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Early Days
the Delta


Leila May Hutcherson

In memory's book are many pages, and as I turn them one by one, I glimpse the many happenings of long ago; of early days on the Delta when the little town of Ladner as we know it today, was a veritable dream city of the future.

Str. Enterprise

Some forty or fifty years ago the old Steamer Enterprise plied between the city of Victoria on Vancouver Island, and that of New Westminster on the Mainland.

She was a side-wheeler, owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company, and commanded by Capt. Gardiner.  Her lower deck was used for carrying freight, Indians and Chinamen, while her closed in upper deck was comfortably equipped with staterooms, diningroom and lounges for passenger service.

The rumble and vibration of her engines was something extraordinary.  From far off in the Gulf of Georgia they heralded her coming long before she could be sighted.

Listen!  Perhaps you may hear with me the chant of the children of New Westminster: - “Steamboat Enterprise is coming.”  “Steamboat Enterprise is coming” as in fancy the old steamer once more rounds the last point of land below New Westminster and comes into sight, for this was the greeting which twice each week, rang out simultaneously from scores of fresh young voices all over the Royal City.

By the time the steamer reached her wharf it was crowded with business men and loungers, women and children, all interested and eager to receive whatever news she brought.

A splendid boat in her time and doing excellent service.  If the story could be written about the lives of those whom she carried up the Fraser River in quest of gold, achievement or adventure, it would be a tale more marvellous than fiction.

Proverbial was the courtesy extended the women.  No lady passenger paid fare but was at all times the recipient of every attention from the boat’s officials, which might insure her comfort and entertainment.

On her journeys to and fro, the steamer Enterprise made calls at various points along the river for the purpose of discharging supplies to the ranchers who were settling upon the fertile lands of the lower Fraser.

There were few if any wharves at which to land.  The captain simply ran the nose of his boat into the muddy bank and let the current swing her alongside the shore, a rope was flung around some bit of stranded driftwood or driven stake to steady her, a plank thrown out and landing was an accomplished fact.  The flour and bacon being tossed ashore, a carcass of beef mayhap taken aboard, the plank was withdrawn and the boat steamed on her way leaving behind, among the little knot of men who had congregated, a ripple of news from the outside world.

Gone the way of her kind, the good ship Enterprise was carried by the swift and treacherous current in Plumper’s Pass, upon a submerged rock and became a wreck.  The rock itself now bears the name of its victim for thus is history recorded.



Ladner’s Landing, taking its name from W.H. Ladner, the owner of the land where call was made, was but a replica of other stopping places on the delta lands of the Fraser River.

Long, coarse water-grass all trampled in the mud, and two or three big bewhiskered men in mud-stained clothes and long gum boots marked the landing spot.  At least, so it appeared to my childish imagination the day I crossed the plank and first set foot ashore at Ladner’s Landing.  I remember quite well that there was a lot of chaffing going on amongst them, and they called each other “Ned,” “Harry” or “Bill” as the case might be; also that I was scared of them.  All the stories of hungry giants and wicked kidnappers with which my brothers had delighted to regale me, rose to mind.  I kept close to my mother, as much out of sight behind her skirt as possible for in the eyes of a child, Ladner’s Landing was a fearsome, strange new world where strange beings dwelt.

A deep river, an open prairie and only one small house in sight.

The passing years have wrought great changes.  In early days no grass-grown sand bar loomed up in front of the Landing, instead, there stretched a majestic sweep of water from shore to shore.  Sand bars there were without a doubt, but only visible at low tide some distance further up the river.

Along the north shore ran the main channel; a shallower channel branched off down from Deas Slough and another across the south shore and then down past Ladner’s Landing.

It was when Lord Dufferin was Governor-General of Canada, if I remember correctly, that the public ceremonies to welcome him in New Westminster were delayed till such time as the tide rose and floated the steamer which had grounded in Woodward’s Slough.  The captain had essayed the shorter route in his zeal to reach the city on schedule time.  Today Woodward’s Slough is the deeper channel of the two.

Later on, as traffic increased, it was no unusual sight to see sternwheel river-boats proceeding up past Ladner’s Landing, following the shore a distance of several hundred yards, and then crossing over to the main channel.  On one or two occasions they came up Chilocktin Slough to load hay, but that was before dams had been built in the slough, when it was wide and deep.

But it was not by steamer that the produce of those early settlers was conveyed to market.  No, indeed!  Transportation by steamer cost much money, and money was scarce and hard to get.  The children of that day had no opportunity to acquire a taste for ice-cream, or soda-pop, for more reasons than one. 

It was by the slow and laborious method of scowing up the river to New Westminster that the roots and hay, grown on the Delta, reached the buyer.  Drifting with the tide, tying up at the bank when it ebbed, and waiting long tedious hours till the next tide allowed them to cast loose and proceed another lap upon the journey.  Thus from point to point they edged their way, crossing the river at Cottonwood Point and on up the middle channel.  Miserably cold were the nights spent upon the water.

There was no assurance that a ready sale would take place at the journey’s end.  Too often the reverse was the fact.  Little wonder that the recollections of Old Timers was far from pleasant regarding transportation by scow and oar, for aside from the memory of the hardships endured there lingers a sense of unmerited exploitation.

And yet their faith in the ultimate future of the Delta never wavered.  Year after year they struggled on in their endeavors to master the obstacles by which they were beset.



