer was appointed Justice of the Peace in 1893 and served until resigning in 1900.

By the parcel

WJ Brewer’s property on Victoria Road extended from  Stainsbury Avenue down to 28th Avenue.  He first built a barn there and then a house.  As the district filled in with settlement, Brewer made a good income selling off parcels of land  from his holdings outside his farm.
In 1911 during the great Lower Mainland real estate boom, Brewer was able to fetch a high price.
His agents, Goddard & Son reported:

"Some 25 years ago our client Mr WJ Brewer bought acreage at $30 per acre, which we have since sold in lots at $3,000 to $4,000 per acre."

South of the Fraser, the Port Mann townsite excitement also brought fantastic prices at this time.  Goddard & Son and other realtors marketed everything from Brownsville to Barnston Island as Port Mann properties:

"In Port Mann, 10 acres were sold for the sum of $10,500, the locality being on the corner of Yale and Hjorth roads [104 Ave]."

The Brownsville school site, one acre,  was valued at just $100 in 1908.

At Cedar Cottage, William Brewer’s  house at 4140 Victoria Road  was described as a "mansion-like," English country house,  three stories tall, with open fireplaces in each room. His yard was developed into a fine garden of fruit trees and flowers and vegetables.   A section of the property opposite his house was dedicated as Brewer Park (often called Brewers Park) sometime before 1921. 

Last of the Mail Coach Drivers

Falmouth - last mail coachIn the living room of William J Brewer’s Victoria Drive house, above the mantle of the great fireplace, hung a painting of an old-country stage coach and horses, which told something of his early life.
WJ Brewer’s father, Sampson Brewer,  born in 1809 at St Columb Major, was in his early days an inn-keeper (Ship & Castle, Falmouth) and coachman on the turnpikes of Cornwall, often driving under contract to the Post Office.
Before the coming of the railways the mail coaches, with an armed guard standing at the rear, drove at 10 miles per hour, bringing the North American mails from Plymouth down to London.  The guard blew a long horn to signal the approach of the Mail Coach and declare its right-of-way.
Sampson Brewer grave markerAccording to his own account, Sampson Brewer drove the last coach on the run between Plymouth and Falmouth.
(While unable to confirm this claim by actual record, the story of Sampson Brewer was published world-wide and we have not seen it contradicted.)
WJ Brewer told Noel Robinson he had accompanied his father on this last trip, and at every stop along the way the  coach  was greeted with great ceremony.
Sampson Brewer came out to live with his son at Cedar Cottage in 1890 and died there in January 13, 1903 at the age of 93. 
A daughter, Mary (May) Elizabeth Flynn also lived nearby. (Edward Paul Flynn, 4575 Victoria road.)
Sampson Brewer, born 1809-06-09, died 1903-01-13.

Step lively

Sampson Brewer’s death was widely reported in the old country, with one report claiming the old guy  had “died at his son’s reel dance.”
WJ Brewer William Brewer was known for his fiddle-playing and also his singing ability, able to serve up many an old-country popular song. 

Brewer told Noel Robinson that when his house at Vancouver burned in the great fire of June 1886, all that was left of his possessions was his silk top hat and his fiddle — although check out the day-after photo above. In repose,  Will Brewer drew on  a "very long pipe."


Described as none too tall in stature, Brewer was strong and fit,  spry and hale into old age.
William John Brewer, born Truro, Cornwall 1841-03-08, died Vancouver BC 1931-06-24.

Notes & References

The main source for this post is an article by Noel Robinson, “William J Brewer – First Reeve of South Vancouver and One of the Earliest Vancouver Aldermen -  Pioneer Farmer Here.” Art Notes.  (Vancouver Public Library Special Collections)

Art Notes also published some poems by Alice Brewer, WJ Brewer’s second wife and one of Canada’s Early Women Writers.

More about WJ Brewer and his near loss of life on Fraser River at Brownsville is found in the earlier post  WJ Brewer – Very Near Another City

About Sampson Brewer and English stage coaches and mail coaches:

“Relic of old coaching days.”

“The last of the mail coach drivers”

“What became of the coachmen.”

Mail Coaches – British Postal Museum & Archive

On Brewer’s farm neighborhood in South Vancouver see The Days Before Yesterday at Cedar Cottage.

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