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Elizabeth and Tom Forister (Forrester)

February 29, 2016

Elizabeth E Forister gravestone - Fraser CemeteryThe broken remains of the gravestone of Elizabeth Emeline Forister, one of New Westminster’s earliest residents, lies in the Fraser Cemetery. The marker was erected in 1883 by her husband Thomas H Forister. The  inscription was partially recorded some years ago and reads:

“In Memory of My Beloved Wife

Elizabeth E Forister

Born in New York April 10, 1826

Died Nov 10, 1883 Aged 57 Yrs”

Her obituary, which appeared in the Mainland Guardian newspaper, is similarly partly illegible. We read it as follows:

“Death –  The grim leveller has been busy of late years with our old time residents, generally carrying them off very suddenly.

No one will probably be more [sadly] missed than Mrs. Forrester, the wife of our respected fellow citizen, Mr. Thomas Forrester.

She departed this life on Saturday evening last. She has been a notable [presence] in our midst since the earliest [days] of our city, and was associated with [many] of its remarkable episodes.

Her [petite] figure, generally provided with a small [hat], was a familiar object in our streets, [and] as everybody knew and liked her, she [does] by her departure, create a void in our community. She was of a kindly, generous [nature], and favored for her attention to [details].

Her husband, who is generally esteemed, has the sympathy of all in his bereavement, which will be a heavy blow to [him] as they were passionately fond of each other.

The funeral took place on Monday .. and was attended by a large concourse .. or eight carriages following the .. The burial services was performed at Holy Trinity Church, by Rev. Archdeacon Woods, and the remains were then conveyed [to the] Masonic Cemetry, when they were laid in their last earthly receptacle.”

Not having at hand any reference to the “remarkable episodes” with which she was associated we offer up this anecdote from another early resident.

Joe Quoy, one of this Province’s finest athletes of an earlier era, was best known as a rower, a jockey and as a patron of lacrosse. He reminisced to a reporter about a day when the action came to Mrs Forister.

“When the New Westminster Exhibition first opened where the Public Library now stands, we raced on Agnes street, from Lorne street to St. Mary’s Hospital.

One day I was riding “Blair Rother,” owned by the three Fraser brothers of Gastown, against “Tom,” ridden by Bill Murray, and “Chinaman,” with Tommy Gannon up.

Tommy was new to the racing game and he thought the race went to the rider with the heaviest whip. This frightened his horse, and it bolted up a side street coming to a sudden stop against a high board fence.

But Tommy didn’t stop. He kept on going over the fence, landing in a beautiful stand of corn belonging to Mrs Forester, a colored woman.

Mrs Forester was very proud of her corn patch, and seeing it sadly flattened by the prostrate form of the young jockey she proceeded to give the culprit a sound thrashing.

The crowd immediately forgot about the race in their mirth over the sad plight of the unfortunate Tommy.”

TH Forister or Forrester properties in New Westminster - 1861Without knowing for sure, we think that Tom and Elizabeth Forister lived on Agnes street, in the block just west of Sixth Street. Their last name was commonly spelled Forrester.

By public sale in 1861 at New Westminster, Thomas Henry Forrester, steward, and Antonio Hernandez, barber, bought Lot 2 in Block 25 (facing Agnes Street). Nathan Pointer and Burgess Milton bought an adjoining lot. The two partners, Hernandez and Forrester also bought, by private sale from John O Smith, Lot 7 in Block 26.

The Foristers were already middle-aged when they first came to BC. Tom was a native of Florida, Elizabeth of New York, though where they married and lived prior to coming here we don’t know, nor if they had a family.

In 1863, following the death of JM Hernanadez, “Tom Forrester” took over as the Agent in New Westminster for the Pacific Appeal newspaper of San Francisco.

Forister was best known as a Steamboat Steward, running on the Fraser River steamboats with Captain William Irving. However, as was the case with most early residents in a struggling economy, Forister tried his hand at a number of pursuits.

In January 1867 TH Forister, Owen W Browne, Abraham Reid, Thomas Park and Burton Isom made application to the government

“for protection to prospect for the next six months, one mile square of land situated on Kanaka Creek on or about the Cascades, four or five miles from Fraser River, for the purpose of finding Coal. . .”

The partners had a specimen and intended to open up a coal mine.

In 1882, attracted by the money flowing from the construction camp of the Canadian Pacific Railway, Forister was proprietor of the Magnolia Restaurant at Yale.

Following the death of Elizabeth in 1883 Tom Forister stayed on at New Westminster. However, in the fall of 1888 he received word from Florida that his aged mother was in poor health, and so after almost thirty years residence in BC, he left for his home State. He was never to return.

In May 1889 the following announcement appeared in the local newspaper.

Tom Forrester Is Dead

The heading to this item will recall to the minds of many of our inhabitants the glorious days when Tom catered to the passengers by the Onward and other steamers — under the first Captain Irving — between this city and Yale.

Everybody knew him and everybody had a good word for him. He was such a good natured fellow, that he was popular wherever he went.

Tom must have been 80 years old at least when he died, but it is quite possible that he might have lived to be a centenarian had he not ventured on mining at Yale where his exposure and hard work ruined a cast iron constitution.

He left this Province about seven months ago to join his mother in Florida — his native State, who was still alive, though about a hundred years old.

A great deal is said in respect to the color line and it is regarded with absurd punctillio by many of our neighbors in the great republic; but we are prepared to wager a large sum — though not in the habit of gambling — that they would find it very hard to find a better hearted man than poor Tom.

He faults — and they were not many — were those of the times in which he lived, and they will be forgotten; but his good-natured happy laugh will long be remembered. May he rest in peace.


Elizabeth E Forister grave location in Fraser CemeteryElizabeth Emeline Forister 1824-1883

Thomas Henry Forister 1814-1889

Gravestone transcript above is in part from the BC Genealogical Society publication “Fraser Cemetery.” Picture shown here will aid in locating the marker. Elizabeth’s grave is in the lower, Masonic section. Thanks to the caretaker for directions. Go directly down the road from the office,  keep going past the end of the road, a little to the right.

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