Following, are the names of those ranchers with which I first became familiar.  On Chilocktin Slough, W.H. Ladner, T.E. Ladner, E.S. Browne, J. Kirkland, T. Parmiter and J. Arthur; all of these having families, except E.S. Brown who was at that time a bachelor.  On Crescent Slough were the Greens, Burrs, Kents, Sutherby’s and Hunters.  At Boundary Bay, the Martin and Jordan families also two young men, W. Skinner and J. Booth, and a Mr. Tasker.  Back some distance from the Bay were the Benson brothers, Harry and John; and down by Canoe Pass lived Geo. Maine, H. Trim and Olson.  Just across the bog, John Williams, and his wife – a kind-hearted woman known to all and sundry as “Aunt Rebeccah” – had their home; and still further away were T. Stinson and J. McKee and family.  Others, there may have been, doubtless were, who had not at that time come within my ken.  With each succeeding year there was a steady influx of new arrivals.

As the sloughs formed a natural waterway for communication and travel, homes were built, whenever possible, along their banks, the rowboat or canoe filling the place of the more modern “Elizabeth.”

Initiation into the mysterious movements affected by a small rowboat, followed hard upon my introduction to Ladner’s Landing when an obliging neighbour ferried us across Chilocktin Slough.

Mrs. T. Parmiter was a member of the party, and I remember distinctly that she did not sit down promptly in the bottom of the boat and clutch the gunwale with both hands as we did, but stood erect during the whole two minutes of the crossing.  The boat, as I said before, was a small one, and the thrust of the oar, used as a pole, lurched about alarmingly.  Mrs. Parmiter’s example of fearlessness made a lasting impression upon me, and was I feel certain, an incentive which later led me to manage a canoe with some degree of proficiency.

For their own convenience, ranchers living along the sloughs built steps leading down to the water, where their boat or canoe was moored.  Upon these steps with every rise and fall of the tide, was deposited a thick sediment of mud.

To gain a fairly accurate idea of the rapidity with which delta lands are formed through the overflow of the river, especially during the freshet season, one need but assume the task of scrubbing off with an old broom, a long flight of such steps two or three times a week.  Having received enlightenment at first hand, albeit unwillingly I feel somewhat competent to judge.

Sometimes, in addition to the landing steps I have mentioned, there would be a floating platform which rose and fell with the tide.  It was usually rather a crude affair, made by lashing several small logs together and nailing a few planks across them.  Woe, betide the unfortunate person who essayed footing upon the logs jutting out at either end of the planks, for, all wet and slimy, no foothold could be gained, and a sudden plunge into the water was inevitable.  My sister fell in one day, starched frock and all, as we were about to set forth for the Landing.  Our combined efforts to extricate her from her predicament were unavailing, but at the first shout for aid, our mother came running with a novel life-saving apparatus in the form of a garden rake and rescue was speedily accomplished.  The humor of the situation appealed to me much stronger than it did to my sister who saw nothing in her wet and draggled condition to laugh about.


There were as yet, no made roads.  Beaten trails led through fields and across the open prairie.  The Trunk road, however, was being constructed under the supervision of John Kirkland, the contractor.  Passing by the road one day, I obtained my first glimpse of a gang of chinamen.  They were digging the ditches, some of them standing almost knee-deep in water and throwing up shovelful after shovelful of mud and dirt into the middle of the road to form a raised bed.  Strange yellow faced, jabbering creatures they were, wearing tall grotesque-looking straw hats, shaped like inverted hanging baskets, upon their heads.  They fascinated me by their very ugliness.

A novel sight it was at quitting time, to see them jog-trotting along behind one another like a herd of geese, keeping up an endless sing-song chatter as they went.  Real curious in the shape of Chinese coins with their queer inscriptions and a square hole in the centre of each coin found their way into our possession from these laborers.

Only this once did I see the meeting of the new road with the old winding trail which led across the prairies.  When next I passed that way, the narrow path had disappeared beneath the earth thrown up to make a road severely straight with gaping ditches on either side.  More useful without doubt, but I like better the picture which memory holds of a winding trail of golden grass leading away like a beckoning finger, to the misty, purplish hills in the distance.


Of wild animals there were plenty.  Coon, mink and the ubiquitous skunk abounded, preying upon the rancher’s poultry at every possible opportunity.  Did a hen stray away and nest, her fate was sealed, though in this connection, it is a strange fact that a skunk rarely disturbs a brooding hen till the eggs are due to hatch.  An unlatched hen-house door meant tragedy, grim and terrible to the feathered inmates.

Baby skunks are pretty little animals and as playful as kittens.  I recall a spectacular procession of skunks passing along the dyke in front of our house one summer evening.  A mother skunk with her family of eight little ones, each with its wavy plume of a tail arched high above its back, out for an evening stroll.  Memories of depredatory excursions stirred my mother to hot wrath and with hoe in hand she made a valiant sally, bringing back as spoil the lifeless bodies of seven little skunks in token of her prowess.  In the morning, however, they had all disappeared, but whether carried off by their mother, or like cats with many lives, had walked away of their own accord, they left no record.  A skunk is an independent little chap and carries such an irresistible weapon, that few who have made his acquaintance have the temerity to dispute with him the right of way which he claims for himself.  However, in the instance cited above, more fortunate than is usual was the outcome of the assault and battery committed by my mother.

Deer were often seen grazing in the fields in the early morning or the dusk of evening.  Timid and alert, they fled at the first hint of danger.  To see a little fawn in its natural habitat is a pretty sight indeed.  Going up Chilocktin Slough one day, as we suddenly rounded a curve, we came upon a little clearing where the sun shone down bright and warm, and there in the midst of the soft green grass stood, like a little statue, a little fawn, all dappled with its markings of white, its ears erect, gazing upon us with startled eyes, too petrified with fear to move.  With one accord in our amazed delight we ceased to paddle till carried by the momentum of the canoe out of sight.  Then the marvel of its exquisite beauty loosed our tongues and we paddled on full of the wonder of the dainty creature.

