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Plank Crossing on Columbia Street

December 21, 2016

Plank walk ways were common along the river, but were also evident on “dry” land. As the photo, from the streetcar era, illustrates, and the anecdote below, from 1886, explains, the crossings were one-dimensional, and not without risk, calling for some delicate ettiquette.


In single file, two men cross Columbia Street.

“The Old Stager And The New Comer –
At 7 o’clock on Wednesday morning htey were on Columbia street, one on each side.
The old stager turned to cross, and in three seconds the other turned intending to pass over on the same path; but he quickly retracted his steps and waited on the sidewalk for the old boy who approached him smiling and said:
“Good Morning, sir. You came from Dublin or London?”
“Why do you think so?” said the other.
“Well,” said the old chap, ” if you were a Yankee or a Provincial you’d be in a great hurry, we’d meet in the middle and one of us should step into that six inches of mud.”
The young man laughed heartily and said: “You made a good guess. I left London five weeks ago.”
They dined together in the evening and the young man was greatly amused by the description the old fellow gave of the Strand, the Parliament House, Rotten Row, and Westminster Abbey. In ten minutes they appeared to be old friends.”

Slips and Landings

December 21, 2016

These days there is a danger of slipping on ice, but in 19th century British Columbia the most treacherous of surface to walk on was wet and slimy wood.

Here are a few examples of the hazards of getting around on foot in the old days.

1880 07
Slippery Wharf:. Mariner Takes Ugly Fall

“Something should be done to guard against accidents at the ‘slip’ on the wharves.
Walking along in the dark, one not intimately acquainted with the geography of the place is apt to get an ugly fall, and on Tuesday night last, an accident of this sort actually did happen to an officer of one of the steamers in port.”

1885 03
K de K Gang Plank A “Man Trap”

“A Man Trap — It appears that in order to prevent contact between the ferry steamer and the wharf, the boat usually lays about 6 or 8 feet from the wharf.

There is a plank placed from the boat to the wharf to admit passengers landing, but at night it is impossible to see the plank and this nearly produced a fatal accident on Thursday evening about 7 o’clock, when a lady, Mrs WM Campbell, of Sumas, in the act of landing, ire to be such as they are, the town council should place a lamp on the ferry landing to enable passengers to see where they are going.”


A typical gang plank landing to the riverbank, from the Fraser River stern-wheeler, SS Ramona.

Mrs Campbell was the former Phoebe York, daughter of Thomas York, who came to Yale in 1858 and Upper Sumas in 1865. Phoebe York married William Moore Campbell, JP.
Mrs Campbell lived at Abbotsford until 1935 and died at Mission in 1936, 51 years after her near fatal accident disembarking from the ferry K de K.

1890 10

Titania,s Captain Dunn Fell and Perished While Walking Back to His Ship

titania-captain-jl-dunnIn the early hours of the morning of October 15, 1890, Captain James L Dunn of the famed clipper ship Titania, after an evening of socializing with some cannerymen friends, was making his way back to his ship a!ong the lower end of Columbia Street. At Begbie Street Alex Ewen bid the mariner a good night and walked up hill to his home. Captain Dunn continued on alone along the south side of Columbia Street for another block, where he encountered some unprotected street extension work and he:

“accidentally fell from the edge of the wharf near the CPR track, a distance of six feet against some wooden slabs used in filling up the street, where no danger signals were shown,. . “

Capt Dunn struck his head on the slabs and perished on the spot.

The Hudson’s Bay Company (the late Captain’s employer), cannerymen and private citizens contributed funds to provide for Mrs Dunn, and in February 1891, the City of New Westminster also came through with a satisfactory sum of money.

Captain Dunn’s body was taken to Victoria for burial.

1893 06

Captain Takes Gang Plank Fall

“Captain Robinson, who had six ribs broken by falling from a gang plank to the guard of the steamer Samson on Saturday night, is out of danger and resting well this evening.”

This was Capt. James Robinson, who also did a stint as Master of the ferry Surrey.

