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Arrival of White Settlement

Boundary Commission

The most significant early white impact upon the Semiahmoo came from the International Boundary Survey Commission beginning in 1857. Local contractors had arrived earlier in 1858 and established a camp and improved the beach berm which became the basis of Beach Road to give access to the international boundary. The American Boundary Commission erected their camp, among the reminants of the earlier camp, on a little strip of open land near the mouth of the little Campbell River close to one of the Semiahmoo winter camps. The site was just north of the forty–ninth paralel, contained a fresh water supply, and the Campbell River channel provided water access over the tidal flats. While at this site the troops constructed about a mile and three–quarters of good road along the shore of Semiahmoo Bay between the boundary and Camp Semiahmoo.

See Camp Semiahmoo

A British party, attached to the Boundary Survey Commission, in cooperation with a similar body from the United States, set out to mark out the boundary along the forty–ninth parallel. The American section of the Commission was headed by Archibald Campbell. When they arrived in Victoria on June 22nd, 1857, the members of the British Commission were not there and Campbell decided not to wait but commence work on his own which would give the Americans a year's start on the British.


The Americans arrived at Camp Semiahmoo, which was on Canadian soil, but was already established. It was in a convenient location and already had some buildings that could be used. Campbell felt the location in British territory was "a very unimportant matter as it is but a temporary location." The American party consisted of the Company F 9th infantry of about 75 men as the escort for the civilian surveyors and slash party.

See Camp Semiahmoo

In December 1858, an American Assistant Major Irvin MacDowell Adjutant General visted Camp Semiahmoo to report on the organization and activities of Company F 9th infantry. As part of his report he commented on the local Semiahmoo People as Camp Semiahmoo was located right next to a Semiahmoo winter camp – the former Snokomish site.


The Indians in this immediate neighborhood consist of about 50 in lodges, a hundred yards off harmless and peaceable. Report of the Inspection of the Escort of the Boundary Commission at Semiahmoo 10th, 11th, and 12th Dec. 1858.

The British contingent of the Boundary Commission did not arrive until August of 1858, a year later than the Americans. They set up their site further east along the boundary slash line.


Boundary Commission ships

Boundary Commission ships HMS Satellite and USS Active in Semiahmoo Bay to support land operations. Semiahmoo People are in the canoes in the vicinity of the ships.


While at Camp Semiahmoo the American Commission employed about 30 civilian axemen, the largest proportion coming from the Semiahmoo Band. In 1857 the Commission used Beach Road for access between the boundary and their headquarters. This road ran through part of the Semiahmoo winter camp.


Early Trails

In 1858 the British Columbia gold rush began. This brought a rush of white miners into the Semiahmoo territory and caused a short flurry of road construction in the area. In order to control the influx of miners the British Columbia Government announced on July 25, 1858 that a trail was to be built from Semiahmoo to Fort Langley. The route chosen was from the mouth of the Campbell River, very near the Semiahmoo winter camp, following the north bank for about four miles, and then turning northeasterly across country to Fort Langley. On this trail men of the Semiahmoo Band were employed as axemen.


The Effects of Early Contact. 1857–Present

This route brought a great rush of white miners through the Semiahmoo camp. One result was the spread of smallpox during the 1862 epidemic, resulting in heavy Semiahmoo losses. The route also encouraged the growth of Semiahmoo; a community across the International Boundary on the former Semiahmoo campsites at Tongue Spit and the present site of Blaine. This community became the last American depot for miners to acquire supplies before leaving for the Fraser and Cariboo gold fields. The building of this miner's staging camp – Semiahmoo – resulted in the destruction of the Semiahmoo fort in 1858, and the destruction of the few remaining traces of a camp on Tongue Spit.


Semiahmoo was booming at the time(July 1858); town lots were being sold, even in Victoria, and it proclaimed itself as the future metropolis of Puget Sound, and the entry port to the mines.
Draper, Early Trails and Roads


Map of early trails

Semiahmoo men where employed on many of the trails and roads constructed within the area of the present Cities of Surrey and White Rock.


Adapting to the influx of Settlement

Throughout the 1860's Semiahmoo men were employed as axemen in a number of ventures. In July 1859 J.W. Trutch entered into a contract to survey a large tract of land, in preparation for settlement, within the present City of Surrey. Trutch began his survey of the Coast Meridian from the point were the International Boundary intersects the shoreline of Semiahmoo Bay. A number of the Semiahmoo were employed as axemen on the survey, and Trutch established his camp at the former Boundary Commission camp at the mouth of the Campbell River. In 1865 the ill-fated Overland Telegraph reached New Westminster from the United States. Its route passed through part of the Semiahmoo camp as it followed the Beach Road constructed in 1857. A few Semiahmoo men may have been employed on this project.


As the white population increased and traditional hunting and gathering became more difficult, the Semiahmoo adopted some of the agricultural practices of their new neighbours. However, farming never became a full time occupation with any of the Semiahmoo. Cattle were kept, but they grew wild grazing in the unfenced bush land of the reserve. Small gardens for domestic produce were kept, and small orchards were established - the remnants of those orchards can still be seen today.