In the woods of the high-lands there were lots of bears and panthers, but while many bears came prowling around the slough banks of the Delta in search of berries, the panthers were not as a rule, so venturesome, they having no liking for the open spaces of the prairies which they needs must cross before they gained cover among the hard-hack or higher bush.

Bears were not considered dangerous so long as they were not molested or if unaccompanied by their cubs.  When a little child, going along the old Scott Road with my father, an old bear sat upon a blackened log, not far from the road side, a cub on either side of her, growling menacingly as we passed.  I did not see the bear and was hurried along by my father at such a rate that I could not even find out what was making the noise, afterwards I was told what it was;  but when one of the pupils was late for school one morning because a bear was having his breakfast of berries on the dyke which ran along Chilocktin Slough, necessitating a wide detour on his part, I rather lost my appetite for salmonberries.

The weird cry of a panther is not easily forgotten by those who have heard it.  Our barrel of salted meat, its cover heavily weighted down with rocks, withstood the savage clawings of a hungry panther which long years ago lifted up its voice in yowling protest. 

Panthers, though cowardly creatures and seldom attacking a grown person, are yet so treacherous that they are to be feared when encountered unarmed.


Miss McDougal, the first public school teacher on the Delta had an experience more startling and fraught with much more danger than ordinarily falls to the lot of a person in that profession.

It was in the fall of the year, when the days were short, and darkness settled down at an early hour.  The schoolhouse lay a mile distant from Ladner’s Landing (The building is now being renovated and made into a fine dwelling place).  School had been dismissed, and the children, some ten or eleven in number, were scattered along the roadway, shouting and swinging their school-bags, and rattling their lunch pails as children will, with Miss McDougal, a young girl yet in her teens, with some of the smaller children bringing up the rear.

Progress was very slow for most f the children were of tender years.  About them extended the prairie, all bunch-grass and hard-hack, with here and there a crab-apple tree rearing its head, a lonely sentinel, and not a human habitation in sight.

They had covered about one-third of the distance when the movement of some animal ahead attracted the attention of the teacher, but passing immediately out of sight she gave no further thought to it.

As they drew nearer to the spot, she saw a dark object in the crotch of a crab-apple tree close b the roadway, but too indistinct  among the bushes for her to distinguish for her to distinguish if it were a coon or wild-cat.  Gathering the children about her she husbanded her little flock as a mother might in the face of danger.  As they drew still nearer, not many yards distant from the tree, her throat suddenly constricted in terror.  For one brief moment her very heart ceased to function ere it leaped in bounding smothering pulsations, for there, crouching in the limbs of the tree, glaring at them with blazing, baleful eyes a panther watched their every movement.  Thoughts quicker than lightning’s flash shot through her brain – what must she do?  Too late to retrace their foot-steps they must go on.  Steadying the children as best she could, holding tight the hands of the smallest, and with her eyes fixed upon the panther, step by step she advanced till abreast of it.  Would it spring?  Oh! The agony.  Paralyzed with fright, still facing the panther she kept on.  O, God! – O, God! – help” she breathed.  Another step, and still another.  Afraid to look back, afraid to think, nerve and muscle carried them forward till they reached the Landing, and there shaken and faint, she told the story.

Only the footprints of a panther beneath the tree where it had crouched were found by the ranchers who, gun in hand, turned out in hasty pursuit.  He great cat had fled.  Who can gauge the heroism of such a teacher?


Owing to the great distances which lay between the dwelling houses of the ranchers, in addition to the lack of leisure among their women folk, visiting was not then the simple act of dropping in at a neighbor’s for a few minutes’ chat and a cup of tea, that it is today.  Oh, no! – It was a matter of some moment, undertaken only at long intervals and with due prevision.  If it were a visit to one of the neighbors living on Chilocktin Slough or Crescent Slough, the tide must be taken into consideration, else when one wished to return home one might find one’s canoe landed in the mud and no water to float it; or, if it were across the prairie one must needs wait for a fine day and an idle horse – a difficult situation to secure.

I recall a visit to the Benson Ranch which stands out as a red-letter day in my memory.  In the first place I was allowed to miss most of my lessons in school that day, in the pursuit of pleasure – an unheard of procedure, and in the second place, I made the acquaintance of Lottie D’Arcy – a most wonderful girl with a most wonderful experience.

On the Benson Ranch lived Mrs. Benson with her two sons, Harry and John, and to visit them meant a long journey away out on the prairie.  As I remember Mrs. Benson, she was quite an elderly person, full of kindly ways to a child and with a wonderful understanding of one’s shyness and general awkwardness, which won my gratitude and affection.  In later years Mrs. Benson was a great sufferer, being bedridden for some years before her death, with rheumatism, and yet always presenting a smiling face and cheery greeting to those who called to see her.

At the time of which I write her daughter, Mrs. D’Arcy and Lottie her granddaughter were spending the summer with her. 

To insure the maintenance of a government school on the Delta it was necessary to have an average attendance of ten pupils – a difficult matter when there were so few children of school age – therefore, on the morning of our visit to Benson’s, I set out for school as usual, that my name might be placed on the register, and there awaited my mother’s coming.  How important I felt!  To go a-visiting was such a great event in my life.  We were to take turns riding old Red River – a horse of ancient years, but of incredible sagacity and prowess if one-half the stories which my brother and I invented were true.  I don’t remember that we ever boasted of his ability to shy, however, and yet that was an accomplishment in which he excelled above all else.

My mother being a novice in the use of a Mexican saddle gave preference to “Shank’s mare” hence I rode most of the way.

We reached the Benson Ranch in time for dinner and by the time that hunger had been appeased and the dished cleared away, the acquaintance between Lottie D’Arcy and myself had advanced sufficiently for us to leave the house for play.

