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Waffle-board stage ride from Brownsville inspired Pacific Highway advocate Sam Hill

August 12, 2014

A bone-shaking trip by stage  from Brownsville BC  to Blaine WA in 1890 inspired Samuel Hill to build better roads, a project that became his life work.   Hill recalled the journey in an interview in 1930, and though he was a bit off on the date, the experience was real enough.

""About 36 years ago," said Mr. Hill, "my father-in-law, James J. Hill, and myself drove by team from Brownsville, at that time a five house town opposite New Westminster, BC, to Blaine, Washington.
There was no bridge across the Fraser River. We crossed it on the ferryboat. The distance from Brownsville to Blaine was 34 miles and much of the road was corduroy.
It was a hard all-day drive over this waffle-board road, and I was sore inside and outside when we reached Blaine. I protested so vigorously that Mr. Hill said, ‘Sammy, what do you propose to do about it?’
I said, ‘If I live long enough, I am going to see a highway built through British Columbia down our own coastline, clear to Mexico and it’s going to be a hard surfaced road.’ He smiled and said, ‘Well, if you say you are going to do it, you will, all right.""


It was  October 2, 1890 that Samuel Hill  arrived in Vancouver on board the  steamer SS Premier, a member of the entourage accompanying his father-in-law, Great Northern Railroad boss James J Hill.
Their purpose was an inspection of construction progress on the New Westminster Southern Railway.
GN officials talked up the benefits that would accrue to British Columbia upon completion of the link to Bellingham, claiming the route to the south via the Great Northern would put New York less than four days travel from Vancouver.
In the morning a special train took the party to New Westminster where they met with civic officials and the entire group went over on the Bon Accord to Liverpool, on the opposite side of the Fraser River and northern terminus of the railway.
After going down the main line as far as it was finished,  the party stopped off for a visit to the Bon Accord Cannery, to which owner DJ Munn had built a spur.


"On returning, Mr Hill and party went by stage to Blaine, leaving Brownsville at 11:30, en route for Fairhaven."


By October 6th JJ Hill was once again in Portland, confirming that he had control of a line consisting of the New Westminster Southern Railway to the boundary line, the Fairhaven & Southern from the boundary to Fairhaven, and the Seattle & Montana to connect with Seattle.  He was now locating a line from Seattle to Portland.

Young Samuel Hill, after surviving that jaw-clapping stage ride from Brownsville BC, went on to make a mission of good roads.

More than thirty years later,  in a speech before the New Westminster Council of Women, Sam Hill said that he would die happy if he had accomplished just two things: “educate people what roads mean and educate them how to build roads.”


The “railway magnates” who came up from Seattle in October 1890 to view the NWSR included: James J Hill, President of the Great Northern Railroad; Leslie P Richardson, private secretary to JJ Hill; EH Beckler of Minneapolis, Chief Engineer of the GNR; Judge G Clark of St Paul; and Samuel Hill of Minneapolis, a director of the Great Northern and son-in-law of JJ Hill.

On the way to Vancouver they had been joined by JJ Don0van and CX Larabee of Bellingham Bay. Rounding out the party was HY Thompson of Portland,legal advisor and spokesman for the railroad.

New Westminster persons who accompanied the Hill entourage to Brownsville included:
Mayor Brown, James Leamy, Ben Douglas, TJ Trapp, EH Scoullar, IB Fisher, DJ Munn, CM Beecher, Alex Ewen, James O’Hara and Joseph Armstrong.

The interview with Sam Hill quoted at length was extracted in phrases from Google Books Snippet Views of Sam Hill: the prince of Castle Nowhere  by John E. Tuhy and Visionaries, mountain men & empire builders by Fred Lockley.  

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