Chapter 6: Modern Transportation
| The twentieth century
brought up-to-date methods of transportation to
Langley. Within a few years three railroads would
pass through the municipality and the affluent pioneers
would be driving the horseless buggy--the automobile.
The first decade of the nineteenth century was the hey-day of the sternwheeler. In January, 1901, the Canadian Pacific Railway bought out John Irving's riverboat business and began operating the Beaver, namesake of the Hudson's Bay Company's famous steamer. Built in Victoria in 1898 by the Canadian Pacific Navigation Company, the Beaver was undoubtedly the finest of a long line of riverboats. The first steel hull ship to be built in British Columbia, the Beaver was originally intended for the Stikine River but was instead placed on the New Westminster to Chilliwack run under the command of Captain George Odin.
The Beaver's most serious competitor was the accident- prone Ramona. For years these two sternwheelers alternated daily for the New Westminster to Chilliwack traffic. The two stern- wheelers which took farm produce from Mission and Mt. Lehman (163) into the Royal City were the Favourite and the Defender. The Favourite was built in 1901 at New Westminster for George G. Harvey, who acted as her mate and purser while the Defender was built at West's Mill by its owner's son.
On April 17, 1901, the Ramona's boiler exploded upon pulling into Henry West's Landing killing four persons. Richard Powers, the riverboat's engineer, was standing on the front deck when the boiler blew. He and Mrs. Hector Morrison of Fort Langley were two of four killed. The hull of the ill-fated Ramona was subsequently purchased by a group of New Westminster merchants who had organized the Western Steamboat Company. The Ramona was rebuilt and put under the command of Captain Hollis Young.
In 1900 John Cornock returned to his 160 acres in Glen Valley. This time he brought with him his wife, the former Eliza Jane Sawyers, and their four children. He had come to British Columbia 20 years earlier from Ontario. Once here he bought property in Glen Valley from William Cromarty Jr., the son of the Fort Langley cooper. The first year he worked in one of the logging camps across the river from his farm. After that first year he worked at making improvements on his own place. He went back to Ontario on the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885 upon hearing word that his father had died and that he was needed at home.
Cornock's father had left Wexford County, Ireland, in the 1830s to establish a grist, flour, and planing mill, as well as a store and distillery on the banks of the Credit River at Erin, Ontario. Both Cornock and his wife had been raised at Erin. Upon his return home he assisted his brother in running their (168) father's operation. Their water-powered mills did extremely well until the coming of steam. With the arrival of steam-powered mills all the industry moved to Toronto. Because of this Cornock decided to return to British Columbia. The old Cornock grist mill in Ontario still stands.
With their return to Glen Valley the family took up residence in a three room trapper's cabin built by Cromarty.
In 1902 George Irvine Blair came back to Langley to stay. Born in 1863 in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, Ireland, he had come to Zorra, Oxford County, Ontario, in 1884 to work for an uncle. He had come west in 1886 via the Canadian Pacific Railway to homestead. During the first three years he managed to build a log cabin and plant a few fruit trees on his 160 acre farm in South Langley. He would carry his wheat to Hossack Mill to have it ground into his winter's supply of flour. He walked to Fort Langley once a week for his groceries and mail. His cabin was destroyed by fire in 1893.
In 1895 Blair went to work for Judge Henry Cornwall at Ashcroft. He had been offered work with the Western Canadian Ranching Company who owned the Perry Ranch at Cache Creek and the Gang Ranch in the Chilcotin. These ranches were among the largest in the province.
In 1897 Blair married Elizabeth Culbert, the daughter of Langley pioneer Thomas Culbert. Immediately after the wedding the pair returned to the Cariboo where Blair managed the Perry Ranch for the next three years. In the fall Blair would participate in the cattle drives from the Cariboo down to New Westminster where the beef would be barged across the Strait of Georgia to Victoria. Following the drive, Blair would return to Langley to make the required improvements on his farm.
