Surrey History Banner

The First attempt to Dam the Serpentine

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

Mr. Thrift's reminiscences were first published by the Surrey Museum and Historical Society as a grestener 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.

The Serpentine Dam

Along the lovely eighties of the last century, the land owners around the delta of the Serpentine and Nicomekl rivers in the Mud Bay District commenced an agitation with a view of dyking and draining their lands. They engaged Mr. Albert J. Hill, C.E. to prepare plans for proposed undertaking and then came to the Surrey Municipal Council with a petition largely signed by those interested and requesting the Council to take up the scheme and carry it out according to the plans produced. The Council was willing to enter into the proposals but was not clear as to its authority in the matter, after consulting with its solicitor, who also felt that the authority of the council was somewhat obscure. To make sure of the ground the municipal solicitor consulted the Hon. Provincial Secretary. He stated that if there were any doubts as to the Council's position the Act should be amended at the forthcoming legislative session to meet the necessary authority.

With this understanding the Council had a survey made of the area proposed to be benefited; cost of executing the work estimated, by–laws passed and cost of scheme assessed on the lands within the area. A contract was let for the work and the work went merrily on under the supervision of a so–called engineer, according to the plans of Mr. R. J. Hill, C.E., the contract was reported to have been completed and Mr. Hill was then sent for to inspect and test the work.

The sluices were closed and the tide kept out, when the tide ebbed and the water in the river held the whole contraption followed the tide and thus the effort was a failure.

On enquiry it transpired that owing to the high tides that winter a good deal of the work had to be done at night, the superintendent I had to have his sleep and consequently there was no one to see that the plans and the specifications were carried out, and it further transpired that the contractor and his bondsmen were worth very little.

Under the circumstances the Council were advised that to recover damages from the contractor and his bondsmen, the Council must let a further contract or other wise have the work carried out by day work.

As it was not possible to let another contract the Council employed a crew of men who worked under the superintendence of one of its members, Mr. Jas. McCallum.

Just about this time the Reeve, Mr. J. Punch was called away on some government work so he got the consent of the Council to his absence for three months.

To expedite matters financially Mr. Punch signed a number of cheques in blank so that the C.M.C. Mr. H. T. Thrift could attach his signature and pay wages, etc. as they became due.

The work proceeded and was again reported as O.K. This time the dam held, but owing to neglect and allowing loggers to run logs into the river at the dam, the latter again broke and again the scheme was a failure.

serpentine dam 1911 serpentine dam

Over 110 years later the reminants of the Serpentine Dam can be seen at low tide.

At this time those who had taken the most active part in urging the under taking upon the Council, now discovered that the bylaw passed by the Council was ultra vires - and the whole thing illegal.

The money $25,000 had been obtained from the Bank of Montreal and had been expended except $700 of it. The parties interested declared they would not pay anything and were not liable. Then the Bank applied to the Legislature for an Enabling Bill to assess the whole municipality with the amount payable in 20 years.

In the year 1890; which was the 6th year H.T. Thrift served the Council as C.M.C., the council urged him to continue, as owing to the difficulties which had arisen from the failure of the Dyking Scheme the council thought he could carry on the work to better advantage than a new man.

Mr. Thrift consented on condition another man be employed as collector, with H.T. Thrift acting as municipal clerk and assessor.

The Council agreed to this proposal and a person who had resided in Surrey for many years was duly appointed as Collector for the municipality, with the understanding that he must deposit his collections at frequent intervals and take a duplicate deposit slip at time of deposit was made and hand it in to the C.M.C.

This arrangement seemed to work alright until the end of the year when the Auditors went through the accounts; Mr. D. Johnson and Mr. Richardson were the Auditors that year and the three of us, i.e. the C.M.C. to be satisfied that everything was quite correct.

Eventually I took their figures and wrote up the balance sheet and the auditors signed it as being correct. It was submitted to the Ratepayers as showing correctly the income and expenditures for the year.

At the ensuing Municipal Election, H. T. Thrift was elected as Reeve of the Municipality and at the first meeting of the new council the Reeve advised that the person who had been collector for the previous year be appointed C.M.C.

This was done and we commenced the year's work. A delegation from the Dyking Area waited on the Council and asked the Reeve to convene a public meeting on the dyking matters.

This meeting was held and the Reeve and Mr. Christopher were appointed delegates to go to Victoria to consult ex-Lieut. Governor Richards as to the legality of the by–laws passed by the Council the previous year.

Mr. Richards was regarded as the best lawyer in B.C. so the parties made the trip, saw Mr. Richards and submitted the case to him.

He at once gave it as his opinion that the by–laws were ultra vires the Council and the Council had no authority to undertake the construction of the Dyke or Dam in the Serpentine River.

