Chapter 6: The Canadian Northern Railway
| Fortunately for the
fort's townspeople the Canadian Northern
Railway, the second trans-Canada line, began construction
along the south side of the Fraser in 1910 and through
Fort Langley. The Engineer-in-Chief responsible for
the building of the 87 mile section of railway between
Vancouver and Hope gave Fort Langley a new lease on life
when he chose the town for his headquarters. The
engineer was twenty-six year old William George Swan.
Born in Kincardine, Ontario, Swan was well qualified for the job despite his tender years. He had graduated from the university of Toronto in 1906 and had joined the Canadian Northern Railway in Eastern Canada to assist in hydrographic studies in Lake Superior prior to arriving in Fort Langley.
Swan knew that he would require the services of a doctor to administer to the needs of the large construction gangs coming into the valley. He advertised and Dr. Benjamin Butler Marr replied. Swan hired him for the job. Marr had been born in 1882 to the large family of Alfred Flynn Marr of Jordan Mountain, New Brunswick. They were of United Empire Loyalist stock. Leaving grammar school, Marr went to Massachusetts, to board with an uncle who lived 70 miles out of Boston. His uncle was a conductor on the Boston-Maine Railway. Marr enrolled in Tufts Medical School at Boston and to pay his tuition fee hired on as a brakeman on the rail way. He would work the train into Boston each morning, attend medical school, and then work a (201) train homebound in the evening. He graduated with his degree in medicine in 1907 and immediately left for British Columbia spending time in both Fernie and Kaslo before coming to Vancouver in 1908. Here he met and served with the Reverend John Antle on the Anglican Columbia Mission boats. During this period he played a part in the establishing of a number of hospitals at up coast settlements which cared for both the body and soul of any in need. He left Antle to establish himself in Fort Langley.
Swan had a clash with Charles E. Hope shortly after establishing his headquarters in the Hora Block at Fort Langley. Swan's surveyors wanted to run the railway's right-of-way right (202) alongside Hope's new home. After a bitter quarrel Swan reluctantly moved the line a good distance north of Hope's 'Illahie'.
It was Hope's employee's wife that eventually married Alex Houston. Mrs. Charles Devine became Mrs. Houston. She had children from both men. Houston mellowed in aging to become one of the most loved and respected men in the municipality. Never lucky, Houston in 1935 learned that the British Government was seeking out relatives of Lady Houston. This woman had married Alex's father's brother's son, making Alex a first cousin. British Columbia's most noted historian Bruce A. McKelvie wrote letters on Houston's behalf. When word came back regarding the woman's wealth McKelvie could not believe what he was reading. The woman, upon her death, left an estate of over $30,000,000. Shortly before dying, she had attempted to (204) persuade the British Government to let her outfit Britain's navy. With this information also came the news that Alex was ineligible for any of the money because he was illegitimate. His father, James Houston, had married according to the customs of the land since priests and ministers were few and far between. The rules outlined in Lady Houston's will did not consider such problems. Houston never obtained a cent from the estate.
In 1946 Alex, along with Bruce A. McKelvie and Langley Reeve Noel Booth unveiled a cairn on his property commemorating the first Hudson's Bay Company Fort Langley and Derby. Houston passed away in 1950.
Langley's carpenter William Brown did alright with the arrival of the Canadian Northern Railway. The company had bought the Commercial Hotel because it was situated along the right-of-way. Brown was told that he could have the hotel if he could move it off its foundations and out of the way by 8 o'clock the following morning. The only problem was that he was told of the proposition late in the afternoon leaving little time to move the building some 50 yards. Brown walked into the hotel and told the patrons that he would give a case of whiskey to anyone who would bring a team of horses and help him with the move. Brown then went home and got the tools of his trade. Upon returning he quickly jacked the hotel up, had the army of men that had gathered put some logs under it, and proceeded with a few teams of horses to pull it off the right-of-way. The party then went on a good drunk. The venture cost Brown five cases of whiskey.