Leaving the ranching company Blair leased the Hat Creek Ranch and Stopping House on the Cariboo Road. This stopping house, which belonged to Stephan Tingley, had been founded by Donald McLean, ex-Hudson's Bay Company Factor of Fort Kamloops. Tingley had been an employee of Francis Jones Barnard, owner of the Barnard Express or BX. He eventually bought Barnard out.
The Hat Creek house proved very profitable for Blair. His wife ran the hotel while he looked after the ranch. He hired Indians to break wild horses at $15 an animal. Every time a cowboy or miner came into the hotel for a shot of whiskey they invariably insisted that Blair have one on them. To refuse would have been an insult. Blair took an empty whiskey bottle and filled it with tea. He told his bar keeper, Ike Hunt, about the bottle and told him to pour his drinks from it. Tingley offered him the Hat Creek House for $70,000 but he turned it down because his wife did not like the area. Two children were born to them at Ashcroft.
Upon returning to Langley in 1902 Blair took on the responsibility (170) of policing the municipality from William McIntosh. He also purchased his father-in-law's farm. Blair often jokingly said he drank enough cold tea in his three years at hat Creek to buy his father-in-law out for $6,000. Upon selling the farm Thomas decided to move to New Zealand with the two younger members of his family. His wife Ellen had died in 1894 and was buried in the St. Alban's Anglican Church Cemetery on the Nicomekl River. Blair had two sisters and a cousin in Timaru, New Zealand, and had corresponded with them over the years. They agreed to help Culbert get settled when he arrived. Culbert lived out the rest of his life in New Zealand.
Upon meeting his next door neighbor Blair was dumbfounded when he encountered Mrs. William Lawrence. She too was from Enniskillen. The two had played together there as children.
In 1902-3 Jacob Haldi bought the old Hudson's Bay Company store at Fort Langley from James Morton Drummond and operated it as a butcher shop. A native of Berne, Switzerland, (171) Haldi had left home and travelled to Detroit, Michigan, to visit his mother. She had left her husband and was housekeeping for a German widower named Jacob Beller. He had a growing family. Haldi's mother eventually married Beller and the pair had a second family. Haldi still later married a daughter of Beller from his first marriage. Shortly after their marriage they started a butcher shop in Chicago. Leaving Chicago, Haldi came to British Columbia in 1891 and bought homesteads in his mother's and his own name before going to work for a dairy farmer in California for four years. While he was in California his wife remained in Detroit.
In 1895 Haldi and his wife Jessie came to homestead in Langley and built a cedar shake shack. In 1899 they adopted a son and a daughter from an orphanage in Vancouver. The boy ran away.
Shortly after opening the butcher shop Haldi took on for an assistant Herbert Titmus. His homestead was next to Haldi. Titmus had arrived in Langley with his father, Samuel Titmus, as a boy of ten in 1874. His father had given up a career as a policeman in England to see California. His wife, a former barmaid, had died prior to his leaving England. His two daughters did not travel to North America with their father. They came over later and taught in private schools in the province.
Haldi was fortunate when he first opened to win Hamilton Edge over as a regular customer. Once a week for years Edge rowed his skiff across the Fraser to but meat from a butcher in Port Haney. A bit of a prankster this butcher sold the river bank dweller a wrapped block of wood which he had laboriously carved into the shape of a ham. Edge did not discover that he had been taken until he rowed back across the river and home. For the rest of his life he did his meat shopping at Fort Langley.
Titmus did the slaughtering. He was required since Mrs. Haldi had gone back to Detroit to see her ailing father. He had done well for himself financially over the years. Starting from scratch he went into debt to open one of the largest restaurants in Detroit City. At one time he owned Belle Island in the Detroit River opposite Detroit City.
When Canada's first train robbery took place on the evening of September 10, 1904, at Silverdale, a small community 40 miles east of Vancouver on the north bank of the Fraser River, Langley's Otway J.J. Wilkie went after the robbers. Wilkie, in the capacity of Chief Constable of the British Columbia Provincial Police in New Westminster and the Fraser Valley, formed a posse which consisted of the Shortreed brothers of Aldergrove and other local talent. Their hunt was not a success.
