Chapter 5: The Gay Nineties

Photo courtesy of Fort Langley Centennial Museum, Fort Langley B.C.
James Murray Johnstone
Locked horns with Maxwell.
(page 151)


Photo courtesy of Fort Langley Centennial Museum, Fort Langley B.C.
Picnic at the John Murray Barn Raising, 1890
Names are handwritten round the border of this picture. They are:
W. McIntosh, Sarah McInnes, Liza Culbert McInnes, J. Norris, Hester McKee, B. Nelson, Miss Munro, Mary Norris, M. McKee, F. Nelson, J.J. McLeod, R. Mc___, Amos Culbert, A. Mc___on, Jim McKee,Tom Culbert, Rod Cummings, Bob McKee, Bob Monnahan, Neil McLeod, L. Livingstone, Mr. Mu____, S. McKee, John Murrey, Mrs. Culbert, Mr. & Mrs. Wilso, Mary Ann Towle, K. McLeod, Mr. Braden, Caroline Culbert, Ed Braden, Mrs. _____ason, Mrs. Cameron, Mille Plaxton, 3 Cameron girls.
(pages 152 and 153)
     They called them the gay nineties but actually were very much the same as the years before.  It was hard work from daybreak until dark for most Langley pioneers.  No one worked on the Sabbath.

     In 1890 Wilkie Sr. bought an acre from the holding family.  His daughter Jessie had earlier married Henry Holding.  Henry Wilkie later moved to Langley Village where he became Postmaster.  His son Walter was with the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Langley for a short time before opening his own store.  The municipality 's first telephone office was located in this store in April, 1896, when the New Westminster and Burrard Inlet Telephone Company finished their line between Vancouver and Fort Langley.  To keep costs down the company had used the abandoned Collins Overland Telegraph line.  This telephone was not absorbed into the British Columbia Telephone Company until 1903.  Upon leaving the store Wilkie went to work for his brother Octavius, a Dominion Land Surveyor.  Wilkie Sr. died on the job in 1905.


     In 1906 sixteen year old Robert James Wark arrived at Langley Prairie from Londonderry, Ireland, to take over possession of his inheritance and to build a home for his parents and brothers.  Henry Wark, upon his death, had willed his farm to the boy.  Young Wark was accompanied by an older man named Daniel Carr.  The following year his parents, three brothers, and Mrs. Carr joined the pair.

     In the winter of 1891 Langley ratepayers got together in the Otter School to discuss the pros and cons of borrowing $60,000 to make improvements on the roads within the municipality.  All agreed that the road improvements would increase the value of their property.  At the close of the meeting it was suggested that all trails and roads running north and south be numbered and called concessions.  The trails over the years had been dubbed some rather vulgar and unbecoming names.

     The man responsible for the naming of the early trails was James Melrose.  He had dubbed the trail leading into Thomas Biggar's farm the Shikepoke Trail because of the many blue heron that resided in the district.  These birds were said to be able to whitewash the side of a barn if they flew over it at the right elevation.  Biggar was so upset when he found Melrose's sign on his trail the he offered a reward.

     Other pioneers got the same treatment. He renamed the Otter Road the Warwhoop Trail because of three quarrelsome women who live along if.  William Best had named the road as well as the school after Colonel William Dillion Otter of Louis Riel Rebellion fame on the Prairies.  Just before coming west, Best had served under the Colonel during the skirmish against Poundmaker.  Another trail was named Gumboot Trail because it was so muddy one always had to wear rubber boots to travel it.  The Coghlan Road had been named Bachelor Trail because only single men lived on it.  The Brown Road was called the Last Chance since so many of the first settlers were unable to make a go of it and pulled out.  The Livingstone Road was nicknamed the Bull Yoke Trail because everyone living along it used oxen.

     At one of the council meetings in 1891 James Johnstone complained about his land taxes.  He pointed out that he paid (150) more taxes on 100 acres than Reeve Maxwell did on 300.  This annoyed Maxwell and he rose and gave an explanation.  He pointed out that Johnstone had 100 acres of the former Hudson's Bay Company farm--the most fertile and sought after soil in the Fraser Valley--while he had 300 acres of heavily timbered hilly terrain which was subject to flooding.  Johnstone still was not satisfied claiming the Maxwell's farm had more value than his and yet he had heavier taxes.  Maxwell's Irish dander flared and before he realized what he was saying he told Johnstone he could have his farm, even trade, if he did not like his taxes, or else he could shut up and go home.  With that he threw an amount of cash on the council table and told Johnstone to match it.  He did.  Now if either man backed out the other picked up the two bundles of cash.  Johnstone called Maxwell's bluff and said it (151) was a deal.  All this took place in less than five minutes, before either had a chance to discuss it with their wives.  It was afterwards felt that both men came out losers.  Johnstone, who never had any family, was saddled with 300 acres of uncleared land, while Maxwell, who eventually raised a family of ten, had only 100 acres.  Maxwell had to purchase neighbouring farms in order to support his large family.

     By 1893 Alexander Mavis had subdivided his farm, the site of the Hudson's Bay Company post, into town lots and was offering them for sale for $50 each.  The survey work had been carried out by a young architect by the name of Charles Edward Hope.  Born in Bradford, Yorkshire, England, Hope arrived in Vancouver in 1888 and had come to Langley two years later.  In 1892 he married Mavis' daughter and moved back into Vancouver.

  • Chapter 4:  The Great Railway
  • CHAPTER 5:  THE GAY NINETIES || Great flood of '94
  • Chapter 6:  Modern transportation || The Great Northern Railway || The B.C.E. Railway || The Canadian Northern Railway || The War Years
  • Chronology || List of men in charge of Fort Langley || Reeves of Langley Municipality || Notes || Bibliography || Address to historians || Maps showing Langley property owners || Family trees || Index || Photo Credits
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    Copyright Donald E. Waite / Lisa M. Peppan