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The Early History of Hall's Prairie

Reminiscences of Mrs. Margaret M. Stewart. April 9, 1959

This district of Surrey is currently most commonly referred to as Hazelmere Valley

Mrs. Stewart's hand written letter of reminiscences was first published by the Surrey Museum and Historical Society as a gestener printed, and stapled document.
Publication is courtesy of the Surrey Museum, Surrey Archives and the Surrey Historical Society.
The Margaret Stewart booklet material originates from Manuscript File 170.75 at the Surrey Archives.

As there are very few of the really early settlers alive at the present time, I thought I would record some of the early happenings.

My parents, Mr. and Mrs. David W. Brown, and their family homesteaded here in 1878. I was two years old at that time. I do not remember coming but I can remember some of the happenings when I was three years old. My parents were married in Ontario in 1865, but they left Ontario and went to the State of Iowa where Father had taken up a homestead. They did not like it there very well as the summers were so hot and the winters were so cold. Father had done a lot of traveling. I have heard him say he had been in almost every state in the U.S.A., in Central America and the Panama, and had crossed the continent twice by wagon train before there were any railways, once to the California gold rush and once to the Cariboo gold rush; so he knew some of what the West Coast was like.

They decided to sell out and come west. It was quite a journey but there was a railway by that time and they came to San Francisco, took ship from there to Victoria, from there in a smaller boat to Whatcom, now Bellingham, Washington, and then down the Nooksack River in an Indian canoe to Ferndale, Washington, where they had friends. After staying some time, our Uncle Archie, who had come to B.C. earlier, told Father there was good land to homestead in B.C., so father came and filed on, the quarter section that I and my son and family still live on. Uncle Archie and three other young fellows had filed on four quarter sections adjoining. They built their cabin where their land all joined and each one slept on his own corner and worked his land in the daytime.

Father had a lot of work to do before he could bring the family. He had to build a bridge over the Campbell River where it happened to be quite narrow, make a road for over half a mile through dense timber and then erect a log cabin. When he had finished, Father went for the family. There was a rough road from Ferndale to the Boundary Line. There was a road up to the Boundary Line. It had been made some years earlier to bring in the iron posts to mark the Boundary Line, one for each mile. Another road wound across Hall's Prairie was a large open space. The only conveyance that could travel the roads was a long stone boat drawn by oxen and that was the way our family moved in.

Our cabin was built near a creek and the great firs were standing it, some of them were three hundred feet high. There was no city of Blaine when we came, but this area was quite well homesteaded on the American side. There was the Cain family where the American Custom's Office is now, Dave Miller's next around the bay, Boblet's and Kingley, who became the first Sheriff of Blaine and the Dexter's where Father bought our first cow. She was a little red cow with a crooked jaw as she had been caught in a barbed wire fence when a calf. And there was Dick Richards, generally called Dick, the ferryman, who had a boat and took passengers over to the Semiahmoo Spit where there was a store. He had no landing for his boat but anchored it out in the water. If a man did not have hip boots on, he would take his shoes and socks off and wade out to the boat; while a woman, if alone, would be gallantly carried by Dick to the boat. Once, I crossed over to the Spit with Father and Mother when I was three or four years old. Father carried Mother and Dick carried me. Old Mr. Cain was a great bear and beaver trapper. He used to stay at our place and when he became too old to trap, he gave his bear trap to Father. The trap is still in my garage.

Hall's Prairie got its name from Hall who squatted on it with his Indian wife. They were chased from it by wolves one extremely cold winter in the '60's when the Fraser River was completely frozen over. The Prairie was covered with long grass and clumps of aspen poplar here and there. There were quite a lot of cattle grazing on it, mostly from the American side. There were a few people homesteading around it. Where the Currie family lives, it was homesteaded by people called Botell. The old man was a short broad chap and he loved to talk. He would come to our house and he would say: "my pockets are just full of news". Once he told Father this story: He had one son, William, who was 19 or 20 years old, and he thought his son ought to have a wife. One day he was across the Line and he saw a young woman who would just suit, he thought. She was already married, but he did not seem to mind that. He tried to coax her to come and live with them. He went back the second time, but her husband was home and he said, "If, I ever catch you here again, I will shoot you". Botell said, "I heard him cock a pistol and – oh – how I did run!"

