Open Collections

BC Sessional Papers

FRASER RIVER RELIEF. REPORT OF COLONEL THE HON. JAMES BAKER. British Columbia. Legislative Assembly 1895

Item Metadata


JSON: bcsessional-1.0063661.json
JSON-LD: bcsessional-1.0063661-ld.json
RDF/XML (Pretty): bcsessional-1.0063661-rdf.xml
RDF/JSON: bcsessional-1.0063661-rdf.json
Turtle: bcsessional-1.0063661-turtle.txt
N-Triples: bcsessional-1.0063661-rdf-ntriples.txt
Original Record: bcsessional-1.0063661-source.json
Full Text

Full Text

 58 Vict. Fraser River Relief. 447
To the Honourable
Theodore Davie, Q.C., M P.P., &c, &c, &c.
Sir,—I have the honour to report that in accordance with instructions from the
Executive Gouncil to proceed to the Fraser River valley with a view to rendering Government assistance to any sufferers from the floods who might need it, I left Victoria on June the
2nd and proceeded to New Westminster, wdiere I arrived on the forenoon of the 3rd. I at
once put myself in communication with some of the principal inhabitants, who had long
experience of the flooded country, and who were also acquainted with the people. The reports
I received were very contradictory, varying from extreme pessimistic to extreme optimistic
views of the condition of the people and the losses they had sustained.
I therefore determined to proceed with caution, and at once chartered the small tug
" Blonde," placed on board six tents and a few sacks of flour, some bacon, tea, and sugar, and
a small supply of medicines which might prove useful.
I left that afternoon, and worked up river until dark. The water on the wharf at Bort
Haney was three feet in depth, and at Langley, where I tied up for the night, on the lower
ground the houses were flooded several feet in depth. 1 left at daybreak the next morning,
the 4th, with the object of finding the steamer "Courser," which was reported up Nicomen
Slough, and which was assisting to remove cattle under the instruction of the Government.
Large quantities of good fencing and parts of bridges were met floating down the river, and
all the lower farms were covered with water; in many cases the water reached half-way to
the upper floor of the houses and barns.
I called at several farms on the way, and offered assistance, but was informed that the
Government steamer "Courser" had already removed their stock to higher ground, and that
they were not in need of provisions.
At 9:50 a.m. I was overtaken by the steamer "Gladys" at Wharnock, and found that
the Reeve of Chilliwhak had made a forced trip to New Westminster in a canoe, with a view
of obtaining immediate assistance for the settlers in the Chilliwhack and Sumas districts,
many of whom were in a sad plight, and were in urgent need of transport for their stock. I
removed from the "Blonde" to the "Gladys," discharged the former, and at once proceeded
up the river. The wharf at the Mission was so deep under water that it was impossible to
land, but I was informed that no immediate assistance was required there. At Nicomen all
the farms were deeply inundated, many up to the eaves of the houses, but wherever there
was an upper story the inhabitants were still remaining in the building. In many cases the
orchards and farms were much damaged by driftwood, and the fences were completely
washed away.    .
I established settlers with their families, who were completely washed out, on various
points on the high ground, and supplied them with tents and lumber for shelter, also in certain
cases with small quantities of flour and bacon. In all instances the settlers, including women
and children, manifested a cheerful and brave spirit under their misfortunes. I arrived at
Chilliwhack that evening, and heard that the "Courser" was up Hope Slough, where I at once
proceeded, found her, and brought her hack to Chilliwhack. She had been actively engaged
for several days under the charge of Mr. Wise, who  had  done good work  in removing cattle 448 ,.    Eraser River Relief. 1894
to the mountains. The whole of the lower grounds of Chilliwhack were deep under water, and
I was enabled to pull in a boat that evening up to the Queen's Hotel, where I met some of the
principal inhabitants, and learned from them the nature of assistance which was required, and
which consisted, principally, in the removal of cattle and stock to higher grounds.
The next morning, the 5th, at daybreak, I took charge of the " Courser " as well as the
" Gladys," and Mr. Wise returned to New Westminster. Urgent requests were coming from
numerous quarters for removal of stock—in many cases valuable animals had been standing
for clays up to their bellies in water, and there was not a moment to lose if a serious disaster
was to be averted. I dispatched the "Courser" up Camp Slough, to remove Mr. Kitchen's
stock, and that of other settlers, while I proceeded with a similar intention up Hope Slough