The growth of logging in the district in the late 1870's provided employment for many of the Semiahmoo men. Logging also provided other means of income, such as charging logging companies for moving logs over Indian property. For example, as logging increased a skid road was constructed east of Stayte road in the 1890's. Logs were moved down the skid road to the Campbell River and then boomed for movement to market. The Campbell River was part of the Semiahmoo Reserve, and the skid road crossed Chief Charley George's property. Chief George set up a gate at the end of the skid road where a charge of $1.00 was made for dumping logs into the river. The gate was usually tended by Chief George's wife or his daughter Mary.*

*Mamie Charles Interview February 12, 1971


The Decline of Reef–netting

As the white influx continued, and the men of the Semiahmoo band took employment with various groups, reef–netting still remained an important subsistence occupation among band members. However, even the fisheries was not free from white encroachment.


Sometime probably in the early 1880's a white man name John Waller squatted on Cannery Point because of the spring there. He is said to have cut down the drying racks and whatever of the houses were there, built a fence with them, and refused to let the Indians camp on the point. This was probably before 1886...
After being driven off Cannery Point, the reef-netters established their camp on the next point north,...later called Goodfellow's Point for the white man who used the place.
Suttles, Economic Life of the Coast Salish

In the late 1880's a few canneries had been established on the south arm of the Fraser River at Ladner and Steveston, and around Drayton Harbor. They began buying sockeye so that Semiahmoo fishermen were fishing for money as well as for subsistence. This commercial fishing brought renewed interest in reef-netting among the Semiahmoo.


In 1892, fish traps constructed by white men began creeping out into the bay north of the reef, blocking the locations. In 1894 the end came for most reef-netters when the Alaska Packers completed a continuous line of traps which cut off most of the reef.


The U.S. Attorney–General filed suit for the U.S. Indians on the grounds that their treaty rights had been violated, but in 1897 the court decided in favor of the trapmen. In 1934 the traps were outlawed and at present a few whites are operating reef nets at Point Roberts.
Suttles, Economic Life of the Coast Salish

The Semiahmoo Reservation

In 1855 the Oregon Territorial Governor met with representatives from most tribes north of Seattle. The Lummi people were persuaded to sign away all but the peninsula upon which their villages stood.* Although the Semiahmoo did not sign the treaty, they were expected to occupy the reservation with the Lummi. No separate reservation was ever provided for them in the United States.

*Suttles, Economic Life of the Coast Salish

However, most of the Semiahmoo had settled just north of the border by the 1860's. Yet, a reserve for the Semiahmoo was not established until the 1880's. The reason for this lag was a disagreement between the Provincial and Federal Governments on the amount of land to be allotted in a reserve.


Ottawa maintained that at least 80 acres per family of five was required. The Province replied that coast tribes would not use that much land, and set a maximum of 20 acres per family for future reserves.
Wilson, The Impact of the White Man

The Semiahmoo reserve that was finally established in 1887 is small, 328 acres, and is bounded by Semiahmoo Bay to the south, Campbell River Road to the north and Highway 499 to the east. The original reserve grant was 390 acres, but over the years land has been taken away for the Great Northern right of way in 1907, for part of the 23 acres of the Canadian Peace Arch Park dedicated in 1921, and for part of the right of way for the King George Highway in 1939, and the Deas Island Highway(99)in 1962.


The Semiahmoo People in the 20th Century

By 1900 the traditional way of life for the Semiahmoo was gone forever. The influx of white settlement about them made a hunting and gathering culture impossible. The establishing of the Semiahmoo reserve and the end of reef-netting due to traps marks the period when the Semiahmoo find it necessary to adapt fully to white society, and to seek employment within the white economy.


In 1909 there were 38 band members in British Columbia as compared to 250 in 1854.* In 1963 the number had reached 28**, and the population in 1971 was 25***. The most marked decline occurred during the smallpox epidemics of 1862 and 1888.



By the turn of the century the remaining members had adjusted to and worked within white society. The old ways of living being largely forgotten as each year passed. When White Rock's first one-room school opened in 1910, Bernard Charles (later Chief) and his sister Bertha were among the first class on nine local children. Mr. Bernard Charles' daughter Eleanor was the first Semiahmoo Band member to graduate from Semiahmoo High School, and his son Bernard was the second.


From the turn of the century until 1930, band members were employed in local logging and saw milling operations and in the Blaine canneries. To the Semiahmoo the most important sawmill was the Campbell River Sawmill which operated on the reserve from 1913 to 1927. After the closure of the mill in 1927 band members had to find employment in the logging industry(but in areas remote from the reserve), local construction, and on municipal works. Today, the few band members living on the reserve find employment within the United States or within Greater Vancouver.


Some limited revenue for the band has been forthcoming in recent years by leasing portions of the reserve. 172 acres of the 328 acres in the reserve have been set aside for recreational lease. Surrey Municipality in 1947, 1948, 1957 and 1977 leased the 172 acres on a 20 year renewable arrangement. This arrangement was suspended in 1998. Additional 20 year renewable leases have been granted to private individuals or organizations to develop private residences or group camps. The International Order of Odd Fellows, the Canadian Legion, Hiawatha Public Campsite, and a number of private residences have been built on this land along Beach Road overlooking Semiahmoo Bay.


Semiahmoo basket making

One example of the excellent craft skills of the Semiahmoo was this violin case. Jimmy and Matilda Charles hand made this case for the Wyborn family in the late 1930's. The Wyborn's were the proprietors of Alder Lodge on the present site of the IOOF camp.


Woven violin case

Jimmy Charles and his wife, Matilda

Chief Jimmy Charles and his wife, Matilda made the Violin Case.


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