Then there was the Heintz family, a bad lot. The father and son had two sections on the east side of the Hall's Prairie Road from the North Bluff to the Campbell River Road. When they wanted fresh beef they would go and pick out a fat steer on the Prairie and shoot him down. They had an old man living with them called Fritz Shinhart. He had given the Heintz all his money to stay with them for life. When they had got into a lot of trouble, they were planning to leave, but did not want to be bothered with old Fritz. Several times after he had eaten, he became very sick with terrible pains in his stomach. Tim, the young Heintz, said to my Father one day, "If Fritz should die suddenly, do you think there would be an inquest?" My Father said: "most likely there would be as he is no relation to you". Fritz had no more sick spells and they all fled across the Line shortly after.

When we came here there was only a trail to Clover Valley. In the summer of 1880 my Father went to Victoria when John Robinson was Premier, and told him how shut in we were. The Premier promised to have the Hall's Prairie Road opened. The contract was let to William Shannon who opened the road and built a long bridge over the Campbell River which was quite wide as a result of many beaver dams. Mr. Shannon had his camp near the river. One day Mr. Shannon came and told my Mother that his Chinese cook was making very poor bread and that he would like to send the cook and his yeast up for my Mother to see and to improve the yeast. So the next day the cook came with a big pall of sour yeast on one end of a pole and half a sack of flour on the other end of the pole over his shoulder. I don't know what Mother did to his yeast, but he was the first Chinaman I had ever seen. He had a very long pig tail hanging down his back. I recall the date when the Hall's Prairie Road opened because my Father was away to Victoria and my Mother made a cradle for my sister, Agnes, who was born in June 1881.

While my Mother was busy shaving and planing the boards for the cradle, Reverend Mr. McCallum came. He was traveling through the country visiting the settlers. He thought Mother had made a fine job of the cradle and she had it for Agnes and my three other sisters. Years later he became the Presbyterian minister stationed at Cloverdale and he never forgot about the cradle and often mentioned it to my Mother who was a grand pioneer woman. She could do almost anything and do it well. When my Father wanted to go to Victoria, he looked at his hat which was old and faded and he thought he would have to walk in to New Westminster to buy one as no sensible man went bareheaded then. Mother said she would make him one and so went down to the Prairie and gathered a great sheaf of long grass which grew there. She braided the straw and made a fine hat; put it in a barrel full of sulphur to bleach it white and put a black band around it and when Father went to Victoria his hat was admired and called a panama hat.

There was no post office in 1880 closer than New Westminster, but not long after a post office was opened at Surrey Centre, Clover Valley and Hall's Prairie, the latter being in our house and Father was Postmaster with a salary of $25.00 a year. The mail carrier was Henry T. Thrift. The family was living at Clover Valley at the time but generally his son, young Henry, carried the mail on horseback. Once he galloped his horse so hard it fell under him and died a quarter of a mile from our house.

After the Hall's Prairie Road was opened before Blaine started to grow, Dave Millar drove a stage from across the Line to New Westminster, taking passengers and any kind of produce he could buy cheaply such as bread and eggs. My Mother made quite a lot of butter and was well known for making good butter. One time Father took Mother's butter and other produce to New Westminster as was his custom and the storekeeper said to him that his wife was making a lot of butter this summer. Father said "No! Why?" Well, he said, "Dave Millar was in a few days ago with a load of butter and he said it was all Mrs. Brown's butter". My father said that he had never sold Dave Millar one pound of butter. Dave Millar had a brother, Al, living with him and he loved to tell a joke. One day Dave and his brother, Al, were out cutting down trees when Dave's axe glanced and cut his boot. He looked down and saw his red sock through the cut and thought it was blood and made Al carry him to the house on his back. When they got the boot off they found the foot was not cut at all. Al told this story to everyone he could. Dave felt rather sore about this.

In the early '80's Blaine started to grow and the settlers on this side of the Line did most of their shopping there. For quite a time there were no Custom's officers or anything to stop people coming and going. Before Blaine was there the ruffled grouse were very plentiful. I have counted as many as 50 perched in a cottonwood tree, eating the buds. The Campbell River was full of trout, but the people of Blaine came across and cleaned most of them out. Blaine always made a great to–do over the Fourth of July. For the first year or two they set long tables in someone's orchard and had free meals for all. I remember eating there once, but they soon discontinued this as too many Canucks, as they called us, came over. One attraction they always had on the 4th was to grease a pig and turn him loose on the sand flats, offering $5.00 to anyone who could catch the pig. This made lots of fun and quite a few tried to catch it.

