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Missing Tree at Garry Point

December 2, 2014

Ancient Landmark Gone — Garry Point Tree lost to wind and tide

The "leading tree" at the entrance to Fraser River, an aid to navigation since the 1850s, was blown over and swept away by waves on November 20, 1891.
Garry Point Tree - map linkSituated near the southwestern tip of Lulu Island, the tree, sometimes called "Garry bush," was a large cedar—though some say spruce—that stood out starkly against the horizon, even at night providing a fixed point of reference for mariners seeking the channel through the sand heads at the mouth of the river.

Storm Watch – gale disrupts Fraser River navigation

On November 20, 1891 a strong gale blew into New Westminster from the southwest. Newspapers reported that houses in the city were shaken on their foundations, with fences and a few trees blown down.  The normally smooth waters of the Fraser River were churned up and waves broke over the ferry landing at South Westminster.

The river ferry Surrey, in trying to cross over, was pushed off course and ran ashore below the landing, close to where the antiquated K de K was beached. The catamaran-hulled steamer appeared to be well stuck, but the next day Captain Angus Grant—who was not in command when she was grounded—returned to duty, got her afloat again at high tide and put her back to work.

The ferry was not the only craft to make an unscheduled stop on the left bank.

  "At the height of the gale, the lashings of the Westminster Rowing Club’s boat house parted, and it headed across the river at a merry pace until it finally brought up on the soft mud bank above Brownsville."  

    Further upriver, the Pacific Express trans-continental train of the Canadian Pacific Railway, inbound to Vancouver, was delayed for some hours at the Pitt river crossing, where pile work on the bridge was disturbed by an extremely high tide and strong wind. 
The severity of the storm was felt most keenly down at the mouth of the Fraser, where it was reported that the Georgia Strait "presented a magnificent sight as its waves rolled in mountains on the beach."
The steamer Dunsmuir, which had left New Westminster in the morning,  could not get out of Fraser River into the gulf due to "heavy seas breaking across the sandhead."  The Dunsmuir was forced  to lay-to until the following day.

The southern tip of Vancouver Island was also buffeted by the southwesterly gale.

  "At Victoria the wind blew straight across the harbor and pinned the vessels so tight against the wharves that they could not get out. The fine steamer Victorian worked for four long hours trying to get out, but could not, and was finally obliged to summon the assistance of a powerful tug to haul her clear of the wharf."  

The Yosemite also required a tug to get her out of the harbor.  Bound for New Westminster, the steamer crossed the strait without incident but  would face a formidable challenge at the entrance to Fraser River.

  "The seas were tremendous, and the whole length of the sandheads was white with foam. Expecting to make the crossing all right, Capt. Jagers sailed in as close as safety permitted, hoping to make out the old Garry bush landmark, but it had succumbed to the force of the great wind and was nowhere visible."  

Without the tree as a guide, and in darkness unable to pick out the buoys, Captain Jagers steered his boat back across open water to Plumper’s Pass where the Yosemite sheltered until early the next morning.

-Garry Point Tree Timeline-

1827 – Sand Heads and Garry Point charted

Garry Point was named by Captain Aemilius Simpson, of the Hudson’s Bay Company schooner Cadboro, in July 1827.  Cadboro—according to EW Wright “the crack vessel of the Pacific Coast" in its day—was the first non-native vessel to enter into Fraser River.  On a mission to establish the HBC Fort Langley, it took the crew of the Cadboro a full week to find a navigable channel past the sand heads. 

Fraser River map 1827 by Aemilius Simpson -  KikaitOnce underway, Captain Simpson took the Cadboro up past the future site of New Westminster, where he recorded the presence of  “a very small village” on the south side of the river (Kikait).  The size of the settlement was in comparison with the fishing camps along the lower reaches of the river, which in season housed hundreds of residents.

1850 – The Cowlitz stuck on Sand Heads

The difficulties of Fraser River navigation stirred up a controversy in 1850 when the brand new Hudson’s Bay Company barque Cowlitz, under tow from Fort Langley by the steamer Beaver, grounded on the sand heads. Stranded by the tide in  a "hogged" position the Cowlitz was irreparably damaged.  The entrance to Fraser River was  blamed as too hazardous for shipping.

