William Shannon was an early and successful pioneer, farmer, stock raiser, freighter, trader, entrepreneur and realtor in the lower mainland and other areas of British Columbia. He was born in County Sligo, Ireland, February 19th, 18411 and came to Upper Canada (Ontario) with his family at the age of six in 1847. His parents were Peter and Catherin Shannon2, and they settled in the township of Ops, in Victoria County, near Lindsay3. William had two brothers4, Thomas and Joseph, who also settled in British Columbia, and a sister, Eliza, who married a Campbell.
William Shannon 1864
When he was twenty one, William left Ontario with his younger brother Thomas and headed first to South America5, making brief stops in Argentina, Chile and Mexico before continuing on to California where they arrived in May 1862. After exploring California, they traveled north, visiting Oregon and Washington on their way to British Columbia. They arrived in the fledgling city of New Westminster on June 1st, 1863, more than twenty years before the city of Vancouver was established, and when British Columbia and Vancouver Island were still separate colonies of Britain.
William soon received a contract to build Mary Street (now 6th Street) in New Westminster. He employed men who had gone to the Cariboo and returned without any desire to go back. In 1864 William and his brother Thomas traveled to the interior of British Columbia. William looked for opportunities in the Okanogan Valley, the Kootenays, and the Cariboo. Thomas stayed and worked a gold claim in the Cariboo while William operated a successful wagon road freighting business between Yale and the Cariboo. He brought the first large freight wagon into Barkerville with a team of oxen, and made more money freighting than his brother found in gold.
In 1864, Shannon pre–empted District Lot 194 in what was then known as North Arm and later became the Southlands district of Vancouver. This property was transferred to Hugh Magee in 1867. The diary of Fitzgerald McCleery who held land in the same area says that in April 1865 Shannon began plowing and three days later he "went up to town for feed for his cattle." The "town" McCleery referred to was New Westminster. At that time, the only land route was along the North Arm Trail, which decades later became Marine Drive. It followed an ancient route along the high ground on the north side of the Fraser River, and although it had been improved two years earlier, was still just a bridle path. Shannon would have taken a canoe or boat 12 miles (20 km) up river to bring back his feed6.
In 1865 William established a successful trading post in the Okanogan Valley near the US border. That same year he used his three–yoke oxen team to plough land for William McNeely on the south side of Lulu Island, where the community of Steveston later developed. In 1866 William left the Okanogan and spent two years investigating mining opportunities in the Big Bend area of the Columbia River north of Revelstoke.
In October 1864 William Shannon and Robert Parsons received Crown Grant No. 116 for 372 acres of land on Lulu Island.7 In the fall of that year they sold the property to Samuel Brighouse.8 This land is now bounded by the Middle Arm of the Fraser River, No. 2 Road, Westminster Highway, and No. 3 Road. It includes the Olympic Oval development. In June 1871 William Shannon’s brother Thomas Shannon received Crown Grant No. 1176 for 148 acres of land next to William McNeely's property on the south side of Lulu Island. The land held by Shannon is now bounded by Moncton Street, the South Arm of the Fraser River, No. 1 Road and Railway Avenue. It includes part of the Cannery Row heritage area in Steveston.9
In 1868 William began stock raising and farming with his brother Thomas, just east what later became Chilliwack, and adjacent to a small hill that today bears their name10. Their younger brother, Joseph, joined them in 1872. William assisted with the incorporation of the Township of Chilliwack in 1873 and was a member of its first council when it approved a contract to build a wagon road around the base of Mount Shannon, also known as Little Mountain. The hill rises from the flats between the Hope River and Old Yale Road, just east of the town of Chilliwack.
In 1874, Joseph acquired one section (640 acres) of land in what later became the community of Cloverdale11. Thomas and William followed. Thomas married Mary Robertson. They had four sons and a daughter. In 1875 William and Thomas acquired 960 acres of land. That same year William decided on a name for the area with an Irish connection "Clover Valley."12 Shannon traveled to Victoria and was successful in registering a post office for the district in that name. However, when the New Westminster Southern Railway arrived in 1891, Clover Valley was renamed Cloverdale. Thomas was the first Warden of the Municipality of Surrey and an influential member of the Surrey farming community. McLellan Road between 164th and 176th (now Highway 10) was known then as Shannon Road. In 1881 William Shannon was given the contract in to build Hall's Prairie Road (184th Street) from (Old) Yale Road south to the US border12. While clearing the road, Shannon discovered the largest fir tree to be measured by a BC forester. After it was felled, the 1100 year old tree was found to be 358 feet (109 m) high and 11.5 feet (3.5 m) in diameter at the trunk13.