What hours of unalloyed joy! It is as though the bells of memory ring out a sweet chime of melody with every passing recollection of that day.  We searched for hen-eggs in every nook about the barn; we played Hide-and-Seek in the hay; climbed to the high rafters where the swallows built their nests, and peeping into them laughed hilariously at the sight of the ugly little birdlings with mouths agape for food.  We slid down the hay-mow till at last, hot and flushed we climbed far up where the cool shadows lay, to rest and chat.  Over our heads the swallows flitted, now darting out to circle and wheel in the  laze of the sunshine and then back again into the barn.

So quiet and peaceful was it up there and all fragrant with the scent of the hay.

We talked together of many things, but I remember only the thrilling story which Lottie told me of her flight from a band of Indians.

Hitherto I had not associated any thought of fear with Indians, for it would indeed have taken some wild flight of imagination to have pictured old Chief Steele of Chewasin who came to dig potatoes for my father in bare feet and nondescript apparel, in the role of a bloodthirsty warrior.  Both the and his klootchman, Mary, who came to wash clothes for mother, were much too slow in movement and placid in nature to ever think of fighting I am sure, and they were the only Indians I had ever seen at close quarters.


Was that of Lottie’s wild ride for life which had occurred a couple of years previous but still fresh enough in memory for her to relate it with a realistic fervor.  Her parents were living on a ranch not far from the Little Dalls in Oregon and there was an Indian Reservation some miles distant.  The Indians at that time were restive and defiant, chafing sorely under the restraint imposed upon them by the United States Government, so much so, that the white settlers in their vicinity lived under the constant menace of an uprising on the part of the young “Indian bloods” who recked little of the punishment that was sure to follow an outbreak on their part.

One day, when Lottie’s father was away from home on business, a neighbor came riding at breakneck speed, his horse all covered with foam and sweat to warn them to flee for their lives, as a band of Indians were on their way to massacre them.  Their horses which were kept in a corral near the house for fear of such an emergency, were quickly saddled, and mounting in haste, they fled.  As they rode out of the corral, a fiendish yell arose in the distance, from the Indians who had caught sight of them.  Their horses were spurred to a mad gallop.  Looking back they saw the flames rising which made them homeless, for the Indians, sure of their prey, had stopped to fire the buildings.  Several miles were covered ere the Indians started in pursuit.  The D’Arcy horses were fresh off the grass yet mile after mile was covered ere the tough little Indian ponies began to gain upon them.  The warwhoops of the Indians lent them the energy of despair, and on and on their panting horses went, their riders not daring to check their speed.

Lottie and her little brother, riding together on one horse were crying with thirst and fright, yet with dust in their throats, tears on their cheeks and deadly terror in their hearts they clung to their horse as on they dashed with the Indians steadily drawing nearer.  This was no time to pause for a second with the Indians bearing down upon them, full of a savage expectancy of hanging their scalps on their saddle bows.

Twenty-five miles they rode as fast as their tired horses could travel,  through the heat and the dust, up hill and down, till reaching the outskirts of the little town their pursuers with a last yell of derision, gave up the chase, and though spent and exhausted their lives were safe.


A summons to supper broke the spell which the narrative had laid upon us, and yet henceforth for me, Lottie was a heroine, a being set apart, because of her great adventure and I longed profoundly for some great and terrible crisis to come into my life, that I too might rise from the humdrum plane of ranch life to that lofty pedestal where Lottie dwelt.

Homeward we wended our way, my mother and I, not by the road this time, but straight across the prairie following the cattle trails with our faces to the sun, and never a ditch or fence to hinder our progress till we reached the bars of our home fence and passing through them reached our house.

For days and weeks my conversation ran on Lottie D’Arcy till, in desperation my brothers with more force than elegance bade me “Give them a rest” and so my heroine worship was locked away in the secret recesses of my heart.


The open prairie was not an unmixed blessing as many a school boy knew.  Beyond the cultivated areas about each homestead lay acres and acres of virgin land covered with a thick growth of bunchgrass, tule and hard hack, and there cattle grazed the year round.

Most of the ranchers made butter – at least their wives did and the men did the milking, for contrary to the custom in the East, Western women rarely, if ever milked.  To the children of the family fell the lot of bringing in the milk cows after school hours.

“Bringing in the cows” was a phrase which oftimes covered immeasurably wide fields of effort.  It was the custom to turn the cows outside the fenced land each morning after they were milked and as cows are invariably seized with a notion to roam far afield at most inopportune times it often befell that on the evening that one of the older boys had arranged to visit a chum (?), the cows refused to be found till after much searching far and near.

Full many a ride had I with my brother bringing in the cows, both of us astride old Red River, brushing through the scratchy hard-hack, that waving pampas-grass and tule where the cat-tails showered their fluffy down upon us as we followed the cattle trails which wound about in and out.  We would lope along for a distance and then stop our horse and listen intently for the tinkle of a cow-bell.  If no sound met or ears, save perchance the rustle of the dry tule stirred by a passing breeze, my brother would stand barefooted upon our horse’s back, one hand resting on my shoulder for support, and look in all directions for them.  If fortunate in getting a glimpse of them – my! How we made them run for home.!  Of course we had lots of fun bringing in the cows when we had a horse to ride, but it was a weary tramp on foot and we felt much aggrieved when scolded roundly for being late.  There was much consolation, however, in knowing that our school companions suffered much the same treatment by misguided older brothers as we proved by comparing notes next day.

The ordinary ranch stock roamed far and wide, the grazing out at Big Slough in East Delta being particularly fine and luxuriant.

