Chapter 2: The Collins Overland Telegraph

Photo courtesy of Donald E. Waite
Sawyers toil at making rough 2 X 12 inch boards at the restored Fort Langley.
(page 56)


Photo courtesy of Donald E. Waite
Collector Larrin Wanechek holds rare Pilgrim-hat shaped Chester and Tillotson insulators which were used in the Collins Overland Telegraph through Langley.
(page 57)
     Construction of the Collins Overland Telegraph line in British Columbia started in the late spring of 1865 from the border to the Royal City.  The first message carried over this completed section was of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln's assassination on April 18, 1865.  From New Westminster the line followed along the south side of the Fraser to Hope.  Here it crossed the Fraser and followed along the newly completed Cariboo Wagon Road as far as Quesnel when it struck northwest to Burns Lake and towards Russia-America.

     During April and May of 1865 the line passed through the Langley district, following a course of least resistance.  Pilgrim-hat shaped and threadless Tillotson and Chester insulators were placed on poles and trees and the wires hurriedly strung.  The building of the line was an attempt by Perry McDonough Collins, an ex-California gold hunter and now (55) a part owner in the Western Union and the California State Telegraph Company to provide a line of communication between North America and Europe.  The project was prompted by the failure of English enterprisers to lay an underwater cable across the Atlantic.

     The Collins' line, after it crossed the border at Surrey, would cross 850 miles of British Columbia and then 1800 miles of Russia- America.  An underwater cable was then to be laid across the Bering Strait to link the two continents.  The Russians agreed to take up the challenge once the wire crossed the strait and built 7,000 miles of line to their European boundary.

     In 1866 the company received word that a cable had been successfully laid across the Atlantic from Newfoundland to Ireland, making Collins' $3,000,000 project obsolete before it was finished.  While the line across the many miles in the north of the colony and in Alaska was simply left to disintegrate, the section of the line through southern British Columbia, which included Langley, could be utilized.

     The days of the Fraser River and Cariboo gold rushes, although responsible for opening up the country, were quickly drawing to a close.  The predictions of John Robson, editor of the British Columbian newspaper, were soon to be realized.  As early as 1866 he stated in an editorial that the development of a permanent settled society, based on agriculture and industry, would be of vastly greater importance than the gold-mining bubble.

     As the gold deposits along the Fraser and Thompson Rivers and in the Cariboo began to peter out more and more ex-miners began settling in the Lower Fraser Valley.  It was this steady growth in population which brought about the need for municipal governments.


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Copyright Donald E. Waite / Lisa M. Peppan