When the delegation returned and reported the result of their visit to Victoria the fat was in the fire. The Dykers entered an action to declare the bylaw was illegal and that consequently they, the Dykers, were not responsible for the Action of the Council in borrowing the $25,000 and the bank must either lose the money or otherwise recover it from the individual members of the Council; at the same time the bank's attorney sent out a draft of a by–law to the Reeve, insisting that the council pass the by–law to make the Municipality responsible for the repayment of the money. The Reeve refused to have anything to do with it; then the bank applied to the Legislature for an Enabling Bill to validate the original bylaws and thus assess the whole thing on the whole Municipality– a larger portion on the Dykers' lands and a smaller portion on the other lands of the municipality; the whole principal and interest to be repaid in 20 years.

During the commotion consequent upon the before mentioned disagreement between the Bank of Montreal, the Dykers and the Municipal Council, the Reeve was constantly in turmoil as between one or the other party and thus the doubt still in his mind in respect to the Municipal Funds collected the year before. He had expected to have had an opportunity to go through the accounts with the C.M.C. alone, but owing to the disturbed condition of affairs he had no opportunity to do so; his time was so fully occupied with the Municipal muddle that his own private affairs were also entirely neglected and his mind in a muddle.

At the first meeting of the Council the Reeve had among other matters explained the amounts of balance of several funds, of which he was sure, and that were administered by the Council.

Among these was the $700.00 unexpended balance of the $25,000 Dyking Fund and at the same time suggested that this sum would meet the interest on the Bonds for the first six months; but that was regarded by the Council as a "Wild Bird" plan and it certainly went 'after'.

Along the beginning of April at our regular monthly meeting, Mr. Brymner, manager of the Bank of Montreal, New Westminster, and Mr. Gordon Courbould, K.C., appeared at the council meeting to take action re the Dyking Loan, to which the Reeve was opposed. When the Council adjourned for lunch the Reeve was detained for a few moments to sign some cheques, and when that duty was performed he went out of the Hall expecting to find his colleagues outside waiting for him, but they were nowhere to be seen.

Messrs. Brymner and Courbould had spirited them away somewhere, nor did they go to our usual lunchroom.

However I got my lunch alone and then went back to the Hall, ready to go on with the business before the Council.

In a short time the Councilors returned, but no Banker of Lawyer with them; the latter had discharged their load, had fairly frightened the poor fellows as to their individual position in re the repayment of the Dyking Loan.

As soon as the Council was called to order, instead of proceeding with the business on hand, they wanted to know if the Reeve had not led them to believe there was an underfunded balance of $700.00, of Dyke funds on deposit at the Bank of Montreal, New Westminster; of course he said he did so inform them and that the information was correct.

This they denied saying that Mr. Brymner had told them there was no balance in the bank to the credit of the Municipality of Surrey and that the Reeve was misleading the Council for his own advantage.

The Dyking accounts and balance sheet were available, written up by the then present Reeve at the time he was C.M.C. – these accounts and this balance sheet showed very plainly that there was an unexpended balance of $700.00 at the bank to the credit of Surrey.

No, they knew better "Brymner would not lie about it" and he had assured them (there) was absolutely no foundation for the Reeve's story and furthermore "if there had been any unexpended balance, he had stolen or got-away with it" and further "as they now had proof that I, the Reeve, had misled them in this matter", they would no longer sit with me on the Council (municipal). Well, knowing in my own mind that they had absolutely no grounds for charging me with the theft of Municipal funds, and yet I was not in a position to prove anything on anyone else and realizing that if I resigned the position as Reeve an election would have to be held within a few days, if the people of Surrey still had faith in my integrity they would re–elect me to my position as Reeve, and if not, as the law stood at that time I could demand an investigation by a government auditor, of the books and accounts of the Municipality, and in that way clear up the matter of who had stolen the lost $1,000.00 of Municipal funds and, incidentally my own mind would be at ease in respect to Dyking matters.

So I resigned my position as Reeve of Surrey and a few days after the election for a new Reeve was held.

I was again nominated for the position with Mr. Wm. Brown nominated to oppose me. (This worthy gentleman was the chairman of the finance committee on the Dyking fiasco and knew that Reeve Punch had left with my signed blank cheques with which to pay all demands presented and that I did so pay such accounts without the formality of referring to him as chairman of the committee, until after such payments had been made and then they were submitted to the committee as a report invariably the chairman instead of investigating the report and demanding the production of $s, receipts, paid cheques, etc., etc., would look at me and say "Are these accounts alright", we have only your word for it, "and I admit this was rather trying to one who endeavored to do his duty 'honestly".

Mr. Brown was elected Reeve in my place and I had enjoyed that peace of mind I had not experienced since I assumed the duties of Reeve.

But the members of the Council were not through with Yours Truly, they would punish him in their own way and in a way that afforded him no remedy, guilty or not.