It was two years before Wilkie learned that the outlaws he had been hunting had been lead by Bill Miner, the notorious stagecoach robber described by W.M. Pinkerton, head of the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency, as "the master criminal of the American West." This man had a criminal record which could only be compared with The Jesse James Boys or Butch Cassidy's 'Hole in the Wall Bunch.' Between 1863 and 1901, if not in San Quentin doing time for a stagecoach robbery, Miner was on the road casing his next job. The soft-spoken command, "Hands up," followed by several apologetic remarks during the (173) actual holdup, became a Miner trademark and earned him the nickname 'Gentleman Bandit.' In 1901 Miner was released for the third time from San Quentin. He was 54 years of age and had just served 19 ½ years of a 25 year sentence for grand larceny. Up to this time he had served a grand total of 28 years, 7 months, in San Quentin since his first conviction. So frequent and routine were the Gentleman Bandit's stagecoach holdups over the years that the Pinkertons had been able to plot his movements on a map of the American West. Miner's two accomplices in British Columbia were Louis Colquhoun, a former school teacher from Clifford, Ontario, and William Grell, alias Shorty Dunn, who hailed from Minnesota. Colquhoun had worked his way west seeking a moderate climate for his tuberculosis condition and in doing so served a two year stretch in Walla Walla Penitentiary, Washington, for petty theft. Grell apparently had a rough life as a youngster but had never been in trouble with the law prior to coming to British Columbia.
The fact that policemen in British Columbia around the turn of the century were few and far between no doubt prompted Miner, using the alias of of George Edwards, to seek out his brother who was living under the alias of Jack Budd 5 miles out of Princeton in the interior of the province. Miner, using the alias of Edwards, when not travelling back and forth to the border or making trips to the coast, bought and sold cattle or prospected in the mountains. There was hardly a town along the 100 mile lower stretch of the Fraser River which did not have a shack in which Miner lived. He was a familiar face to Chilliwack, Mission, and Haney residents. It was during this period that he met and had for companionship the shiftless Colquhoun and Dunn. Prior to the robbery at Silverdale, Miner had been employed on a hop farm at Agassiz. In the evenings he would hang around the Agassiz Canadian Pacific Railway Station and read any incoming messages. In doing so he knew all about train arrivals, departures, and the kind of cargo. On the day of the robbery at Silverdale. Miner and his two accomplices had gone into the New Westminster Farmer's Market and sold 3-4 horses they had stolen across the line. They came out the Yale Road on horseback through Langley and then rode north towards Glen (174) Valley. They tied their horses in the Gillis orchard in Mount Lehman. From here the three walked to the Canadian Pacific Railway bridge which spanned the Fraser at mission. They crossed the bridge and boarded the train at Mission Junction while it was stopped to take on water.
The tactics used by Miner to pull the Silverdale caper showed his expertise at train robbery. The three men concealed themselves in the baggage and mail car and allowed the train to go a few miles out of town before sticking up the engineer and forcing him to bring the train to a stop. Once the train was motionless two of the robbers entered the passenger coach and made everybody sit tight. Once the passengers were under control one of the robbers remained with them while the other uncoupled the passenger coach from the baggage and mail car. The engine then chugged off into the fog leaving the passengers and one bandit behind. After proceeding a few miles the train was stopped a second time and the actual robbery took place. The two outlaws then locked all the trainmen except the engineer and fireman in the mailcar. They then backed up to the scene of the original stickup where they picked up the third robber. The engine, with the baggage and mail car, then once again sped west. Once back to the scene of the actual robbery the baggage and mail car was uncoupled from the engine. The outlaws, with tow trainmen as hostages, again sped off with only the engine as far west as Whonnock. No sooner had the locomotive stopped than the robbers and the trainmen parted company. As a precautionary measure, to slow the train and thus delay information of the robbery getting to Vancouver, the old bandit threw the fireman's shovel over the embankment.