In the fall of the year a general roundup was held, the ranchers having stock at large participating.  It was then that the distressed bawling of calves, the anxious mooing of cows and frightened steers made a medley of hideous sound, when the acrid smell of burning hair and scorched flesh arose under the redhot branding iron, and ears were bleeding and slit by the sharp knife of the ear marker.  It was then, too, that beeves destined for market were separated from the herd.

It was at the roundup that the youthful rancher found opportunity to indulge in daring cowboy stunts: heading off wild-eyed steers that broke from the herd, snapping their black-snakes in a series of pistol-like reports, lassoing, displaying the mettle and speed of their respective cayuses, heedless of danger, reckless of life.  Nimble indeed were their horses, quick of eye and intelligent in their movements, well-trained for their work, and so sure of foot that they could lope through the maze of tangled bunch-grass with never a falter or stumble.  One of the Arthur boys had a little horse of which he was especially proud.  When an animal would lag behind, looking for an opportunity to bolt, his master would say, “Bite him, Charlie,” and bite him he would, with right good will and spirit.

The days of the roundup are gone from the Delta marking another step forward into a new regime, and gone too are many of the lads who took so active a part.


One morning, soon after our arrival on the Delta, my brother and I set forth with lunch and schoolbag in hand on education bent, not I confess, because of any personal inclination to absorb book learning, but rather on account of the constraining influence of parental authority.

The schoolhouse was a mile and a half away on the Trunk Road.  As we were crossing a field on our way to the road we saw several children lingering there, evidently interested in our approach.  I imagine all children must feel more or less diffident about going to a strange school amongst strange children – at any rate that was our unhappy state of mind.  We slackened our pace.  They halted.  There was nothing else for us to do but either stand still in the field – or join them.  We chose the latter and immediately the preliminaries of juvenile acquaintanceship were in full swing.  Such questions as “What’s your name?” “ How old are you?” “What class are you in?” “ How many brothers and sisters have you got?” “How far are you in Arithmetic?” “Do you know your tables?”, etc., were bandied back and forth between the eldest member of the group and myself, while the others, my brother included, contented themselves with listening to our conversation and summing up one another with glances prolonged and searching.

By the time we had traversed the mile to the schoolhouse, we had not only covered much ground of information, but, in our newly acquired acquaintanceship congeniality had woven a silver strand which day by day grew stronger, binding us together in a friendship which has persevered throughout the years of maturity.

The schoolhouse was a little square building.  On either side of the tiny entrance hall was a small cloak room, supposedly one for the boys and one for the girls, but as one of them was usually filled with wood, there being no woodshed, we shared the other in common.  Facing the door of the schoolroom was a long blackboard which extended across the rear of the building, and in front of it stood a small table designated as “teacher’s desk.”  Two windows on either side gave light to the room, and beneath these windows ran a long desk along each wall with a bench for seating the pupils, boys on one side of the room, girls on the other, facing their respective walls.  Truly the powers that be much have given much thought to the subject ere they had evolved such an admirable plan for awakening an interest in the opposite sexes, and evading the restrictions of communication thus imposed.  The result was that notes flew back and forth at any time of the day that fancy dictated.

In the centre of the room stood a box stove all rusted, and ash strewn, and beside it on the floor an armful or two of wood.  When the days were cold pupils were allowed to sit upon the benches on either side of the stove while they studied their lessons, but when the hum of conversation interspersed with giggles and chuckles of laughter grew too noisy, they were sent to their seats with a reprimand or threat which never seemed to leave any lasting impression.

Everyone brought his or her lunch, teacher as well as pupil.  It did not take many minutes to dispose of the lunches, for as a rule surreptitious inroads had taken place long before the noonhour, and thus nearly a full hours’ play was ours.  Playing at “rounders” was our favorite pastime.  Girls as well as boys taking part.  When tired of playing ball we were never at a loss to amuse ourselves, even though it might result in mischief such as when we were the cause of nearly burning down the school house.


For weeks a fire had been burning in the peat, set there by one of the ranchers for the purpose of clearing the land of hard-hack so that it might be brought under cultivation.  A steady wind brought it forward, creeping nearer and nearer to the school, until at last it was near enough to attract our attention at the play hour.  We sallied forth in a body, and our curiosity being satisfied we began a battle royal with burning chunks of peat.  In the midst of the excitement the school bell rang, and whether it was one of King George’s soldiers or a soldier of King William who threw a parting fire at the retreating enemy inside the school enclosure, which was protected by a ditch all round it, I know not, but toward evening the long dry grass flared up in a blaze and threatened to burn the school house and attracted the ranchers from far and near to fight the fire.

Everything was brought out of the building that could be moved and much loud talk prevailed as to what was going to happen to the guilty persons, upon hearing which, we kept well in the background, subdued for the moment and fearful.  We children were all pretty well scared, and yet that did not prevent us from laughing and clapping our hands when a tongue of flame leaped up and clung to the wall of the school.  But alas! The heroic efforts of the bucket brigade passing up water from the ditches quenched the fire, likewise our hopes of a schoolless community, and “school kept.”

Whether or not the long desks and benches suffered damage at the time of the fire I do not know, but a row of seats down either side of the room, each seat accommodating two pupils facing the teacher, replaced the antiquated affairs about this period.


Accustomed to the freedom of ranch life it was small wonder that occasionally a pupil would find the petty tyranny of school subjection too irksome for endurance.  A rainy day with no chance to work off the exuberance of youth in outdoor sport was a calamity – strained nerves breeding friction and mutiny when discipline and understanding were absent.

Incidents tragic at the time they occurred, when seen through the perspective of Time, afford a fund of amusement.  I imagine that one of our present respected citizens of Ladner must oftentimes laugh to himself when he recalls the lively clash which he had with one of his teachers in the days when he attended the little school.  But then, perhaps the fact that he was such an active participator may have prevented his funny-bone from receiving just the right sort of a jar to set it a-tingle.