I therefore made application for an investigation, as provided for by–law, so that I might be fully released of the charges of stealing the funds of the Municipality.

At practically every meeting of the Council I was either pre sent, or sent in a letter demanding the investigation, but before the government would act in the matter, the law required that the Council by resolution request the government to appoint auditors to hold an investigation and that resolution had to be made under the Seal of the Corporation.

That resolution did not come from that Council. They served their time and retired (?).

The next Council were elected and sat for many months before they could be persuaded to act in the matter.

At last they listened to my pleadings for a Resolution to the Government (Mr. John Armstrong was then the Reeve) and presently the resolution was duly put and passed by the Council and the government appointed Mr. Jos. Peirson of Victoria, B.C. as its auditor.

This gentleman came up to Surrey from Victoria and established himself in an office at Cloverdale. Now I felt much happier, Mr. Peirson had been at work for three weeks on the books when I received a very polite note from him requesting me to call on him at my convenience.

I called on him forthwith and learned from him that Mr. Reeve had been very explicit on his arrival that he wished him to exercise great care in the matter he would have to deal with "as H.T.T. was a smart guy" etc., etc. So after a very pleasant talk with him I asked him how he found matters in connection with the accounts. "Alright as far as you are concerned", he replied, "in fact I find so far that the Council are in your debt for a small amount".

The investigation went on for a further three weeks, at the end of which time Mr. Peirson convened a Public Meeting of the ratepayers of the Corporation.

There was a very representative meeting, which after being called to order Mr. Peirson, the auditor, addressed by submitting his report and stating he had made a very careful audit of the accounts of the Corporation and in justice to Mr. H.T. Thrift he could state that Mr. Thrift had performed his duty faithfully, honestly and in a workman like manner, as set forth in the records.

Not only was this so as far as the municipality was concerned but also in connection with the accounts of the dyking schemes, for which extra work he had received no consideration, as there was nothing to show in the records that the Council had specially engaged Mr. Thrift to perform those extra duties and consequently he could not claim compensation for his services in connection with the dyking scheme. The auditor said he wished to further state that the records showed there was a balance of several hundred dollars unexpended from the $25,000 fund, still on deposit in the hands of Mr. Brymner, manager of the Bank of Montreal, New Westminster.

This amount, some $750.00, Mr. Brymner had denied having in his charge, but the auditor on finding out that the amount really was in existence and really did belong to the Corporation of Surrey as stated by Mr. H. T. Thrift, went to New Westminster, saw Mr. Brymner and demanded the $750.00 together with interest thereon at the same rate as the Council was paying for the whole $25,000.00. At first, Mr. Brymner denied having any funds belonging to the Corporation of Surrey, but soon he was very glad to pay over the money, principal and interest, to the auditor.

Finally Mr. Auditor said he wished to state that after six weeks going through the records of the several years work of Mr. H. T. Thrift as Clerk of the Municipal Council of Surrey -including the expenditures of the Dyking funds - he found that there was the sum of $27.73 due to Mr. Thrift, monies that Mr. Thrift had charged at various times and in small amounts against himself, but to which he was really entitled and which seems should be refunded to him. This the meeting duly endorsed and the Council issued a cheque for the balance.

This report of the government auditor cleared me of all responsibility to the Corporation. It also revealed the actual party who had used money not his own, shown to be in the neighborhood of about $1600, so the Council then had a warrant issued for this man's arrest, but before the warrant was issued the poor fellow went away from the district, left his wife and family for five years until the term of the warrant expired, after which the man came back and lived in the neighborhood for a number of years, highly respected.

Only a few weeks ago while in conversation with a well-known and highly respected K.C. of Vancouver but formerly a schoolteacher in Surrey, I learned of an incident in connection with the aforementioned parts and about his absence from Surrey for such a long period.

I mention the matter here because although doubtless the man experienced certain discomfort through his forced absence from home and loved ones, the actual causes of his absence appeared to be entirely forgotten by Surrey people and as before stated on his return he was highly respected, while in my case the public, if I took a stand on public affairs, the public or some of them always seemed to remember that I had once been suspected, wrongfully suspected, of appropriating to my use the funds of the Municipality. Practically all the parties who took the stand of forcing my resignation of the position as Reeve of the Municipality of Surrey, are now deceased so that reference to the matter cannot now affect the position of anyone now living.

The incident above mentioned was that when the Municipal authorities moved to have the warrant issued to arrest the interested party he made a trip to New Westminster to consult a lawyer as to the possibilities of clearing him of the charges. The lawyer consulted was then a young man, only recently started in the practice of his profession.

He informed the poor fellow that he would not undertake to defend him under any conditions but advised him to get back across the river and get out of the country while the getting was good.

The man got out and he remained out until the warrant expired.

Next Page: The Surrey Dyking District

Return to Surrey's History INDEX

View My Stats