Now the trainmen were left with the difficult task of attempting to find the shovel without the aid of a lantern in the fog before attempting to put the engine in reverse and shunt back and recpouple the baggage and mail car. Once this task was completed the engineer had to remain in reverse and shunt back and recouple to the rest of the train. No wonder the outlaws had a good head start on the law. The train did not reach Vancouver until well after midnight.
Meanwhile the outlaws had stolen Axel Lee's boat used to take the mail across the river to the residents in Glen Valley. Due to the heavy rains the Fraser was flowing faster than usual. As a result the robbers were not able to row straight across the river to Glen Valley but were instead carried downriver almost to the old fort. The three bandits abandoned the boat in front of Gilbert McKay's home. They then began walking along the river bank upriver to Glen Valley. Once they reached Glenn Valley the three men had to walk to their horses which they had tied up in an orchard earlier that afternoon at Mount Lehman. Mounting up they rode to Chilliwack instead of south into the States as afterwards expected by the Wilkie posse.
When the train did eventually reach Vancouver the Canadian Pacific Rail way authorities wasted no time. They dispatched a special train to the scene of the robbery. By early morning a police dragnet had been thrown over the Fraser Valley. Ironically Miner and his two pals were having breakfast in a Chilliwack restaurant the morning following the robbery with two Canadian Pacific Railway detectives. When they got around to discussing the robbery Miner's only comment was that it was fair enough since the "C.P.R. have been robbing the public for years." With that brief comment he continued with eating his ham and eggs.
Wilkie's posse found Lee's mail boat adrift near the south bank of the Fraser. Searching along the riverbank they soon discovered three sets of tracks near the Gilbert McKay residence. McKay, an early riser, had been down along the river before the arrival of the posse and had found a parcel of dynamite and a few shotgun shells dropped by the bandits. Unfortunately for McKay he did not know the members of the posse that first encountered him and he was arrested on the spot. It took a great deal of talking before McKay convinced the posse members that he was a local homesteader. Wilkie and his men followed the men's tracks but soon lost the trail due to the night's downpour of rain.
It was two weeks after the robbery before two teenage brothers, Thomas and Wilfred Thompson, grouse hunting in (177) Mount Lehman across the river from Silverdale found three mail bags discarded in an abandoned homestead. This plus the fact that the Gillis family residing in Mount Lehman recalled seeing three horses tied up in their orchard the evening of the robbery unfolded the escape route used by the robbers. Clarence McDonald, clerk in the General Store at Agassiz, did not realize he had met Miner until sometime after his capture. Miner had come into the store and purchased a pair of ladies stockings from him a few days before the holdup. Before leaving the store he asked McDonald to get a pair of scissors and cut the feet out of them.
More than 20 months elapsed before the next worthwhile lead was developed. On the night of May 8, 1906, Canada's second train robbery occurred at Ducks, a small settlement 18 miles east of Kamloops. The three train robbers responsible for this caper were, upon being caught by members of the Royal North West Mounted Police, credited with the Silverdale holdup. For their efforts Miner and Dunn received life sentences to be served in the British Columbia Penitentiary in New Westminster. Colquhoun, because of his rather mild record, was given a stiff 25 years in the same prison.
None of the convicts ever ran into Alexander Matheson, Chief of Police for Surrey, or George Blair and Bill McIntosh, the upholders of the law in Langley. had any of the robbers been interested in the sport of tug of war they might have met all three. Matheson, Blair, and McIntosh, were all members of Langley's championship tug of war team.
In 1905 Langley sported the best tug of war team in the province. The Langley team would compete against neighbouring municipalities at Queen's Park in New Westminster. Each team consisted of 11 men. The distance between teams was 12-16 feet with a handkerchief on the ground marking the center line. The Langley team averaged just over 200 pounds per man with Linton Harris being the youngest and lightest at 180 pounds. George Adair was the anchor man for the team. In 1905 the Ladner team was considered the best in the province. This was until they pulled against the Langley team and lost three pulls out of three. One contest took 44 minutes.
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