More settlers came in and more roads were opened up. Reverend Alexander Dunn, an early Presbyterian minister, held service in our home a few times and baptized the seven eldest children of our family. We also had a visit from Bishop and Mrs. Sillitoe. They drove a horse and buckboard and I think it was the first horse I had seen. Everyone used oxen. Mother sat the visitors down under a shade tree and treated them to cake and a glass of milk.

Mr. Figg was an early settler. He came from London and did not know much about tall timber. A big red fir which he was burning fell down and killed him. His son, George, still lives near where his father homesteaded. My father was Justice of the Peace and kept Mr. Figg's things until his son, William, came from England.

In the early '80's there arose a great scare across the Line. A man by the name of Gilldy had shot down two men in cold blood. We were warned to be on the lookout for him on this side of the Line. He was a queer chap that no one liked and he had tried to court some of the girls without success. There was a Miss Mayhood who he had tried several times to call on. Her brother told him to stay off the place. A short time afterwards she and her brother were taking the clothes off the clothes–line when Gilldy came out of the bush and shot her brother down. Their father heard the shot and came to the door to see what the shooting was about and Gilldy dropped him in the doorway. Miss Mayhood picked up the chopping axe and chased him off the place and he ran without shooting her. There was a price on his head, dead or alive, and a gang of men looking for him. A note was found which he had left somewhere stating that he intended to shoot several more men, all fathers of young girls. Everyone was afraid for no one knew where he would strike next. But before he had killed any more people, two men who were out looking for him early one morning, found him sound asleep behind a log. They both shot him so he never knew what happened to him.

More settlers were coming into our district such as the Johnsons, Harts and Roeharts; almost enough to start a school and in 1884 when Father was in the Land Office proving up, they told him there was a homestead to be taken up quite near him. A man by the name of Sundy had filed on this place, years before, but had never done anything with it. Father told Mr. Thrift about the place, he came and looked at it, liked the place and filed on it. The family was living in Clover Valley then. The addition of their children in the district made enough to get a school started. In the spring of 1885 the school opened in a log building that had been the home of the Heintz family. Hall's Prairie was formed into a School District. The teacher's name was J. C. McClennan. That summer the Government built a school house on a site given by Dr. Powel of Victoria, the same: site where the present Hall's Prairie School stands. I attended that school, also my son, Alexander John, and now his children. Of course, it is not the same building to–day, but the first school was cottage shaped, large enough for forty or fifty children. The teacher's salary was fifty dollars a month and he seemed quite content with the pay. On the 24th of May 1886, our school picnic was held on the Indian Reservation at White Rock. We held our picnic across the river as there was a good wagon bridge crossing the Campbell River at the foot of the Stayte Road where there is only a foot bridge at the present time. I remember clearly a Chinaman came past us and one of the men in our crowd started to nag him and told the Chinaman he had no passport. The Chinaman said he had, the man said, "Let me see it". The Chinaman said he would not be looked over by the crowd, but he would let the elderly gentleman see it and handed the passport to my father. The Chinaman spoke perfect English.

The only grocery store that was nearer than New Westminster when we came was at Semiahmoo Spit. The store was kept by a man called Murran. Our father often went there for flour. Murran also ran a logging camp and had logged all round the bay on both sides of the Line. He also sold whisky to the loggers. It was said he bought one barrel of whisky and made up three barrels with water, acid and tobacco juice. It was called Murran's Rot Gut and sent the men nearly crazy. One young man killed there in a drunken brawl. Murran had the name of cheating his men when he paid them their wages. One man by the name of Shearer told Murran he had cheated him out of seven dollars and that he would get even with him. Murran always banked his money in New Westminster and one day when he stepped off the ferry Shearer was waiting for him and knifed him seven times. A priest was sent for, but Murran was dead before he arrived and so ended an evil life.

St. Leonard's Hotel was built sometime in the '80's a little north of where the Peace Arch stands to–day and the owner sold liquor. Our father did all he could to prevent the hotel being built there 'as it was a real deadfall. Just across the Line on the American side there was a row of shacks for immoral purposes. One day in winter a great storm of wind and sea blew in and carried the shacks away. The women fled for their lives and lost everything they had. The shacks were never built again.