and to other places. The whole day was occupied in removing cattle, horses, sheep and pigs
to places of safety. In some cases they had been raised on floors in the barns, and in others
rafts had been made to float them. The getting them on board the steamer was attended
with considerable difficulty, on account of their having to swim, and the strength of the
current was a source of danger. By night, with the two steamers, I had saved a large number
of stock, and landed most of them on Little Mountain, which is covered with forest but has
no grass. It was, however, the only available place for landing the stock. I discovered some
farms where it was impossible to reach the cattle, pigs, etc., which were on rafts without food.
The next morning, the 6th, at daybreak, I continued, with the two steamers, removing all the
stock which could be reached, and succeeded in doing so by 2:30 that afternoon, when I
returned to Chilliwhack and embarked fodder for the stock which was upon rafts, and which
could not be reached by the steamers ; this fodder had to be taken to the nearest points (on
the sloughs) to the farms, and then put into canoes and taken to the stock on the rafts.
On arriving at Chilliwhack that night I was informed by a deputation of the inhabitants
that some of the Sumas people were determined to blow up with dynamite the timber jamb
which prevented the waters from Vedder Creek flowing into the Luk-a-kuk, and that if this was
permitted it would completely destroy some of the most valuable lands in Chilliwhack ; that
the Chilliwhack people were determined to resist it with force, if driven to do so, while the
Sumas people were equally determined on the other side, as they suffered from the overflowing
waters of Vedder Creek. I was informed that immediate action was imperative, as rifles were
threatened to be used.
I therefore called the Magistrates together, instructed them to swear in special constables,
with them to proceed to the scone of strife, and inform both parties that I would at once
appoint a Government engineer to look into the rights of the case, and that I would see that
justice should be clone.
This was carried out, and I am happy to state that it prevented any disturbance. I have
since had an opportunity of visiting the timber jam between Vedder and Luk-a-kuk Creeks,
and the protection of the lands affected by high water is a subject demanding the serious
consideration of the Municipality and the Government. I employed Mr. Tytler, C.E., to look
into this matter, and at the same time to take the opportunity of fixing the high water mark
in the district of Chilliwhack, which might be of considerable assistance in any future dyking
I returned to New Westminster with the steamer "Gladys" on the night of the 6th
June, leaving the " Courser " to complete some removals of stock the next day. On my way
clown I called at Sumas Mountain, where the settlers were camped, and also at other camps,
and rendered them assistance, in some cases with gifts of flour and bacon. I worked up
Nicomen Slough and removed stock to places of safety there, and by the morning of the 7th
all the stock of the farmers on the Lower Fraser were in places of safety. The following is a
list of the cattle and stock which were saved :—
Horses  21
Cattle    397
Hogs  198
Sheep  102
Total    718
It is unquestionable that nearly the whole of this stock would have been lost had it not
been for the timely assistance of the Government. As it was, I did not hear of the loss of a
single head of stock. 58 Vict. Eraser River Relief. 449
I had caused enquiries to be made in the Agassiz, and Maria Slough, and Popcum dis
tricts, higher up the Fraser, which were also seriously flooded, but the proximity of the
mountains had enabled the settlers there to remove their stock to places of safety. In the
Delta, also, the stock had easy access to safety.
This may be called the end of the first stage of Government relief, but the difficulties
and dangers of the situation were by no means ended. The cattle and stock of the Fraser
Valley are dependent for winter sustenance upon the crops which are grown as fodder to feed
them. The crops on the flooded lands were destroyed. How then were the cattle and stock
of the settlers to be provided for during the coming winter ? Were they to be saved for the
moment, to die in the near future ? At that season of the year, the 10th of June, it was
possible to sow fodder crops up to the first week in July, which would mature as hay and root
crops for the winter, and if the season was propitious barley might mature as grain. But
there was not a moment to lose. The damage done to traffic by the floods had completely cut
off all communication by rail and telegraph with the Eastern Provinces. On the Pacific
Coast, in Washington Territory, and Oregon, prodigious damage had also been done by the
