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H.T. Thrift and his family were Surrey Pioneers

Reminiscences of H.T. Thrift, July 3, 1931

Mr. Thrift's reminiscences were first published by the Surrey Museum and Historical Society as a gestener printed, and stapled document produced by the Surrey Museum Press.
Publication is courtesy of the Surrey Museum, Surrey Archives and the Surrey Historical Society.
The H.T. Thrift Reminiscences booklet is found at the Surrey Archives with the call number 920.07133THR.

Henry and Margaret Thrift

Henry and Margaret Thrift were early pioneers in Surrey. They arrived in Cloverdale in 1882 before taking up a pre–empted homestead in Hazelmere in 1886. Henry Thrift had a major hand in many of the developments in early Surrey. He and Margaret finally made their home in White Rock in 1910.


Henry T. Thrift was a true pioneer. He had the restlessness of the pioneer, the willingness to take on any available job, and the faith in himself that he could do practically any job adequately.

A brick maker by trade, he came from England to Ontario with his wife and young family. Then he came west, to California, Victoria, Yale, Cloverdale, and finally homesteaded at Hazelmere in 1886. A final move was to White Rock in 1910.

When he arrived in Surrey in 1882 most of Surrey was covered with stands of first growth timber; huge Douglas fir and red cedar. The lowlands of the Serpentine, Nicomekl and Campbell River valleys provided alder bottom land which was easier to clear but which needed drainage.

Roads were sketchy and walking was the usual method of transportation. There were no railroads, bridge or ferry across the Fraser River, nor school nor post office; or any teacher, doctor, lawyer, banker or resident clergyman.

Mr. Thrift also pioneered in politics. He organized the settlers of the Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island, to fight the grip which the timber barons had on the whole of southern British Columbia. He was very active in Surrey's fight which helped break the Canadian Pacific Railway's monopoly, granted by the Dominion Government.

He helped organize the first school in Surrey and was active in the Orange Lodge, Surrey Agriculture Association, Cloverdale Odd Fellows and many other community groups.

Thrift was directly involved in local politics and the local controversies for more than thirty years. Surrey ratepayers elected him as Reeve, but his Council forced him to resign a few months later. In his writings he comes through as one who rather enjoyed controversy.

Henry T. Thrift lived to the age of 94. He was honoured in his later years as one of the few remaining Originals.


(Reprinted with permission, from "The Surrey Pioneers" by Richard V. Whiteside.)

H. T. Thrift was born in Yately, Hampshire, England, in 1851. In 1874, with his wife, their two sons Henry and John, and daughter Christine he immigrated to Canada. They settled in Listowel, Ontario, but after a short tine in Listowel Mrs. Thrift died.

In 1877, Mr. Thrift Married Margaret McMenney. They resided in Listowel until 1879. That year Mr. Thrift left his wife and family at their home in Ontario and came to the Pacific coast. He stayed for a short time in California, and then moved to Victoria, British Columbia, where he was for a short time engaged in the brick making business. In 1880 Mrs. Thrift, with her three step–children and her son George and daughter Rose left the home in Ontario and joined Mr. Thrift in Victoria.

From Victoria they moved to Yale, where Mr. Thrift was occupied in the manufacture of bricks, used by the Canadian Pacific Railway in the construction of the railroad through the Fraser Canyon. In 1882 they moved to Clover Valley (now Cloverdale) where they resided until 1886, when Mr. Thrift homes tended at Hazelmere. In 1910 they left the homestead and moved to White Rock.

Thrift home in Hazelmere

This was the family home that Henry Thrift built in Hazelmere.
He had named the district which retains the name today.

Mr. Thrift was very active in all community and municipal affairs. In 1883 he was appointed Municipal Clerk, Assessor and Tax Collector, a position he held for one year. In 1886 he again assumed the position to which he was appointed in 1833. When the mail routes were established for Halls Prairie, Clover Valley and Langley, he was appointed to carry the mail between those points, a position he held for nine years. In 1891 he was elected Reeve of Surrey, after some time he resigned that office to take charge of a large tract of land for European interests.

Mr. Thrift was instrumental in organizing the Settlers' Association, an organization formed to assist the early settlers. He was also, together with other settlers, instrumental in getting the first school built in 1883, on a site donated by the Shannon family, early settlers in Clover Valley.

The Thrift Family

Mr. Thrift, being a very active man, was absent from the family home a great part of the time. To Mrs. Thrift fell the task of looking after the large family, of which there were twelve children, five sons and seven daughters; Henry T., John C., Christina, George LI., Rose, Mary J., Henrietta M., Edmund W., Walter A., Rebecca E., Margaret B., and Irene H.V.

Mr. Thrift died in 1946 and Mrs. Thrift in 1951.

The following is an excerpt from The Surrey Leader, November 11, 1954.

A first-hand account of the pioneer days in Surrey was written twenty–five years ago by one of those who took an active part in that early development. This is part of an article written by the late Mr. Henry T. Thrift of White Rock. It was published on October II, 1929 in the Surrey Gazette, a paper which is now incorporated in The Surrey Leader.

