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January 1880–A long winter to break up

January 27, 2015

On the last day of 1879,  one week after the McLean gang had walked across the Fraser River from Brownsville, the cold temperatures moderated and the ice bridge fractured and once again began to shift with the current.

In the first week of the new year 1880, conditions fluctuated.

"The weather has been extremely varied between frosts, thaws, and snow. On Sunday night we had quite a stiff breeze from the S.W., accompanied by heavy rain, which cleared off all the snow. Monday we had frost, and Monday night 3 or 4 inches of snow."

At Mud Bay the snow lay several feet deep as voters prepared to elect the first municipal council.

Reports from the interior indicated the rest of the province was still very much in the grip of winter. The express arrived down at Brown’s Landing at the end of a 5-week’s journey from the Cariboo.

"The weather in the upper country is unprecedentedly severe. Not only is the cold as intense an any on record, but the snow is unusually deep. Serious fears are entertained that a great loss of cattle will result from the heavy and early snowfall."

Cherry Creek rancher WJ Roper arrived at the lower Fraser in the first week of January having brought a herd of cattle down by land under the most trying conditions, often having to cut a road through snow and ice, and losing only 3 head out of 143.

At New Westminster a shed on Front street belonging to Lane & Company’s cannery, formerly supplied with fish by Sam Herring, "succumbed under the weight of wet snow," while across the river

"We hear that a shed ‘on the Surrey side of the water,’ used by Messrs Herring Bros. as a boat house, also caved on Wednesday, smashing a number of boats."

With the river to New Westminster unnavigable due to ice, Burrard Inlet became the port of call for New Westminster passengers.   A traveller making his way from Victoria to Surrey embarked at Victoria on the steamer Princess Louise, which was buffeted by strong northeast winds crossing the Strait and forced to overnight at Plumper’s Pass, before reaching Hastings on Burrard Inlet in the morning.

"He reached this city by sleigh; desiring to reach home as soon as possible–in Surrey—he crossed the river to Brown’s landing, through floating ice floes, and nearly met with a mishap when embarking, by breaking through the ice.”


In the third week of January 1880 came a report from the upper Fraser Valley, where the cold had settled in more than month before,  that fodder was scarce and  stock was lean:

"an old resident of Matsqui district reports the winter so far to be the severest in the annals of that settlement."


However there were signs the long winter of 1879-1880 was at last coming to an end. 

Towards the end of January the Fraser River was reported navigable up to Farr’s ranch above Harrison River.

A resident of Langley reported milder conditions with the snow fast disappearing from the meadows.

The  steamers Reliance and Royal City however, remained moored, their escape blocked by ice-jams.

The two steamers were still stuck mid-February, when the Gem went up to Farr’s and brought down the machinery from the wreck of the Glenora.

Not until March 12 was the Royal City freed from her icy "imprisonment" and brought safely down to her wharf at New Westminster.

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