Picture to yourself, if you are able, a little slip of a teacher chasing one of her pupils round and round the forms.

It came about in this wise.  The usual conversation and notes was in full swing when the teacher, driven to distraction by the noise and confusion, singled out one of the older boys and bade him come forward to receive correction with a ruler.

The color mounted his face, but he remained seated.

Again came the order to come forward.

Ruler in hand, her cheeks ablaze and fire in her eyes, the teacher advanced quickly toward his seat and struck him with the ruler.  Slipping out of the seat, the boy dodged the blow, and then followed such a game of tag up and down the aisle, the teacher on one side of the seats, the boy on the other, as had never before broken the monotony of school hours.

Sometimes at the end of the row they would stand grasping the form at either end, swaying back and forth like two boxers, eye to eye, watching each movement and dodging each threatening advance.

Words were jerked out in gusty breaths, “I’ll tell your father on you.”  “Don’t care if you do,” and so the game went on.  Needless to say the whole school was in an uproar.  Most of us were standing up, the better to see the fun, and some, when the teacher, with her back to them was sprinting up the room, were noiselessly clapping their hands to encourage their fellow pupil.

Children are invariably loyal to one another, and in this particular instance, all our sympathy was with the boy who dodging now backward, now forward, round one side of the seats and up the other, evading capture till at length, the teacher, out of breath, retired to her seat with such dignity as she could muster in the face of the snickers and giggles of her pupils.

“What little demons you children must have been,” do you say?  No, just full of misdirected energy, run riot through lack of discipline and understanding.  The boys and girls of that day were full of life and fun, yet full of courage too.

Oftentimes there would be cows on the road and they were not such tame, placid creatures as are met with today, so a good deal of nervousness was engendered.  The cows were afraid of the children, and the children were afraid of the cows.  Usually the cows would jump the wide ditches to get out of our way, but one day a young cow balked at the ditch, and turning on the boy who was trying to drive her off, threw him with her horns.  Another small lad ran to his rescue and with a piece of wood drove off the infuriated animal.  It was a narrow escape for the wounded lad, whom the cow had gored in the face.  He was taken by launch to New Westminster – where the nearest doctor lived – and there his wound was dressed and his eyesight saved.

So if someday you chance to meet a gentleman on the streets of Ladner who bears upon his face a scar, who knows but what he may have been the little school boy whom long ago the cow attacked and threw.


September days were drawing to a close.  The distant mountains which encircled the Delta were draped in a misty haze of blue.  Deep and sombre was the blue of the woodlands, but alone above the mountain range in soft silhouette against the sky rose Mt. Baker in dreamy loveliness, serenely keeping her vigil in snowy garb of virgin white. 

Fine weather had prevailed throughout the harvest.  In the barns were piled high the handbound sheaves of oats and wheat awaiting the rainy days when stroke of flail would separate grain from straw.

By common consent a celebration was decided upon – a picnic to the Cranberry Bog.

Up in the branches of a wild crabapple tree I was sampling the unpalatable fruit which had not yet been touched by the mellowing finger of frost, - when my brother’s voice shouting excitedly, “We’re going to have a picnic, “Oh – we’re going to have a picnic,” broke upon my ear.

“Huh,” said I as he came rushing up to the tree, “That’s nothing.”

My idea of a picnic had been to coax a few slices of bread and jam from my mother and to get leave to roam at will till hunger brought us home.  To chase the scolding squirrels, hunting for hazelnuts, imitating as best we could the lilting song of meadowlark or the call of birds in the bush – a time of freedom from the never failing “dont’s” and “does” which surround childhood.

But when my brother breathlessly explained as well as he was able, the real nature of the projected picnic “with grown folks, cakes and pies ‘an everything,” I speedily recognized that something extraordinary was pending.  Down to the ground in reckless haste I slid, my dress catching on a great thorn and tearing such a rent as filled me with dismay.

Smarting from the slighting reception of his news my brother rather enjoyed my discomforture, “P’raps you’ll have to stay home” he hopefully offered.

Together we raced back to the house where already preparations were in progress, to ply our mother with questions, soon eliciting beyond questions the sure enough fact that a really, truly picnic was to be held on the following day at the Cranberry Bog.

The Cranberry Bog, like many another ancient landmark has disappeared before the ruthless march of change.  In days of yore what was known as the bog was the stretch of land lying a short distance beyond the present Paterson road east to what is now the Honeyman farm.  Most of it lying on the north side of the Trunk road, between that and the Fraser River.

What a blessing it was that we had but a day to wait or surely the strain would have been too great to bear.  What long, long hours to be endured before the morrow would come.

For a time I had remembered to keep the rent in my dress hidden by careful manoeuvring of position, but forgetting about it in the joy of pleasure in store, I suddenly receive a rude awakening as my mother’s horrified exclamation broke upon my ear.  - ! - ! - ! - ! -  Chastened somewhat in spirit, sleep came and with it forgetfulness of torn frock and dragging hours.

Next morning what a bustle of preparation.  The great clothes-basket was packed to the brim with sandwiches, cakes and pies, dishes and I know not what else.

At last in a fever of excitement we were off.  The hay-wagon with rack was our conveyance.  A generous amount of hay covered the bottom of the wagon and over that was spread a patchwork quilt, upon which we sat.  The wagon was drawn by Duke and Bright, our faithful yoke of oxen.  Neighbors from the head of the slough rode with us in the wagon and I venture to say that never did a merrier party set forth on pleasure-bent than ours.  The boys, on horseback, escorted the wagon in true frontier fashion.