1859 – Chart of Fraser River and Burrard Inlet by Captain GH Richards

“Garry Point Leading Tree” first came to notice internationally when it  was marked on Admiralty Hydrographer George Henry Richard’s chart, a result of his survey of Fraser River with HMS Plumper in 1859. The tree  was included in sailing directions published in Great Britain and the United States over the next thirty years.  
Captain Richards,  a Commissioner of the British party of Northwest Boundary Survey, had supervised the laying out of the first boundary markers at Point Roberts and eastward from the shore of Semiahmoo Bay. He also supervised the deployment of a series of navigation buoys on the Fraser River in September 1859.

  "Each beacon has a different shaped and colored vane, diamond, circle, or crescent—a number—and the spars corresponding colors, so that on making out any one buoy, a mariner will know his position."  

The map excerpt below, from Captain Richard’s chart of Fraser River and Burrard Inlet, shows the location of the leading tree and a some of the indicator beacons along the navigation channel.Garry Point - Captain GH Richards - 1859

1859 – Survey of Country Lands on Lulu Island

1876 Garry Point - Section 9 B3N R7WLulu Island was  included in Joseph W Trutch’s survey of country land in 1859. 

At the land auction of February 9,  1861, Captain William Driscoll Gosset purchased Lot 8, Group 2, (45 acres) opposite New Westminster and another lot of 64 acres at the entrance to Fraser River, the southwest tip of Lulu Island. 

In possession of Section 9 Block 3 North Range 7 West,  Captain Gosset was the owner of Garry Point Tree.

Besides being Treasurer of the Colony of British Columbia, WD Gosset superintended the erection of the Boundary Obelisk at Point Roberts, working with Captain Richards and private contractor Ebenezer Brown.

1864 – HMS Tribune stuck on Sand Heads of Fraser River

Prior to the advent of dikes and diversion works, the Fraser River was constantly shifting course, and over time the river current began to erode the tip of Lulu Island while at the same time raising shallows where there had formerly been clear passage.

In 1864  HMS Tribune was held captive for several days in the sand at the entrance of Fraser River  and had to be lightened of  her guns.  This embarrassing predicament of a Royal Navy vessel was widely reported.
Fuelled by jealous interests on Vancouver Island  that wanted to monopolize trade to the exclusion of mainland ports, any difficulty in navigating Fraser River was seized with relish by Victoria and thrust like a hockey mitt in the face of New Westminster. Taking full advantage of the helpless condition of the Tribune, the Victoria Daily Chronicle advised "the issuance of an order to put an end now and forever to the practice of sending vessels drawing over ten or twelve feet of water up that river."

1884 – A new channel

One of the first accomplishments of Captain Angus Grant—first master of the Dominion snag boat Samson in 1884—, was to find that the Fraser River had cut itself a new channel through the sand heads, a discovery that was celebrated in the Royal City.

1884 – Sand Heads Lighthouse

A major improvement to navigation was the erection of the Sand Heads Lighthouse, which went into operation in 1884.
New sailing directions were published in the Nautical Magazine:

1884 Sand Heads Lighthouse on Fraser River


"On 1st May, 1884, a light will be exhibited from a lighthouse erected on North Sand head, S.W. end of Sturgeon bank, northern side of Fraser river: —It would be a fixed white light, elevated 52 feet above high water, and visible from a distance of 12 miles.

The lighthouse, 49 feet high, constructed of wood and hexagonal in shape, stands on an iron pile foundation. . .

This light, besides serving as a coast light, will indicate the entrance to the channel between the Sand heads at Fraser river entrance. . .

Also, during thick foggy weather, a bell will be sounded from North sand head lighthouse."


Constructed under contract to the Dominion government by the San Francisco Bridge Company, the light was lauded by the West Shore magazine as "the finest lighthouse on the Pacific Coast." Built “over treacherous and shifting sands" it stood as "an imperishable monument to the engineering skill of the contractors."