An old man by the name of Billy Fatterson lived in a shack on the American side of the Line opposite the hotel. He had a very vile tongue which he had been using on the hotel keeper, Jack Atkinson, and had made him so angry he got his gun out and shot the old man in the leg. Billy Patterson's left would not heal because, as he himself said, he had drunk too much whisky and he died in about a month. There was a great to–do about which country would try the murderer as the shot started in one country and crossed to the other. At last it was decided that Washington should have Mr. Atkinson and they sentenced him to a few years in the penitentiary. Some years liter the hotel burned down which was a blessing.

About 1888 the Great Northern Railway started to build a railway from Blaine through the valley to New Westminster. Two gangs of men were employed, one gang of white men and the other Chinese. The white men's camp was just where Gordon Thompson's house now stands and the Chinese camp was near the creek on the Bamford Road. They graded up the railroad bed by digging out the earth from the sides of the right–of–way. They also built the bridge across the Campbell River. The laying of the rails was held up for some time due to a soft spot near Custer, Washington. They dumped in train loads of gravel and rock but all sank down. At last they put in brush to make a bottom and then the gravel and soon it was built up solid enough to bear the rails and train. They called it the "Devil's Bread Pan". All the gravel that was used was brought from the American side of the Line. The gravel train engineer was a nice chap. If the gravel train came along the same time we children came home from school, he would stop the train and tell us to jump aboard and then he would stop and let us off at the foot of our hill. We had many such rides. At last the railway was finished and there was quite an affair driving the last spike at the boundary line on the 15th of February 1891. Many years afterwards, the railroad changed to run around the bay as it is at the present time.

For quite a number of years, when we first lived here, there was no Custom's Officer. The populace bought and sold across the Line Just as they pleased. Then Hr. Cantrell was appointed Canadian Custom's Officer and I think his office was at the St. Leonard's hotel, but he was not often there. He was generally walking around Blaine trying to keep his eye on the three roads leading into Blaine. At this time when we bought anything in Blaine we always looked around for the Custom's Officer and if we did not see him it was all to the good and we just came home. If we met him, he asked what we had and charged duty, if any, and put the money in his pocket without any red tape.

In the early '80's two young men by the name of Keith took up land near what is called the Brown Road. They were heavy drinkers and their people had sent them out here to get away from drinking, but whenever they got a cheque from home they went to Blaine, bought lots of drink and carried a keg of cider home. They had a trail where the Pacific Highway is now and we used to see them lugging their keg home. They drank so much they suffered from delirium tremens and one who ran out of his home and was never seen again was thought to have sunk down in some boggy place and the other one became insane and was taken to the asylum at New Westminster. So ended two wasted lives.

A year or two after the school started, Doctor Powel began to improve his land and hired a foreman, A.M. Palmer, who fenced the whole section. We school children felt quite shut in our small school yard as we always played our ball games on the prairie west of the school. Before long, Doctor Powel sold the land to two young men from the Old Country, named Moggridge. They built a fine house and then C.D. Moggridge went back to England to get married and bring back his bride while his brother stayed and looked after the place. A man came one evening, rapped on the door, and when Mr. Moggridge answered the door the man shot him in the arm near the shoulder, went through his pockets and left him lying there bleeding. Mr. Moggridge managed to get upstairs and then fainted from loss of blood. When the foreman came for his orders in the morning he was shocked and sent for the doctor, the police and my father who was Justice of the Peace. A clot of blood had formed in the artery; otherwise, he would have bled to death. The man was not caught, but years later a man who was caught for some other crime, confessed he had shot Mr. Moggridge. Mr. Moggridge's arm was so numb and useless that after a time he had it amputated. The Moggridges lived there for several years until they sold out and went back to England. Their big house burned down soon after.

There was a good deal of tragedy just where the old railway track crossed the North Bluff Road. Mrs. John Morrison was killed by a black tramp about 1908 and a short time later two bank robbers and a Custom's Officer were killed near the same place.