1925 05

Bridge Fall: Sharkey Is Landed at Brownsville Bar

“Tom Gifford Takes Plunge in Fraser –

The Fox Film movie operator was in town this morning, looking for flood pictures.

He missed a good bet at the Fraser River bridge where Tom Gifford, superintendent of the structure, performed an unrehearsed diving and swimming stunt as the result of a plank giving way at the south end of the bridge.

In taking the plunge, which fortunately was made in a shallow section, Mr. Gifford’s arm struck one of the girders, with the result that medical attention was necessary.

Immediately on striking the water the superintendent struck out for a pile, to which he clung until the workmen from the bridge could rescue him with a boat.”

This was “Sharkey” Gifford, Tom Gifford, Jr., who was a star player for the Salmonbellies lacrosse team. He was the first Superintendent on the Fraser River bridge, appointed in 1904, at the age of 24. He retired from the job in 1946.

New Westminster Post Office Building 1882-1898

December 21, 2016


A Post Office at New Westminster was established in 1859, and until such time as local depots were opened in the smaller communities, it was the general Post Office for the Lower Mainland.

The Post Office was located  at the residence and offices of Stipendiary Magistrate WR Spalding.

In 1866 the city Post Office was moved to the Government building on Columbia Street at the corner of Mary Street (6th St).

The famous photo of this building and its public servants reveals a sorely neglected structure, much tbe worse for maintenance.

The Dominion of Canada took over the Postal service in 1871, but it was not until 1881 that a start was made on a new building.


“Post Office And Custom House

A contract for the construction of this buildig was entered into 8th December, 1881, and the works are now in progress.

The external wall will be of brick with dressings and foundations of stone.

The ground floor will be devoted to Post Office, Savings Bank and Telegraph Office, and the second floor to the Custom House.

Plans prepared by this Department. Contractor Mr Chas Hayward.”


For such an important building in the day to day life of the city, at such a prominent location, photos of the Post Office are scarce.  The building did not get much respect from an anonymous architecture critic in 1884:



Post Office, New Westminster, 1884. Illus. from The West Shore.

“The public building used as a post office, custom house, savings bank, telegraph and other offices, by the Dominion, is a substantial edifice, though deficient of any claim to architectural beauty.

In appearance it is low and squatty, with a top entirely too heavy for its height.

Ottawa architects who prepare plans for buildings of this nature invariably commit the same blunder elsewhere as was done in New Westminster.

The interior of the P.O. for public accommodation is simply disgraceful to the architect who planned the building and such as recommended its adoption.

The second floor is better arranged, as the heads of the several departments to be located here took charge of the plans themselves. Their offices are a credit to the community.”


JC Brown, Postmaster from 1880 to 1900,worked most of the time in this building.

The two views below show the Post Office after destruction by fire inn 1898.  Note the fire hydrant in front, the standing utility pole and the leafy tree in the background. A small table was perhaps saved from this building or is being used as a place of business.

The small monument on the sidewalk in front of the Post Office was put in p!ace in 1887 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee.





The two photos can be viewed in full at the Vancouver Archives.

There is a photograph of the Post Office In Jim Wolf’s Royal City – A Photographic History if Bew Westnubster

Local Post Offices

The first Postmaster on the Lower Mainland of British Columbia was Revenue Officer WH Bevis, appointed at Langley in 1858. He worked out of his own home.  Bevis relinquished the duties of Postmaster in 1859 and was transferred to the Revenue Station opposite Sapperton.

Brownsville Post Office was established in 1891 with first Postmaster John Beaton.

Timberland  Post Office, up the Yale Road hill at the junction (now King George Station) opened in 1906 with Agge Buck as Postmaster.

South Westminster, at the bottom of the Yale Road hill, opened in 1908, Postmaster HB Biggar.