As we neared the bog, conveyances of divers sorts were seen to be gathered there, the Delta being well represented by most of its families.

It was at this stage of the proceedings that buckets and pails of various sizes and sorts made their appearance in a miraculous fashion and we learned to our dismay that a picnic to the Cranberry Bog carried with it certain obligations.  Each person was expected to fill his or her bucket with cranberries, a “pleasure exertion” indeed.

Quickly we de-wagoned, and armed with our buckets for cranberries crossed the plank which bridged the wide ditch, to the accompaniment of such parting instructions as, “keep in sight,” “now, don’t you get lost,” “keep away from the lake,” etc., etc.  We soon were floundering through the deep moss into which we sank knee deep.  Our buckets were an awful nuisance.  They persisted in dropping their handles, tipping over, tripping us up and spilling the cranberries as fast (?) as we gathered them.  It was difficult to enjoy any sort of game for the buckets had to be searched for if out of hand a moment.  We found it hungry work, and returning to the general rendezvous, where with foresight remarkable, guards were stationed over the lunch baskets, we begged for something to eat.

After lunch, with renewed spirit, we again sallied forth, this time venturing much further afield.  Reaching the shore of the lake, and, sinking over our shoe-tops in the soft ooze, we remembered with terror the tale we had heard of a man who had ventured too near and had sunk out of sight.  Fear took possession of us, and we fled crying, to seek safety in the companionship of the adults.

The day wore on.  We ate salal berries, huckleberries, belated blueberries, and even the tart cranberries, but fill our baskets we could not.  Weary and disheartened we were gladdened by a call to supper.

Then came the packing up of baskets, and planning for seat accommodation on the return trip.  This last no easy problem for the oxen had eaten all the hay.  The quilt was folded up to form a cushion for our elders and we youngsters sat on the bare boards.  The ride home over the corduroy road with the oxen racing a rival team baffles description.  “Hang on to your store teeth,” shouted the wit of the party, and hang on we did, if not to teeth at least to rattling boards and clattering pails, cheeks shaking like jelly, voices quavering and jerky as we bounced and bumped over the road shrieking with laughter and trying to sing.

Tired and sleepy, sore and bruised, we reached home and then to bed to dream fitfully of cranberries – cranberries big, cranberries small, cranberries which fled at the sight of a pail and cranberries which never were seen at all.


There was a great stir in the life of the community when it became known that E.S. Browne had decided to renounce bachelorhood, having won the affection of Letty McDade, a niece of Mr. And Mrs. John Williams, for never before had a wedding been celebrated on the Flats.

The ranchers rose en masse to the occasion.

Tip-Tree Hall, the home of Mr. And Mrs. T. Parmiter, was proffered for the festivities.  For weeks previous to the event a spirit of feverish expectancy and preparation manifested itself not only among the womenfolk, but more particularly among the men – and if bachelor locks were brought into fitting subjection by much unwonted exercise of brush and embrocation, it was because the exigencies of the occurrence demanded it – and so the mysterious  disappearance of Balm of Gilead or Goose Grease oil were born with cheerful equanimity.

The closing of the day set for the ceremony found the chores all done and the ranchers from far and near gathering by row-boat and horseback to the festival.

The nuptial knot having been tied, to the satisfaction of all, by Rev. Wm. Bell, pioneer clergyman of the English Church (which edifice by the way is the oldest public building now standing in the village of Ladner) the wedding-feast began.  With speeches and song, music and merriment, the hours sped by.

In earlier days before settling on the Delta, E.S. Browne had tried his hand at prospecting, venturing as far as Williams Creek in the Caribou, and son on this night there must be sung the song of his adventures – no denial being accepted.

Standing on the table that all the guests might see and applaud, the singer sang:

“Little Ned Browne was a nice young man,
And in our town he strayed,
He always took the lead in the concerts and balls,
And ran on the fire brigade.

But Ned, he took a Cariboo fit;
Folks thought he was a fool,

But he rolled up his blankets
and he travelled up river
Riding on his old pack mule.”

All present joined in the chorus with much gusto:  “Riding, riding, riding on his old pack mule.”

But whether, as the song went on to relate, he had really “struck it big on Williams Creek,” and taken out “a ton of nuggets in a week,” I cannot say, but at any rate he had forsaken the lure of gold for the “Will o’the Wisp” of ranching, having taken up a large section of land on Chilocktin Slough.

Henry Davis sang with commendable ardor the one and only song he was ever heard to sing, “When you and I were young Maggie.”

Music there was of a spirited order for “Doc” Clark, of Semiahmoo Bay, played “Money Musk” and the “Fisherman’s Hornpipe” as only he could play to the accompaniment of dancing feet, for what mattered it if this were the first occasion to hazard the light fantastic step.

The more the merrier, “Balance to your partners,” “all run away” was the signal given in sonorous tones for a dizzy swing or a mad gallop which left the plump matron breathless and panting amid a gale of laughter.

Sir Roger de Coverly brought young and old to the floor despite rheumatic joints.

In the wee sma’ hours of the morning the merry throng dispersed after wishing the happy couple every joy and happiness.


Breaking land in earlier days was no small task.  Ox-teams were of a necessity used by the ranchers.  Slow-moving patient beasts they were, big of frame and strong of muscle with great wide spreading horns which lent them an appearance of great ferocity.  Yoked together with a heavy frame of wood they wallowed through the soft mud.  Ploughing was a tedious process, irritating to both man and beast, and calling forth vociferous expletive and use of maddening goad.

Something of a curiosity are the tule shoes which when horses were used, were worn by them to keep them from miring.

With the extension of the Yale-Cariboo road to Ladner’s Landing more rapid were the changes taking place.  Settlers came in increasing numbers.