This was not the only big project taken on by Brown. A year or two earlier he had built a $10,000 three storey home for Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Haldi in the fort village next to their butcher shop. Upon Mrs. Haldi's father's death in Chicago in 1908 he was worth $2,000,000. Mrs. Haldi inherited almost half a million dollars. The Haldi Home, recently renovated, is today the Bedford House Restaurant. It was Haldi that put up the money to build a bridge which spanned Bedford Channel between the fort village and McMillan Island. At the time he owned much of the island. A short time after the house was built Herbert Titmus married the Haldi's adopted daughter.
Swan contracted the clearing of the railway right-of-way out to local farmers. Glen Valley farmer Thomas Forrester took the contract to clear the right-of-way between the West Bluff and Mount Lehman in 1910. The contract called for him to build up a 3-4 foot grade some eight feet wide upon a natural ridge which ran parallel but inland from the Fraser River. Bill Cornock was hired by Forrester to blow the stumps out along the line for $2.50 a day. Cornock, along with a couple of other fellows, hired out their teams of horses to Forrester and threw dirt up onto the grade. They would use the horses to plow a burrow on either side of the grade. The men worked through the open winter of 1910-11 and had the grade ready for the laying of ties and steel in the spring. When using their own teams the men were paid $5.00 for a 9 hour day.
The four Forslund brother, Walter, Albert, William, and James were the sportsmen of Langley. Their greatest sport was hunting bobcat. Once Albert's two dogs cornered a big tom. Albert had a .22 rifle and one shell which he was not anxious to waste on the cat. While the big cat was busy trying to keep two dogs at bay Albert took his pocket knife and cut himself a fifteen foot length of vine maple. As the big cat sparred with the dogs Albert positioned himself and knocked him over the head with the pole ending the hunt. He was paid $1.25 bounty per cat.
Another business the Forslund brothers got into was bee tracking. As more and more clearing took place and the area opened up flowers began to grow which attracted the tame bees from across the line. These bees sometimes went wild and built hives in hollowed out trees. In the fall of 1913 the boys found their first hive which yielded 100 pounds of honey which they sold for a dollar a quart. They soon became expert in bee tracking. Using flour, as a means of identification, on tame bees, they were soon able to determine how far a bee flew in a certain period of time. If this failed they used triangulation to home in on a honey-laden tree. in the summer of 1914 the Forslund boys knew the location of more trees with hives in them than they could cut. One tree yielded over 300 pounds of honey.
In 1912 Dr. Marr's sister Alfretta came to Langley to assist her brother with his growing practice. The doctor had built himself a house in Fort Langley. He kept several fine horses. Each animal would get a daily workout as the doctor raced them to make all his calls.
The following year Dr. Marr married the 17 year old daughter of William John McIntosh. He did not fully enjoy the wedding. He had gone out to Jardine Station to pick up the best man and was returning at a good clip when a trace broke causing the buggy's wheels to jam. The buggy flipped over throwing the best man clear but dragging Dr. Marr for quite a distance as the team did not stop. At the church the blushing bride was beautiful but not so the groom. He had lost a considerable amount of skin besides having a broken collar bone and three cracked ribs. After the church service the wedding party, accompanied by most of the town, travelled by charter boat to New (211) Westminster. There the groom checked into the Royal Columbian Hospital for quick repairs before continuing their honeymoon to Alaska.
In 1914 the Skeena appeared on the Fraser under the command of Charles E. Seymour. This sternwheeler had been built in Vancouver in 1908 for Skeena River operations by Burns and Company distributing meat and supplies to Grand Trunk Railway construction crews. When the line was completed Burns sold the steamer to Captain Seymour. The Skeena was the last passenger steamer to leave the Fraser. In 1925 Seymour died and the steamer was tied up in New Westminster. The Royal City's Board of Trade tried unsuccessfully to put the steamer back into operations. The Skeena was eventually auctioned to Ewan's Cannery for $5,000 and converted into a floating boarding house.
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Copyright © Donald E. Waite / Lisa M. Peppan