John Cunningham Brown: His Writing Not Fit For A Policeman, He Became A Journalist

November 24, 2016

jc-brownRejected as a police constable because of his writing, John Cunningham Brown became a newspaperman, Postmaster, Mayor, Cabinet Minister and Penitentiary Warden

Studied Medicine, Sought Adventure

John Cunningham Brown studied medicine at Queen’s University, Belfast, before coming to British Columbia in search of adventure. Having worked out the mining from his system on northern rivers, Brown came down to New Westminster, on the bank of the Fraser River, where he found employment as an assistant to Dr W McNaughton Jones.

Hardly Fitted: He didn’t have the writing for Policing

In lean times, and there were many in colonial British Columbia, the sinecure of a Government job held an attraction comparable to that of a bright window seen from a wintry street, and rare was the educated man who did not, at one time or another, put his name in.

On April 18, 1865, Brown penned a letter to the Colonial Secretary:

“Sir, I have the honor respectfully to offer my services to government, either in the capacity of Constable, or in any other way in which I might be of use.
I have been four years in the Colony and lately for almost a year in the employment of Dr Jones.
Dr Jones has kindly allowed me to refer to him, as has Rob’t Ker Esquire Auditor General, as to qualifications, character, &c.
I have the honor to be,
Your Obd’t Sv’t
JC Brown”

On receipt, Brown’s application met with this, less than positive, response from AN Birch:

“I would think that Mr Brown is hardly fitted for the duties of a constable – his writing is not of the best – what does his referee Mr Ker consider him fitted for?”

We have to think the Honourable Mr Birch is making an inside joke here – you can actually read Brown’s writing. However, —

Kerning for the Words

Perhaps JC Brown was tipped off as to the reason for his disqualification from policing. At any rate, as stated in his obituary:

“He took up printing, but soon branched into journalism, “

Or as another biographer put it, with equally apt phrasing, he began working “at the case,” as a typesetter before becoming a reporter.  He worked for a time on John Robson’s British Columbian before it ceased publication in 1869.

A Crack Shot


JC Brown (top left), A prize winning marksman. Vancouver Archives photo dated 1876

In the early years of the Colony, Brown was best known as a sharpshooter with the Rifle Volunteers, bringing glory to the Royal City when firing against Victoria. Among the prizes won by Brown was “The Hon. A. N. Birch’s Challenge Cup.”

Publisher and Editor: The Dominion Pacific Herald

In 1871 Brown started up his own newspaper at New Westminster. Its name honored BC’s entry into Confederation: Dominion Pacific Herald.
Brown ran the paper as Proprietor and Editor until 1880, when he was appointed Postmaster at New Westminster, after the death of incumbent VB Tait.
Brown sold the Herald to John Robson who, in January 1882, changed its name to the British Columbian.
Robson ran the paper until 1888, when he sold it to the Kennedy brothers. George Kennedy, editor, had worked as an assistant to JC Brown on the Herald.

Wicket Business: Post and Politics

When JC Brown left his career as a newspaperman to become Postmaster at New Westminster, the Victoria Colonist wrote that he was

“of excellent character, great ability, and a pungent, able and courteous writer.”

Brown held the position of Postmaster at New Westminster from 1880 until 1900.
While in charge of the Post Office and the Savings Bank, Brown did double duty as postal clerk and bank teller.
In his spare time, Brown was twice elected Mayor of New Westminster. . He served a term in the Provincial Legislature from 1890 to 1894. He participated in numerous community organizations, often as Chairman or President, including the School Board, the Sabbath Schools Association, the Lacrosse Club, etc.
JC Brown was a prime mover in advancing the Royal City’s prospects, even as Vancouver was rapidly taking over as the major city on the Lower Mainland.

Welcomes the Railway

The New Westminster Southern Railway was completed and the new Fraser River ferry service inaugurated while JC Brown was Mayor of New Westminster and a Member of the Provincial Parliament.
Mayor Brown was present at the railway opening ceremonies at Liverpool and Blaine on February 14, 1891.

Brown also welcomed to New Westminster dignitaries and honored guests including Lieutenant Governor Nelson of BC and Governor Laughton of Washington, who came over from Liverpool on the steamer Delaware.