Although the construction of the road was a great boon to the settlement, linking up more closely with other parts of the province and bringing it into greater prominence before those seeking land, it was yet far from being satisfactory as a thoroughfare.  When winter rains had converted the clay into a sticky putty-like consistency its condition beggars description.  Where it crossed the bog lying between Ladner’s Landing and East Delta, there was a long stretch of rough corduroy over which to travel was torture. 

The road from the crossing at Chilocktin Slough to the Fraser River became the village street terminating at the water’s edge with a government wharf which on “steamer days” was the rendezvous of all.  It was here that McNeely and Buie opened up a general merchandise store with liquor bar adjoining; that W. McKee opened up a butcher shop and Henry Hodge a smithy.  Across the slough at its mouth was built the Delta Cannery on Tom Ladner’s property, operated by Jim Laidlaw, Frank Page, and Joe Lyons, cannerymen who became prominent in the life of the community.  Joe Lyons especially deserves more than passing mention, endeared as he was to all.  An admirer of the gentler sex it was a joy to see the pleasure with which Joe Lyons, dressed in his “war harness”, “boiled shirt and all”, sallied forth to meet each “bran new girl” that visited the Delta.  Did he plan a trip to Victoria – the metropolis of that day – he first made the round of all his friends to gather up the numerous commissions awaiting him.  Nothing was too complicated for him to undertake and whether it be the matching of a spool of silk or skein of wool, or choosing a trimming for a dress, he gave it his earnest attention.  An old prospector of ’49 he had at all times a fund of prospector tales at his command.

I recall the celebrations of a May Day in New Westminster when the Delta cannerymen loaned one of their big fish scows all freshly scrubbed for the conveyance of visitors to the city.  Seats of rough lumber were fashioned, a canopy erected overhead and flags decorated the barge, converting it into as picturesque and comfortable a pleasure craft as one could desire.  Towed by a little tug, the trip there and back was a most enjoyable one.

It was about this time that a municipal council came into being with such pioneers as Wm. Ladner, John Kirkland and Henry Benson taking a leading part in municipal matters.

The first council was elected Jan. 12, 1880 with T. Stinson, Thompson, W. Pybus, H. Benson, Hunter, F. Page and W.H. Ladner, members, Wm. McKee, officiating in the capacity of clerk.

Soon there followed the erection of the Town Hall which gave a much needed assembly hall to the people.  Hitherto gatherings had been held in the schoolhouse and in this connection a very amusing custom prevailed.  Men and women attending a meeting parted at the doorway to sit on opposite sides of the room.  Bold indeed was the young man who broke this unwritten law.

At the rear of the hall were two small rooms, one on either side.  One was used as a cloak-room and the other was used as a kitchen for the serving of refreshments.

Within its walls many were the wordy skirmishes and entertaining treats which took place by the members of the “Delta Literary and Debating Society.”  Looking back over the years one realizes how large a part this organization played during those foundation days of Ladner.  John Kirkland, for many years its president, was an enthusiastic promoter and supporter.  The public school teachers took an active part in the debates which were a lively feature of the meetings.  In this connection I recollect particularly an occasion when Alec Gilchrist led in a debate on “Effect of Environment, City versus Country.”  Fred Howay (now Judge Howay) made a capable critic and needless to say honors went to the “Country” amid the applause of the audience.  Talent there was of undoubted merit, the Misses Ladner were gifted musicians and to their efforts much of its success is due.

To this society belongs the credit of editing the first publication on the Delta.  It was a small paper, written with pen and ink, entitled “Delta Doings.”  It faithfully recorded the happenings from meeting to meeting, as for instance the amusing item of news that a prominent young lady had recently purchased a creation of the milliner’s art.  The news being heralded in song created quite a furore of fun and banter.  The words ran something like this:

Miss - - has bought a most wonderful hat
But for goodness’ sake, don’t say I told you,
She bought it to keep off the s-o-n,sun,
But for goodness’ sake, don’t say I told you.

Several verses followed, all setting forth the attractions of the hat and their calculated effect upon an unmentioned young swain.

Joe Burr, pioneer of the lumber industry on the Delta, returned from Port Moody where he had been operating a small portable saw-mill and opened up business on Chilocktin Slough, afterwards selling out to Grant & Kerr, who removed the plant which had been greatly enlarged to the present site of the Ladner Lumber Co., on the banks of the Fraser.

Business firms were established.  Residences sprang up and the village grew apace.

The fishing industry boomed.  Canneries sprang up like mushrooms.  The river swarmed with fishing craft.  Out at Point Roberts a fish trap was built and in one of the “big catches” so great was the number of fish caught that the canneries could not deal with them.  Thousands of fish were flung overboard to wash up upon the shores of the bay where they lay rotting with stench overpowering.  Along the slough banks the offal lodged polluting the water for household use.  Indians camped on the river banks and Chinamen swarmed about the canneries.

Port Guichon was placed on the map.  Ranches gave way to farms.  Sowing the seed by hand became a lost art.  The scythe lay rusting and the mower cut the hay.  No longer was the grain garnered with cradle, no more was the flick-flack of the flail heard in rhythmic measure upon the threshing floor for the conditions of early days were lost in the Gone Forever.

Still as of yore the mountains girdle the Delta, bold, rugged, majestic the same to-day as in that Yesterday of the pioneer. The rosy flush of To-morrow’s dawn will soon crimson Mt. Baker’s crest when achievements new and splendid, the dreams and visions of the pioneers made manifest shall write their record in the advancing status of the people.

No better word can express the indomitable courage of those early settlers than that which in the Long Ago was painted above the door of the little Deas cannery, (a mere shack of a building but the first cannery on the Fraser River,) “Nil Desperandum.”

(The End)