The San Francisco Bridge Company was  responsible for building some of the famous bridges on the Canadian Pacific Railway in British Columbia.  The company established a branch in Seattle that evolved into the firm of Lockheed-Martin.

1890 – 1891  – Fraser River, Revised

Notwithstanding the presence of the Sand Heads light, navigation into Fraser River remained a sensitive subject in New Westminster, for which city river traffic had been its life-blood since its founding in 1859.   

In the late 1880’s  Vancouver on Burrard Inlet was in ascendancy as the main port on the Mainland and New Westminster feared loss of trade.  The depth of feeling was apparent in the first published report of the New Westminster Board of Trade:


‘The Government refuses to make a new chart, or to certify to the actual depth of water, and throws in the face of the Board an old admiralty chart, which, if followed, would certainly lead the mariner to shipwreck. . ."

". . .the Board of Trade has been forced to spend months of anxious labor and hundreds of dollars in an almost hopeless effort to counteract the injurious effects of the inaction of the Government and the perverseness of some of its officials.

In the meantime the interests of this city and district are suffering, and the Board feels that the Fraser River does not receive the consideration to which it is fairly entitled."


Francis Clarke Gamble 1848 - 1926In the fall of 1891 a revised chart of the river was issued,  based on a new survey of the Fraser River undertaken by FC Gamble.

Francis Clarke Gamble served as Assistant Engineer to JW Trutch in the Dominion government agency overseeing the construction of the CPR in BC, and after the departure of Trutch had assumed his post as Resident Engineer for Canada in British Columbia.

On the section shown here are identified Garry Point Leading Tree and the Sand Heads Light (lower left corner).

1891 chart Entrance to Fraser River  - Sand Heads Lighthouse to Garry Point - Lulu IslandI

1891 Gamble survey Fraser River - Brownsville


There were grumbles that this chart was merely a gloss on  Captain Richards’ outdated survey of 1859. 

The excerpt at right indicates the continued presence of a Revenue Station opposite New Westminster, more than 30 years after it ceased to exist.

From Map of Fraser River and Burrard Inlet with 1890 revisions by FC Gamble –Archives Canada.


1891 – Point Garry Tree Swept Away

By 1891 the action of river and ocean currents had worn away the lower corner of Lulu Island by some hundreds of yards, leaving the Garry Point Tree in a precarious position, exposed at the very tip of land and partially undermined.
George Turner, with Captain James A Robinson of the government snagboat Samson, supervised a temporary shoring up of the tree with a rock barrier, but without further remedial work its loss was not unexpected.
The  washing away of the Garry Point tree on November 20th, 1891 rendered FC Gamble’s new Fraser River chart obsolete with weeks of its release. 
Nautical instructions were amended with a final reference to the passing of the steadfast guide.
The United States Coast Guard had included Garry Point tree in its sailing directions until 1891, when it noted of Garry Bush or Leading Tree:

"A remarkable isolated tree situated 430 yards N. 12 degrees W, of Garry Point, but it is reported as having been cut down."


The British Columbian newspaper lamented the loss:

"With Garry Bush goes a time-honored and practically indispensable aid to navigators in entering the channel at the Sandheads at certain states of the weather and at night. Standing on the extreme point of land of Lulu Island, with miles of level and open country behind it, the bushy tree was distinguishable on the darkest night…."

The property purchased by WD Gosset in 1861, on which stood the Leading Tree,   is now less than 20% of its original area .   It  is on the seaward edge of the village of Steveston and a portion of Garry Point Park.

Point Family

According to a publication of the City of Richmond,  a Musqueam family residing at Garry Point around 1900 took on the surname Point, named for their place of residence.  Efforts to discover ancient remains at Garry Point have not been successful and could have been lost to the water,  just as  Garry Point Tree.

As noted in an earlier post, some members of  the Point family starred for the “Brownsville Indians” lacrosse team in the early 1900’s.  The lacrosse team played at Queen’s Park in New Westminster, but they practiced at Brownsville,  near the site of the “very small village” observed by Captain Simpson in 1827.

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