Skip to content

Cut to the Chase — All’s Well That Ends Well

February 3, 2016

wagon and team of horses

A serious road accident occurred at Brownsville on October 4th, 1897, when a horse-drawn carriage bearing two adults and a child was run into by a freight wagon thundering along the plank road, driven by two local men.

All credit to the reporter for the Columbian newspaper for an account that is vividly cinematic and, but for the fact of the trauma, very entertaining. So we must first state that all recovered and enjoyed fruitful lives thereafter.  Action!:

Serious Accident – A Heavy Team Runs Into and Wrecks a Carriage Containing a Lady and Boy Who are Both Injured

A serious accident happened, yesterday afternoon , by which a lady, Mrs RH Walker, of Victoria, and her four-year-old son were severely bruised if not seriously injured.

Mrs Walker, sister of Mr DE McKenzie, of this city, had crossed the river on the 4 o’clock ferry, and was driving, accompanied by a gentleman, in a light buggy along the plank road, intending to go to Cloverdale.

A teamster, “Billy” Springer, was driving his heavy team and wood wagon in the same direction, but some distance behind.

His furious driving was objected to by his companion, Jim McColl, and Springer, resenting his interference, threw down the reins and started to fight McColl.

In the meantime, the horses increased their speed to a gallop, and as they came up with the other vehicle they swerved not a foot, but plunged into it before the lady was fully aware of her danger.

The rear axle broke down, and the maddened horses reared and plunged over the lady and the boy, dragging the heavy wagon with them, and then fell in a heap.

The carriage was completely wrecked, and the little boy was found beneath one of the horses. His head was between two pieces of he cedar planking and the wheel across his neck.

Seeing her boy in this precarious situation, Mrs Walker endeavored to extricate him, but, in doing so, received three bad kicks on the back of her head.

Subsequently, with the aid of pries, the imprisoned boy was released. His injuries could not be determined at the time, and ever since he has remained in a dazed condition.

The only marvel is that both were not killed. It is stated that the teamster was the worse for liquor.

The Plank Road

ferry-landing-at-South-Westminster.jpgPlank roads were built over the bog on the south bank of the Fraser River. One of these was built in 1890 from the South Westminster Ferry wharf to the Scott Road. Another led to the Yale Road, a half mile up-river. As late as 1904 this method of road-building was used for the Bridge Road access from the Yale Road to the Fraser River Bridge.

In this view of the ferry landing, the plank road to Scott road was an extension of the wharf approach. The road to the right runs to the Brownsville wharf.


The lady lived to be 75

The lady run down by Springer and McColl’s stampeding horses was Mrs Robert Hampton Walker. She was born Margaret Jean MacKenzie, the daughter of Duncan MacKenzie of Clover Valley. Her brother Frank MacKenzie served the district as MLA for some years. A sister married Clover Valley school-teacher, later lawyer and historian, Robie L Reid.

Sgt RH Walker of the Victoria PoliceRH Walker was policeman in Victoria, who in his career became something of an institution in the Capital. In 1926, at the age of 68, Sergeant Walker dropped dead on the sidewalk at 7:20 in the morning, walking home from night duty at the police station. He was the senior man on the force, serving 37 years.

Mrs Walker died in 1937 at the age of 75.  At the time of her death she had five grandchildren and one great grand child.

Margaret Jean and RH Walker had two sons.

The eldest, Duncan Irvine Walker, became one of the province’s earliest electrical engineers. He was Superintendent of the Jordan River Power Plant for many years and later proprietor of the hotel there. He died in 1940 at the age of 55.

The boy: Road Accident Victim Takes to Trains

The boy in the carriage who suffered the most serious injuries in this Brownsville mishap was Robert Wesley Walker, born in 1893.

Robert recovered from his injuries and at the age of 16 began a career in railroading.

He worked on the Victoria & Sidney Railway and served many years as Conductor on the Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway.

The death in 1939 of this “Veteran Train Conductor” was related to diabetes.

“He was very popular with both passengers and trainmen during his more than thirty years of service.”

“Well known in lodge circles, Mr Walker was a member of St. John’s Lodge No. 21, A.F. & A.M, Ladysmith; also chairman of the Brotherhood of Railway and Trainmen”

The Quarrelling Teamsters:  Jim McColl and Billy Springer

James McColl and William Byron Springer are listed in Brownsville directories from 1897 to about 1904, as farmers.

