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Bridge liberated: Fraser River tolls removed

November 3, 2014

a winter walk to Fraser River bridge, 1910 - vancouver archives photo

The Fraser River bridge to Brownsville, looking rather deserted on a quiet winter’s day 1910, was the scene of a great celebration on the evening of March 31.  Prior to that date, anyone taking the walk down the steps from Columbia Street to the river crossing would have to pay five cents.

The removal of tolls on the Fraser River Bridge in 1910 was heralded by a torch-light parade and spectacular bursts of rocket fire from the span into the night sky.

At eight o’clock on the night of March 31st, 1910 an excited crowd marched from the Guichon Hotel (Columbia at 4th Street, still there) to the New Westminster bridge,  accompanied by politicians and dignitaries in carriages. 

The official date for a toll-free crossing was April 1st, but the time had been moved ahead from midnight to accommodate the evening ceremony.

The bridge itself – commonly referred to as the Fraser River  Bridge, the New Westminster Bridge, and even the South Westminster Bridge — was brilliantly lit up with electric lights for the occasion.

The middle span was adorned so as  "to resemble as nearly as possible the tail of Halley’s comet."  (The comet was due to make an appearance later in the month.)

A large crowd of spectators watched from the Crescent or from the "brow of the hill overlooking the bridge.” 

After crossing over to the Brownsville side the parade returned to the north end where the politicians gave speeches.  Frank McKenzie, MLA for the Delta constituency –  which included at that time Surrey and Langley — was one of the principal speakers.  HT Thrift, Reeve of Surrey, was in attendance.

River fare

A fee for the river crossing  had been in effect since the bridge opened in 1904, and before that for the ferry Surrey since 1891 and going right back to the inauguration of the first public ferry service by the  K de K in 1884. Prior to 1884, ferriage could be obtained by hiring a man with a canoe or other boat,  and indeed private passage could always be obtained in that way.  First Nations paddlers, Ebenezer Brown and Sam Herring all provided ferry service of one kind or another.

A “newer New Westminster”

1910 Hale Bros & Kennedy tolls off real estate adThe removal of the toll was a great relief to settlers on the south side of the river and greeted as a boon to business by New Westminster realtors and politicians, who expected a great city to arise on the opposite side of the river.

The real estate firm of Hale Bros & Kennedy accompanied the parade to the bridge in a cart drawn by oxen, a relic of times past.

The company was marketing “Westminster View” subdivision lots:


“Bridge tolls now off – Look out for the big rush to South Westminster.”



The first free crossing

"The first man to take advantage of the freeing of the the bridge was S.P. Paulson of Timberland, who waited fifteen minutes with a load of lumber in order to save the toll fare.

While starting on this free journey across the bridge, he distributed cards advertising his business."

It is likely this was Svend Paulsen, who kept a store up at Timberland, three miles out on the Yale Road.

Final fare: down to the last five cent piece

A news reporter boasted to have purchased the last ticket from toll collector Edwin Oddy and was "holding it as an official receipt for the last five cent piece paid for permission to cross a bridge in Western Canada."

The toll was-          

Horses & rig

Loaded drays & wagons

5 cents

10 cents

20 cents

  That’ll be a nickel. . .

Edwin Oddy, toll collector on the New Westminster bridge, sold the last ticket.

  Edwin Oddy -  last toll collector on the Fraser River Bridge - New Westminster Archives photo

Be careful what you pay for

Barry Sanford,  in Royal Metal,  tells while the road traffic – pedestrians, horse-drawn vehicles, and motor cars – could pass over for free, railway trains could not.  What was a subsidy to road traffic was an economic deterrent to commuter rail, contributing to its demise. 

Tolls were re-instituted with the new Pattullo Bridge in 1937. The old walkway on the Fraser River bridge was closed.

In a local history is the case of parents waiting in parked cars at the South Westminster end of the Pattullo Bridge to pick  up their children after they had gone to a Friday night movie on Columbia Street.  Let’s see, theatre admittance, popcorn, drink . . .bridge toll both ways. . .

Transit pricing will make some people drive more, but others will walk more.

This issue is much discussed nowadays.  See local blogs  Pricetags  and StephenRees.

Compare the last word on policy by Dickens’ turnpike collector, previously quoted.

The Fraser River Bridge is still in use 110 years after it first went into operation. The superstructure only requires a wooden deck, as pictured above,  to re-establish itself as the premier crossing of the river and tourist attraction.

End Quote

Conditions on Columbia Street at 6th Street, March 31, 1910.
"It was originally arranged to have the procession formed at the post office corner, but this has been changed to the Guichon hotel corner on account of the mud.”

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