In 1882 William joined his brother Thomas on a ways and means committee to build a Church of England in Clover Valley. The cornerstone was laid for Christ Church on (Old) McLelland Road, Surrey Centre two years later in 1884. The Columbian newspaper of New Westminster noted that "William Shannon with his brothers Joseph and Thomas were widely known for their service in the community."14
In 1886 William explored the Chilcotin plateau west of William Lake, looking at cattle raising opportunities. While Joseph and Thomas became successful farmers in Cloverdale, William focused on his success in real estate and settled in Vancouver in 1887, just a year after the Granville town site was incorporated as the new city. Shannon initially formed a real estate business partnership with James Z. Hall. The 1888 Vancouver City Directory lists Shannon and Hall, real estate agents, at 60 Water Street.
In September 1888 Shannon established a new real estate partnership with Charles McLachlan, and together they published a promotional book titled British Columbia and Its Resources. That year they obtained Crown land grants for three different properties, each of which was then sold shortly after. By 1890 Shannon & McLachlan had moved to new offices at 623 West Hastings Street, just east of Granville, offering services in real estate, insurance, and finance.
William Shannon was one of several of successful Irish immigrants noted in the 1890 Biographical Dictionary of Well–known British Columbians15. By 1898 Shannon was again in partnership with James Z. Hall at 319 Cordova, and by 1901 they had moved to offices at 718 Seymour. By this time William was 60 years old.
At age 45, William Shannon married 32 year old Eliza Jane McIndoe on December 15th, 1886 in Ontario16. She was born in 1854 in Ontario. They built a large home at 1108 Haro Street in Vancouver's West End. By 1911 the Shannon family had a domestic servant and was living in a mansion at 1872 Nelson Street. This is where William and Eliza lived throughout their later years. They had just one child, William Lloyd Shannon, who was born in British Columbia in October 23, 1887. He became a physician and practiced in Vancouver, Montreal, and Boston. He enlisted in the army during the First World War in Victoria in 1915 and obtained the rank of Major17. He does not appear to have married or had any children. He died before both his parents on December 26th, 1922 in Vancouver at the age of 35.
In 1894 the largest hop farm at Brakendale was the Squamish Valley Hop Company led by William Shannon. Shannon also owned property at Fairy Falls, just south of Squamish, where the clay deposits were used to make bricks. He sold the land to Britannia Copper Mines in about 1900.18 In the 1970s the property was owned by Carling O'Keefe Brewery who used the water in their Heidelberg brand of beer. Fairy Falls was renamed Shannon Falls, and is now part of Shannon Falls Provincial Park.
In the early 1900s, William Shannon and partner George Martin acquired 51,500 acres of coal and timber leases in the Queen Charlotte Islands. They bought the rights from three men who had staked the first sixteen timber limits on Masset Inlet. Shannon and Martin paid $0.20 an acre for the leases, and six months later sold them to Benjamin Graham for $2.50 an acre.19
William Shannon and fourteen others, including J. Rogers and W. R. Spencer, signed an 1893 petition20 to members of the BC Legislature in support of the incorporation of the Young Men's Christian Association of Vancouver.
William Shannon's name is included among a list of a dozen "prominent British Columbians" who in 1898 petitioned 15 members of the BC Legislature in support of the Vancouver, (Westminster), Northern and Yukon Railway Company. The railway never got close to the Yukon, but a line from Vancouver to New Westminster was completed in 1905 and then sold in 1908. The railway also built the first railway bridge (it was also used by automobiles) to cross the lower Fraser River. It was completed in 1904 21 and is still in use today as part of the rail line linking Vancouver to Seattle. The railway company was dissolved in 1926.22
In 1891, a meeting was held in the barn on Peter Cordiner's farm, at what is now Fraser Street and Southeast Marine Drive. William Shannon addressed the meeting and a resolution was passed in favour of forming a new municipality. After Shannon and F. W. Hartley went to Victoria to meet with the government, and solicitor Francis Chaldecott did the legal work, the Municipality of South Vancouver was incorporated in June 1892.23 South Vancouver didn't become part of Vancouver city until 1930.
In 1892 Shannon bought about 50 acres of land south of 53rd Avenue and west of Granville.24 He appears to have sold 10 acres on the north side of 57th (later Shannon Estate) to Jim McRory who was murdered there in 1894. The 10 acre property was owned next by Henry Mole, who found another man, John Bray, dead there in a chicken coop in 1898.25 Fifty Seventh Avenue was originally named Shannon Road. Shannon built a farmhouse on the east side of Granville, just south of 57th but did not live there.26 In 1912 he established a dairy farm on the property. In 1922 Shannon won an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada to have the assessed value of his property reduced from about $2500 per acre27 to $250 per acre. Shortly before he died in 1928, Shannon sold 40 acres to Jonathan Rogers for $50,000.28 Rogers sub–divided it into standard city lots which were sold off as the city of Vancouver spread southward.