James McColl

James McColl was born in British Columbia, March 27, 1862.  He was a son of Royal Engineer Sgt William McColl, who came to British Columbia in 1859.  While serving under Colonel RC Moody, Sgt McColl was engaged in many important surveys in the Lower Mainland, including those of Indian Reserves and the route of the telegraph line from Semiahmoo to Brownsville.

Returning to civvy street, McColl went into business with another former RE, George Turner.  William McColl died in 1865, leaving behind a widow and six children. Mrs McColl married again, to George Turner.

One of James’ sisters married Hugh Boyd of Lulu Island and was honored that the City of Richmond BC was named after her birthplace (possibly, there were other claims to the name.)

James’ elder brother William McColl was born in Scotland. The junior William kept a store at New Westminster before entering into the salmon cannery business. William married Susan Maclure of Matsqui, daughter of another former RE, John Maclure. They were living at Steveston in 1907 when William McColl was killed in a commuter train crash.

Another elder brother was Neil Lucknow McColl, born in England. He worked as a clerk and in his father’s occupation of surveying.

At the time of the 1901 census Neil and James McColl, both life-long bachelors, were boarding with the photographer Okamura at New Westminster.

In this directory listing, James McColl is captured in repose as “chairman” with the surveying firm H. Nevile-Smith.

In the next decade James McColl, Neil McColl and sister Maria Jessie McColl resided on Park Row, New Westminster, in the home of their mother.

James McColl worked as an axeman and chainman with the surveying firm of H. Nevile-Smith, laying out the townsite of Port Mann.

Neil McColl died in 1924 at the age of 66.

James, who gave the information for his brother’s death certificate, was at the time living at 186 Columbia Street. He worked at many jobs over the years, including a stint as engineer on the Dominion snag-boat Samson.

James McColl died at the Home for the Aged in Vernon in 1951, in his 90th year.

William Byron Springer

William B. Springer was born February 14, 1870 in Ontario.

Plan of Township 2 WCM - 1903 - plus WB Springer locationIn March 1890 he moved onto a quarter section of land on the Brownsville uplands, south of the Townline, to establish a homestead, in expectation of acquiring a land grant from the government of Canada after three years occupancy.

The 160 acre claim was the Northwest Quarter of Section 32, Township 2, West of the Coast Meridian.  Springer’s neighbour was Nils Sandell.

Right,  survey Plan of Township 2, West of Coast Meridian.

For the location of Billy Springer’s homestead, and neighboring pioneers,  see the Brownsville Uplands Google Map.


Nowadays his section is bounded on the north by 96 Avenue, from 128 Street to 132 Street, and extends  south to 92 Avenue.

In April 1890 Springer built a house there, 18 by 20 feet, and began clearing land.

The first year he had chopped, cleared and cultivated just half an acre. He developed a further 3 acres the following year, to a total of 5 acres by 1893.

In addition to his house, he built a stable 16 x 20 feet and a shed 15 x 18 feet. A rail fence measured 75 rods.

He kept a horse for a while, but had no other livestock. He planted an orchard of 140 fruit trees.

For extra income he worked clearing land on other homesteads in the vicinity of Brownsville.

Springer was a single man.

Signing affidavits in support of WB Springer’s application were Brownsville pioneers John Douglas and John Quible.

John Douglas, of Section 27, B5N R2W, stated he had known Billy Springer since 1887, and John Quible of Section 33, Township 2 WCM knew him since 1889.

WB Springer’s land patent was approved in May 1893 and in August he transferred ownership to Real Estate Brokers Fred G Turner & Company of New Westminster.

Fred Turner was James’ McColls’ half-brother. He was long active developing  Brownsville properties and for some time partnered with Max Mowat, as Mowat & Turner,  in marketing South Westminster lots. Their mother later bought the property of Max Mowat on Park Row.

With long-established families of notable accomplishment the connections are too numerous to mention.

Individuals without families, living quiet lives, are not so visible in the public record.

William Byron Springer appeared in the directories as late as 1904 as “Farmer” at Brownsville, but after that we lost sight of him.

On the Wagon – Not having a picture of wagons on the plank road at Brownsville we have included one not from Brownsville.  The two horses with driver and the wagon laden with kegs of beer hang from the front wall of a tavern.


No comments yet


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s