Chapter 6: The Great Northern Railway







Photo courtesy of Samuel Hugh Monahan, Murrayville B.C
Samuel Hugh Monahan
Worked on the Great Northern Railroad through South Langley
(page 181)


Photo courtesy of Mrs. Constance I. Johnston, Aldergrove B.C.
Mr & Mrs Alexander Moses Vanetta
Vanetta was the first white child born in the Municipality of Langley. His birth was in 1874.
(page 183)
     The Americans had known about the wealth of British Columbia since the fur brigade days.  Since that time they had always been keen in competition with the British to make a fast dollar by tapping the country's natural resources.

     A Canadian turned American was responsible for American railway lines coming up into Southwestern British Columbia from the United States shortly after the turn of the century. James Jerome Hill was an Ontario farm boy who had fallen in love with railroads on a visit to St. Paul, Minnesota.  In the early 1870s Hill had managed to team up with top officials of the Hudson's Bay Company and the Bank of Montreal to scrape up (179) the capital to begin the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

     Hill had been a director of the Canadian Pacific Railway until he quit in a huff and went on his own to become that railway's most wily competitor.  The two railways engaged in a knock-'em-down-drag-'em- out fight, no holds barred, and the annals of British Columbia's railway history are studded with their encounters.

     With the money from the sale of his shares in the Canadian Pacific Railway, Hill went on to build the Great Northern Railway in the United States.  This railroad paralleled the United States-Canadian border just south of the 49th parallel.  Hill kept his eye on the border territory north of the parallel which the Canadian Pacific Railway lines would not serve.  He felt certain that tariffs between the two countries would stop.  He was right.  The 'Empire Builder', as he was often called, wasted no time and began preparing to run a line into the rich coal deposits of the Crow's Nest Pass.  When the Canadian Pacific Railway got wind of his plans they prepared to do likewise.

     By the turn of the century Hill lines were pushing into Grand Forks and Republic, Washington, with the idea of a Spokane-Vancouver link.  In 1905 he started to push westward from these lines.  The Canadian line was being built by the Vancouver, Victoria, and Eastern Railway and Navigation Company, a subsidiary of the Great Northern.  It was this railway which passed through South Langley.

     The Great Northern had two stations in Langley.  One was at Aldergrove.  The other was called Lincoln by the American entrepreneurs in honour of the United States President.

     It was the Great Northern that speeded up the opening of South Langley.  Logging concerns leased huge timber berths knowing that spurs could be run into their camps from the Great Northern line.  The railroad in turn would haul the logs out to the waterfront.

     Local men who worked on the grade which passed through Langley were Forslund Brothers and Samuel Monahan.  The Forslund brothers hauled fill for the grade at Lincoln for $3.50 a (180) day including their own team of horses until the railway boss' accountant realized they could haul the fill by train cheaper.  One of Monahan's first jobs working along the line was hammering dating nails into all the ties.  On the head of each nail he drove into the tie was 07 for the year 1907.  These dates told the railway officials when the ties were due for replacement.  Monahan was paid for his work in gold coin.  One section of the Great Northern had to cross the Yale Road three times in less than a mile in order to get the grade.

     The Great Northern Railway was not really interested in dealing with local traffic and freight.  At a meeting held at (181) Aldergrove residents charged that trains were nearly always late, that the company had no agent at Abbotsford, and that freight was thrown off the train and no one left to care for it.  They also complained that the freight cars were unsuitable and that meat and furniture sometimes had to be shipped in dirty coal cars.

     Great Northern crews sometimes carried shotguns, not because of Bill Miner-type individuals, (although Miner is credited with robbing at least one and perhaps two of their trains) but instead to do some pheasant shooting around the Lincoln Station.  Each afternoon, during the months of September and October, the train would stop here while the crew went out to bag some birds.  The trainmen would ride the cow catcher, shotguns at the ready, waiting for any birds to take to the air.

     One man who knew Bill Miner's train robber partner Louis Colquhoun was Langley's Alex Houston.  While in the British Columbia Penitentiary the two were cellmates.  Dying from tuberculosis Colquhoun told Houston where the trio had hidden the loot from their many robberies.  Instead of waiting for parole Houston decided to make an escape bid.  Trained in the prison to be a tailor Houston requested a transfer to the blacksmith's shop.  Here he filed himself a key with which he escaped.  Following the escape Houston rode straight out the Yale Road to Langley on a stolen horse.  His freedom was short lived.  Moccasin telegraph soon informed valley residents that Houston was out.  Alexander Vanetta was on the lookout.  He saw Houston riding toward him on the Yale Road.  Jumping out from behind a cedar stump he pointed his shotgun at Houston and told him to stop his horse and throw up his hands.  Instead Houston dug his heels into his mount and fled.  Vanetta fired and blew him out of the saddle with a blast of buckshot.  Houston was returned to gaol.  Ironically he was released a short time later.

     Upon his release Houston went into the Similkameen Country to look for Bill Miner's cache.  Unfortunately for him Miner had escaped from the penitentiary before his release.  Also time had healed the blazes the robbers had left on the trees.  He found nothing.


  • 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
  • If you see something that is incorrect or can provide additional information, please, drop us a line or contact Donald Waite directly.
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    Copyright Donald E. Waite / Lisa M. Peppan