Before a crowd of a thousand people on a cold and snowy Valentine Day, Mayor JC Brown, M.P.P, climbed atop a pile of grain on the waterfront to offer visitors the freedom of the Royal City for the day.

Hospitality was provided at the Queen’s Hotel. (This building is one of two that survived the 1898 fire and is still standing on Columbia Street near 4th Street.)

In subsequent provincial campaigns, one of the major planks in Brown’s platform was the construction of the Fraser River Bridge.

Tax Reformer

According to his biographer, Alexander Hamilton, JC Brown was converted to the economic philosophy of Henry George after reading the first issue of the Single Tax Advocate, a reformist sheet published in New Westminster in 1889.

“He went into politics and put the Province of British Columbia on the Single Tax map.”

Hamilton credits Brown with establishing , in British Columbia, the principle of public ownership of utilities and of successfully promoting a progressive tax on land value.

“Winchester” Brown: The House Stand-Off

JC Brown’s most memorable moment in the British Columbia Provincial Legislature, occurred during a debate over a quarantine provision in the Health Act that Brown believed would permit Police to enter a home and carry off family members stricken with a contagious disease and take them away to the pest-house.
Brown reacted that he would like to see anyone try. He stated that he would defend his own household, with his rifle, if necessary, against any such intrusion by the authorities.

On account of this, JC Brown was tagged with the nickname “Winchester Brown,” which stuck, long after the cause was forgotten.
In the hurly-burly of BC politics, the handle was thereafter grasped by his opponents to deride him, and suggest that he should not be taken seriously.

Wound Up His Post


“Winchester” A Dead Duck – Opposition Newspaper Celebrates JC Brown’s election defeat

JC Brown resigned as Postmaster in 1900 after heeding a call of duty to serve the public as Minister of Finance in the Martin Ministry. The Government was defeated at the election, though Brown held on to his seat.
In this last go-round of no-party politics in BC candidates were shouldering uneasily into partisan ranks.
Brown accepted an appointment as Provincial Secretary in the Dunsmuir Ministry and had to face a by-election to confirm his Cabinet post.
He was defeated by Tom Gifford.

To Press Again

In a continuation of the shuffling of chairs between the local newspaper front office and the Post Office, JC Brown’s successor as Postmaster at New Westminster was George Kennedy, Editor and Proprietor of the British Columbian. It was no coincidence that Kennedy was of the same political stripe as Brown.

After leaving the political stage, Brown returned to journalism in 1906 with the upstart New Westminster Daily News, in opposition to the Conservative-run Columbian.

Once again it was JC Brown facing off against his old adversary JD Taylor.   When Brown received a visit from the Sheriff bearing notice of a charge of libel brought by Taylor, Brown responded that he was a being made a “manufactured criminal.”

JC Brown last appears as “Managing Director” of this paper in March 1907.

Boosted Into the Big House: JC Brown Fitted Out in Law Enforcement Uniform

In 1907, JC Brown was appointed Warden of the British Columbia Penitentiary.
Handwriting was not a consideration: the Penitentiary, like the Post Office, was a Dominion institution and such appointments were openly accepted as patronage plums.

Notwithstanding his excellent character, proven ability and his record of public service, it was Brown’s qualification as “old Liberal warhorse” that secured him this position.

JC Brown retired in 1921 and died in 1929.

A Singular Coincidence: Glyde Twin Sisters Widowed Together

October 29, 2016

Twin sisters Mary and Martha Glyde began teaching in British Columbia schools in 1872 In 1874 they each married. In 1880, while Martha was visiting with Mary on Vancouver Island, Mary’s husband died, and the next day, Martha’s husband committed suicide in New Westminster.

Of English Origin

Mary and Martha Glyde were born at Whitchurch Canonicorum, Dorsetshire, England, on June 12, 1843.
The sisters emigrated to British Columbia in 1871.

Teaching in British Columbia

In 1872 Miss Mary Glyde was appointed head of the girls division in New Westminster Public School. (WH Burr had charge of the boys division.)  Glyde’s competence earned high praise from the Inspector of Schools.

