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Quiet ceremony at Gairn’s camp marked start of construction on electric railway in Fraser Valley

August 24, 2015

At the top of Scott Road hill, on August 26, 1907, ground was broken in a ceremony to mark the start of construction of the BC Electric Railway to Chilliwhack. The inauguration took place near the construction camp of foreman George Gairns, where the tracks now cross Scott Road at 99 Avenue.

headline bcer chilliwack line started

The line of the railway from the Fraser River Bridge to Cloverdale had been located by chief surveyor FN Sinclair. Beyond Cloverdale the route was as yet undetermined.

RH Sperling, Manager of the BCER, made a short speech and turned the first sod before handing off to New Westminster Mayor WH Keary. Then all present partook of refreshments at the Gairn’s camp.

“George Gairns has been appointed foreman in charge of construction and will constantly add to the gang of men now laboring under him until he will have nearly two or three hundred men working on the right-of-way between here and Cloverdale.”

Gairns, 56, was born in Ontario and had resided at Liverpool since about 1890, engaged with the Great Northern on the line of the New Westminster Southern Railway. Gairns had a family and for many years was an elected Trustee of the Brownsville School District. His children attended the Brownsville School.

One of his sons, George E Gairns, was married in 1903 to local girl Jenny May George. The ceremony took place at the Surrey Hotel, run by her parents John and Katie George.

Gairn's Camp - where BCER crossed Scott Rd

Link to Google Street View

The location of Gairn’s camp was likely chosen because it was on a main road, on high ground not subject to flooding, and it was a half-mile above the major challenge on the length of the line, a deep ravine requiring construction of a trestle.

When the track was laid and railway service begun, this was the site of Scott Station.

The hillside below the tracks had been logged off and the run up the grade from the bridge, from Yale Road until the railway passed Scott Road and began its swing to the southeast, afforded passengers spectacular views of New Westminster and the Fraser River delta.

The British Columbia Electric Railway line to Chilliwhack was completed in 1910. The railway was significant in the development of the Fraser Valley south of the Fraser. It provided a reliable and timely mode of transportation for farmers to get milk and other farm produce to market. It also opened up previously inaccessible forests to logging operations, which employed hundreds in camps and mills and spurred industrial development.

When their family was grown, George Gairns and wife Jane moved to the city of New Westminster where they resided many years. Jane (Burr) Gairns died in 1918; George Gairns lived till 1928.

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