In the '80's there was a smallpox outbreak. Land was open for homesteading near the Langley boundary and a widow and her five sons by the name of Wallworth took up land there which was known as the Wallworth settlement. One evening my brother, Will, and I were out getting our cows when we met two men on the road who asked us where the Wallworth Settlement was and we directed them. They were Billy Graham and Tom Fielding who brought in the smallpox. They stayed with Mrs. Wallworth and when they became sick all the relatives visited them not knowing their sickness was smallpox and the relatives became infected. The disease was a very acute and virulent type. Jim Wallworth, Mrs. Charlie Wallworth and Mrs. Van Lusen, an aunt who came to help them, died with the smallpox. The Government sent a doctor in to stay right there and the infection did not spread any further. I remember when anyone from that direction came for their mail Father or Mother would put some sulphur on the stove so that they did not stay long. The same thing happened in Blaine when anyone from Canada went into a store; sulphur was burned on the stove. I remember one chap saying it just smelt like Hades over in Blaine.

After our school was built, church service was held in it on most Sundays. At first there was the Reverend William Bell from Surrey Centre and when he left there were several ministers from Blaine who held services there. When Cloverdale acquired a regular minister, Reverend McEllmon, he came and preached Sunday afternoons and after he left there were several student ministers who held services in the summer time.

At Christmas time there was always a tree and a good time at the school house. Someone would go around and collect money to buy candy and presents. Everyone came, old bachelors and all. There were always some dialogues put on by the older people besides the best the children could do. At that early date every school had its own Trustees and at the Trustee Elections there were some lively times.

After Blaine became a town two men by the names of Smith and Gurbage, thought it was time for White Rock to be a town too so they built a wharf out to deep water. There are a few remains of it yet. Then they started to build a hotel, but their money ran out and they could not interest any one else in the project so they left. It was not long before the hotel was pulled down by people who wanted some lumber and then the wharf went too. It was years and years before White Rock started to grow. At that time it was only a picnic ground. About the same time Mr. William Brown bought a sloop and took Mr. Albert Bamford into partnership. They sailed over to Victoria and loaded their boat with staple groceries such as flour, sugar, tea, raisins and syrup. The sugar was in lightweight barrels, a nice light yellow. The tea was in lead lined boxes of 16 or 29 pounds, the syrup was in kegs, fine thick liquid. The raisins were lovely; I have never seen such nice ones since. They came from Southern Europe and were large and full of grape sugar. My people bought a lot of Mr. Brown's groceries just in the cases in which they arrived. His house was not built to handle groceries in small lots, but he kept them in good shape and much better than he did later. After while there were more stores and it did not pay Mr. Brown to go to Victoria and so he quit.

As I mentioned before, Mr. H.T. Thrift had the contract to carry the Hall's Prairie mail. At first it was carried on horseback, but later he started a stage to carry passengers and goods to and from New Westminster as well as the mail. The stage was driven for quite a while by a man Mr. Thrift hired by the name of Gilbert Anderson. Then anyone of the Thrift family, including the old grandpa, the girls and the boys, would carry the bag of mail to our house and take the outgoing mail. About the time the Great Northern Railway came through the Hazelmere post office was opened in Mr. Thrift's own house. After the trains ran my Father carried the Hall's Prairie mail to the flag station called 'Hazelmere' where the railway crossed the Hall's Prairie Road. My Father kept the Hall's Prairie post office for upwards of 25 years until he became too old to be bothered with it. The post office was then moved to a Mr. De Winters' home.

Then others kept the post office until it and all the other small post offices were closed and the rural boxes installed with the headquarters at Cloverdale.

In the Spring of 1903 or 1904 an evangelist by the name of Coleman, pitched his tent at the corner where the North Bluff Road crosses the Hall's Prairie Road and held revival meetings. Many people came and several were converted. He urged the people to build a church. After he left my three sisters, the two McGinnis girls and some others went around the district and collected enough money to build a church. Everyone gave something. Mr. H.T. Thrift gave the site for the church where Mr. Coleman's tent had stood. The late Mr. Hamel was hired as carpenter and many of the men helped so the church was soon built. Many different ministers of different creeds have held services in the church and there have been many organists. My brother–in–law, the late John Clark, held that post for the longest time; 36 years with only two Sundays off. The church has been much improved lately especially the interior. It is called Hazelmere Church after the name of Mr. Thrift's farm. Many people call the district around the church 'Hazelmere' but by rights it is all Hall's Prairie School District. Calling it Hazelmere is something like a barnacle fastening itself onto a sea shell and calling itself the shell.

Well, I think I have told of a lot of the early happenings which I saw myself or heard first hand at the time.

Margaret M. Stewart, April 9, 1959.

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