Shannon Park is between 61st and 62nd at Adera. Shannon Park Elementary School was at 1545 West 62nd Avenue, but has also been known as McKechnie Annex, L'Ecole Bilingue, and David Lloyd George Annex over the years.29 In 2003, Shannon Park Annex, as it is now called, was leased to The Vancouver Hebrew Academy.
Other than the Shannon name, there does not appear to be any connection between William Shannon and the Shannon Dairy which was located at 8584 Granville (at 70th) in Marpole. That Shannon Dairy was started by Walter Pallitti in 1946 and stopped retail deliveries in 1951 before it moved to a new wholesale distribution plant on Annacis Island in 1959.30
The 10 acre property on the north side of Shannon Road (57th Avenue) at Granville was named "Shannon" when it was developed by Vancouver's first millionaire, Benjamin (B.T.) Rogers of Rogers Sugar (not related to Jonathan Rogers). Benjamin Rogers built a palatial home on the site, but died in 1917 before it was completed. Roger's widow sold it to wealthy financier Austin Taylor in 1936. The property was sold again in about 1967 to the BC Teachers Federation, and then to real estate developers Wall & Redekop, who redeveloped it into town houses in the 1970s. The mansion, coach house and perimeter wall were saved, and the property is still known as Shannon Estate. In 2013 Wall amp; Redekop began a new redevelopment of the site which includes condos, townhouses and coach houses.
In 1906 William Shannon submitted a report on British Columbia'’s timber stocks to Robert Bell of the Geological Survey of Canada in Ottawa.31 In the report Shannon discussed the amount of timber destroyed by fire and damaged in other ways over the previous forty years. Shannon described the drought of 1868, when no rain fell from April to November, resulting in forest fires which destroyed large tracts of timber in Washington and British Columbia. The sun was obscured by smoke for two months, requiring artificial light in the middle of the day, and causing local shipping to come to a standstill in September.
William Shannon received a total of forty one Crown land grants over the forty one years between 1879 and 1920.32 Thirty six were in the Coast Land District outside the BC lower mainland. One was in the Queen Charlotte Land District. Crown land grants were part of the land pre-emption system established by the BC government in 1860 to encourage settlers. It was revised a year later to encourage more settlement and less land speculation. To receive a Crown land grant, the owner or his partner had to occupy the land and make documented improvements to it valued originally at $1.00 per acre. Many of the earlier settlers, however, took advantage of opportunities to profit from land speculation. As of 188933 a settler could hold a single land claim of between 160 and 320 acres, but could not transfer it until improvements valued at $2.50 per acre had been completed and a Crown grant had been received. Partnerships of up to four were allowed. Both surveyed and un-surveyed land could also be purchase directly from the government at a cost of $2.50 per acre. Landholders could also apply for water rights to lakes or steams adjacent to or passing through their land.
Around 1922 Richmond historian Thomas Kidd wrote this description of William Shannon: "At nearly eighty one years old he may be seen in Vancouver, light of foot, clear of eye, and with little signs of any weakening of his faculties, profiting by the prosperity of the Province and hopeful of its future."
Shannon died in Vancouver on February 2nd, 1928 at the age of 87.34 William (1841–1928) is buried with his wife Eliza (1854–1932) and son William Lloyd (1887–1922) in the Vancouver section of Ocean View Cemetery in Burnaby, BC.35
A newspaper obituary described Shannon as a "Cariboo pioneer" and "one of the hard working and hard playing men from the rough civilization of the [eighteen] sixties" and "a trader, miner, freighter, and cattle rancher" who came to British Columbia "in the days when men changed their occupation to suit their love for fresh adventure."
Beginning only two years after private land ownership was established in 1860, William Shannon became a very successful pioneer and entrepreneur throughout the lower mainland, and British Columbia including New Westminster, the Cariboo, the Okanogan Valley, the Columbia River north of Revelstoke, Richmond, Chilliwack, Cloverdale, Squamish, the Queen Charlotte Islands, and Vancouver. He was involved early in farming and land development in several different areas and participated in the beginnings of Steveston, Chilliwack, Cloverdale, Richmond, Vancouver and South Vancouver. He established a successful and long running real estate partnership in the newly incorporated city of Vancouver in 1887. Shannon took part in the formation of the Vancouver YMCA, and the Vancouver, Westminster, Northern and Yukon Railway. After his marriage to Eliza Jane McIndoe, he built his first large home in Vancouver in about 1900, and then moved to a new mansion in about 1910, where he lived with his wife until his death in 1928.
While Shannon's real estate business continued for many years after his death, he had no grandchildren to recount his story to future generations. As a result, many of his accomplishments were soon forgotten. The Shannon name lives on, though, in the history of Shannon Mountain, Shannon Road, Shannon Dairy Farm, Shannon Estate, Shannon Park, Shannon Park School, Shannon Creek, Shannon Creek Road, Shannon Falls, Shannon Falls Provincial Park, and Shannon Rock.
John Macdonald and Bruce Macdonald
2009 November 04