“The girls’ department, for twelve months past, under the efficient supervision of Miss Glyde, is now second to no other school in the Province in thoroughness and proficiency.”

Mary Glyde resigned her position at New Westminster at the end of the school year, for reasons of “ill health.”. She had been extremely popular and, going away. received a bounty of gifts from pupils and their parents.

In August 1873 Mary’s sister, Martha Glyde, was appointed to replace her.

The same month, Mary Glyde accepted an appointment as teacher at North Cowichan school on Vancouver Island.


In 1874, the Glyde sisters both got married: Mary in April wed Ambrose Wesley Skinner, farmer, of Cowichan Bay, son of pioneer TJ Skinner; and in August Martha wed Valentine Blacklock Tait, Postmaster at New Westminster.

VB Tait had been in charge of the Post Office since 1871, but before that had been many years Clerk in the Registry and the Post Office. He was personally known to virtually every citizen of the Lower Mainland. Involved in numerous social organizations, he was also a militiaman with the New Westminster Rifles, a crack xhot who with his trusty Snider sharpshooter took home the Fleming Cup in 1878.

The Tait-Glyde wedding took place at Holy Trinity Cathedral, followed by a reception at the home of AT Bushby, Tait’s former boss.

Death of Husbands

It was on Octobet 2, 1880 that newspapers reported the near simultaneous deaths of Ambrose W Skinner and Valentine B Tait.

Mr Skinner is declared to have died on Thursday, September 30, 1880. No physician attended him.. His death certificate is dated October 7 and bears the notation:

“Alleged cause of death – diseased lungs and liver.”

At the time of Mr Skinner’s death, Mrs Martha Tait was a guest at the home, visiting her sister Mrs Mary Skinner.

The very next day, at New Westminster, in the absence of Mrs Tait, Valentine B Tait killed himself at the Post Office with his own Snider rifle.

The violent suicide of ”our popular and esteemed Post Master,” shocked residents of New Westminster.

In the columns of the Dominion Pacific Herald, edited by fellow marksman, John C Brown, the event was described in graphic detail, as was the general public mourning and news of his well-attended, highly-organized funeral.

However, no explanation as to the reason for his drastic act was forthcoming.

As the telegraph key was in an adjoining office there is open the possibility that Tait had heard news of the death of his brother in-law. However the following remark suggests he could not have known.

“Unhappily, the wife of the unfortunate gentleman is at present with her sister at Saanich and there is no means of communication with her by telegraph.”

The British Colonist newspaper, piecing together first reports of the deaths, stated:

“By a singular coincidence Mt Tait, postmaster of New Westminster,  whose death is announced in another paragraph, and Mr Skinner were married to sisters, and both gentlemen deceased on the same day.”

Mrs Tait’s insurance company reportedly expedited her claim, deemed to be a very generous consideration.

Martha and Valentine did not have any children.  Ambrose and Mary Skinner had one child, Mary Glyde Skinner, known as Minnie, born in 1876.

Widows’ Farm

Mrs Martha Tait, widow, went to live with her sister, Mrs Mary Skinner, widow, on her Vancouver Island farm.

Mary’s only child Minnie was then four years old. She was raised by her mother and aunt.

In the Census, Martha and Mary both identify themselves as  farmers.

D.R. Williams, in his history of St Peter’s Quamichan Anglican church, noted that “A Mrs Tait” labored for 20 rears as a fundraiser for that Anglican Church. Then, after 1901, in “puzzling silence” her name “disappears” from church records.

Passing Away


Cemetery – St Peter’s – Quamichan – illus. from Beautiful BC Magazine – BC Gov’t

Martha Tait died on February 17, 1913, at the age of 69.

Mary Skinner died December 24, 1929 at the age of 86.

AW Skinner and the Glyde sisters are interred in the graveyard of St Peter’s, Quamichan.

Mary Glyde Skinner never married and passed away 1947.