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Pheasants were set free at South Westminster to provide sport for marksmen

July 10, 2015

In July 1891, a report on front page of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer heralded the release of pheasants at South Westminster, BC.

Importation of English Pheasants

NEW WESTMINSTER, July 14 [Special]

A number of English pheasants imported by the Westminster Gun Club, have arrived, and will be set free on the south side of the river. The progeny of these birds will soon find their way into Washington, and if they are not slaughtered on sight will soon be numerous and provide excellent sport. The law protects them from the hunters here for four years.

A few months earlier Phil Smith, restaurateur and South Westminster hotel owner, released a pair of California quail on the south side of the Fraser River for the same purposes.

The pretty pair of game birds were making preparations for breeding when let out, and if left alone will soon do something for there adopted country in the breeding line, and it will be a bad day for the man who molests them, for they will be carefully watched.

A pair of pheasants had also been released by Warden McBride on the game reserve at the Penitentiary at Sapperton, “where the birds have located a nest in a secluded spot and with good luck will show up in due season with a family.”

Importation of non-native species of game birds appears to have taken place in the first decade of colonization. Members of the Boundary Commission serving in 1858 had lamented that a local species of grouse that would just sit and be shot at, not very cooperative in a sporting way.

Manuel A Wylde of Strathcona Lodge at Shawnigan Lake, Vancouver Island, wrote:

“My father brought the California Quail to Victoria in the year 1860 or ‘61. And I have remembrance of seeing a box of Mountain Quail that he was instrumental in having brought to Victoria. I could not say if they were the first lot introduced on the Island, but I think the California ones were.”

MA Wylde’s father was Charles Sydenham Wylde, who served as Revenue Officer at Langley. This was in the exciting gold rush days of 1859 when smuggling was rampant and everyone packed a pistol except Her Majesty’s loyal officer.

CS Wylde later held the first lease of land south of the Fraser River, at Queenborough Revenue Station. The Revenue Station stood a few hundred yards from the section of land at Brownsville that was for many years the site of the Militia firing range, a property now occupied by the Scott Skytrain Station. There the soldiers took aim at targets.

On the Mainland, pheasants were set free on the Magee and McCleery ranches on the North Arm of Fraser River in 1889, in what is now the city of Vancouver.The progeny of these 44 birds “quickly spread over Sea Island, Lulu Island and the Lower Delta.”

In 1892, the Royal City Gun Club, which had released the pheasants opposite New Westminster, located its clubhouse at South Westminster not far from the ferry landing, on part of the William Manson estate.

Local hotel-keeper John George — incidentally the man who gave Clayton its name — was appointed “custodian of the grounds, traps and other property of the club.”

The firing done here was at “birds.” However, references to “Blue rock traps” and “Peoria birds” identify this as skeet or trap shooting.

Crowds of spectators were attracted to take the ferry Surrey to the south shore for an afternoon of sport. Rival marksmen vied for prizes put up by local businesses. An away match against Vancouver Gun Club took place at Hastings where the nimrods competed for a valuable prize put up by George Black.

Such non-lethal competitions no doubt relieved the pressure on game birds.

Later introductions of pheasants were made at Harrison, Chilliwack and in the Squamish valley, with the result that by 1905,

“The Lower Valley of the Fraser, and the country for several miles on each side of the river, now carry a good stock of pheasants and the birds afford good sport. They have made their way as far east as Hope.”

California quail also appeared to have fared well as a protected species.

Webber pheasants raised for sportIn the 1930’s farmer Henry Webber of Maple Ridge supplied the Provincial government with 11,000 pheasants for distribution throughout British Columbia.

The increase of human population in the Fraser Valley, and in particular the advent of “22” rifles, put pressure on these birds, but by the end of the 20th century pheasants were numerous in rural districts of the Lower Mainland.

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