In his reminiscences Mr. Thrift recalled a number of developments in early Surrey.

Fortified Indian Encampment Here When Settlers First Came.

Among the earliest evidences of development in this area was the entrenched Indian fort or camp, located on the crest of the bluff about one quarter of a mile north of the line of the North Bluff Road. It commanded an extensive view of the waters of Mud Bay, a part of the Semiahmoo Bay and also of Point Roberts. It was excellently situated for defence, facing the open water on the west, with a sheer bluff practically to the water's edge. North and south it was defended with a deep ravine on each side, running inland for a considerable distance. From the termination of the ravines a deep ditch connecting them was excavated. The earth so moved formed a high bank or breastwork, the entrance being towards the south side of the structure, and enclosing possibly about a half acre of ground. The surface of the enclosure appeared to be quite level.

The next known development was carried out about the year 1857, when a small detachment of British troops who were attached to the British party engaged in the work of delimiting the international boundary line. The detachment numbered about 100 men. They erected their headquarters on a little strip of open land near the mouth of the Campbell River and near the present site of White Rock. The troops in the interim of possibly more active duties constructed about a mile and three-quarters of excellent public highway, along the shore of Semiahmoo Bay between the boundary and their headquarters. Editor's note: Mr. Thrift is mistaken here. The troops were US troops from the American Boundary Commission camped at Camp Semiahmoo. They improved the beach berm to provide improved access to the international boundary area. (See Camp Semiahmoo)

About the same time the government of the colony had the first land surveys (south of the river) executed by Hon. J. Trutch. This survey consisted of about 1000 acres and within this area is located Hall's Prairie. Another development was the construction of the trail or road and the bridges across the Campbell River thereon, from the shore of Semiahmoo Bay near where the Douglas Canadian customs house is now located through the woods across Hall's Prairie, Hazelmere, Belmont and Langley Prairie to Fort Langley. This trail or road was constructed to control the gold seekers who surreptitiously came in, attempting to evade payment of taxes and customs duties assessed, and collected by the British authorities on those who entered the colony by ways and means officially recognized. (See Pre–settlement Trails)

Somewhat later, the original Semiahmoo trail was constructed through the forest, over the hills and swamps, from the Fraser River opposite the city of Mew Westminster in a southerly direction to the shore of Semiahmoo Bay, to a connection with the road constructed years before by the troops.

During the years from 1875–76, the fisheries on the Fraser began to develop. An occasional fisherman stuck up his shack on the banks of the river and some seasons miners from the Cariboo and sometimes the provincial legislators found it very difficult to secure transportation to Victoria on account of the river freezing up and thus preventing the steamers, running between New Westminster and the head of navigation at Yale, getting down the river to its outlet. To obviate these serious difficulties, favorable consideration began to be given to the suggested construction of a wagon road from Brownsville to Yale. In due time the Yale wagon road was commenced, running in a southeasterly direction through the territory which later became the Municipality of Surrey. This was quite an event in the history of the future corporation of Surrey, as it enabled the before mentioned worthy citizens and servants of the public the facilities for reaching the objects to their endeavors. But it also enabled a class of gentry to spry out and pre–empt much of the choicest and easiest cleared land, greatly to the detriment of the actual settler.

Along between the years 1875–1880 a few actual settlers straggled into the district, locating on the open tide lands of the Serpentine and Nicomekl rivers, Clover Valley and Hall's Prairie – very few and far between.

During this time, the provincial government constructed the Scott and McLellan roads, the former on the township line between Delta and Surrey municipalities, the latter from Ladner to an intersection with the Yale wagon road at Langley Prairie. It also partly constructed a road from Hall's Prairie through Hazelmere and Clover Valley to an intersection with the Yale wagon road at the ten mile hill.

Three parents comprised the first school district in Surrey.

In the year 1880, the territory herewith described was incorporated, the few scattered actual settlers together with the gentry heretofore described making up the require number under the law, as necessary to apply for and become incorporated (30 being the number required).

The old Municipal Hall at Surrey Centre was erected during these fateful times, and be it remembered, that up until late in the year 1882, that there was no school in the whole municipality of Surrey, there not being enough children in any part thereof to provide the required number to constitute a school district. When a family came from Ontario to B.C. and settled in Surrey, then the three parents got together, occupied a split cedar shack located nearly opposite where the old Methodist church now stands at Cloverdale, made the necessary school equipment also out of split cedar, such as benches and desks, then took position on a cedar log lying oh the old McLellan Road just east of the right-of-way where the New Westminster Southern Railway was afterwards located, convened a school meeting, which consisted of the three individuals, elected a chairman and secretary of the board and made application forthwith to the government for a teacher. Application was granted and Miss Mary Jane Morris of Langley Prairie was engaged and duly installed as the first public school teacher in the first public school in the Municipality of Surrey.

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