floods, and many markets for seed were cut off from communication. Even in the Fraser
River valley the ordinary modes of traffic were suspended. Despair seemed to take possession
of even the well to do farmers, wdio, although they possessed the money, had not the power to
provide themselves with the necessary seed for securing crops to winter their stock. But the
present was equally dangerous. The stock of the farmers, it is true, was removed to places of
safety, but those places were covered with forest and had no grazing, therefore the cattle,
and hogs, and sheep might barely exist for a time, but the horses must starve. Moreover,
there was a considerable amount of stock scattered about on rafts which would also starve
unless they had food immediately. Again, there were families scattered here and there, whose
farms were under water, and who had not the means under the circumstances to provide their
daily food. This state of affairs was going on over an area of about 100 by 15 miles, the
greater part of which was under water, with bridges gone and communication by rail, telegraph and ordinary steamer traffic stopped. The position was sufficiently serious, and, as you
are aware, the Executive wisely and humanely determined to meet it. This determination
having been arrived at, the problem to be solved was to immediately provide food and fodder
for the suffering people and animals, who were widely scattered, and to distribute it over the
■ large area already indicated, and at the same time to obtain' sufficient seed to sow the lands
before the first week in July,—that is to say, within three weeks,—and to distribute this
seed to about 666 farmers scattered over 1,500 square miles of country which was entirely
dependent for communication upon the transport the Government might provide. Added to
this, the local markets were unable to provide the seed, and it had to be procured from the
Pacific Coast where many of the markets for seed were also cut off, by floods, from communication. The Executive did me the honour of entrusting the charge of this arduous undertaking to my care, that I must confess that I did not accept it without a certain amount of
misgiving, especially as the general elections were in progress, and jealousy—with its impeding
influences—was rampant.
I returned to New Westminster on the 9th of June, having previously made every
possible enquiry as to the best means of acquiring the large amount of seed and fodder which
was needed. I determined upon employing three firms at New Westminster, Messrs. Brack-
man and Kerr, Messrs. Youdall and Sinclair, and Mr. McDonough. The difficulty was that
the order for the whole amount of seed had to be given at once, otherwise it would be impossible to obtain it in the short time available (only three weeks) for receiving and distributing it.
Yet, how was I to judge of the amount of seed required? I had no means of telegraphing to
the various districts, and there was no time to visit them for the purposes of enquiry. I
therefore called together a committee of old inhabitants who knew the various sections of the
country, and I was able to obtain from them a rough estimate of the number of farmers and
the average amount of land they cultivated. I divided three-fourths of this porportionately
in oats, barley, millet, potatoes and turnips, and gave a definite order to the seed merchants
for the amount of seed required, conditionally upon its being delivered within three weeks.
This amounted to between five and six hundred tons of seed, and I am happy to report that
the estimate eventually proved as nearly as possible accurate. I then again chartered the
steamers " Gladys " and " Courser " and loaded them with fodder and pig food, as well as with
some seed oats and potatoes which happened to be available.
Before leaving New Westminster I had to organize the distribution of the seed when
obtained.,    I sent a printed circular to the Reeve of each district, placing him at the head of 450 Fraser River Relief 1894
the distribution in his locality, and I appointed deputy distributors at the various landings
along the river and up the sloughs which were most convenient for storing the seed. I
selected these deputy distributors after consultation • with Mr. Townsend, Mr. Punch, and
other experienced residents, and in all cases they were trustworthy local farmers of respectability who were intimately acquainted with the circumstances of the farmers in their neighbourhood and the amount of seed they would require. I then proceeded up the river to
deliver the fodder and food to the various claimants. This was no easy task, as pressing
applications kept coming in from every direction urging me to go to their assistance at once
as animals were starving. I plied up and down the river daily, from Chilliwhack to New
Westminster, and up sloughs from Nicomen to Sumas, from daylight in the morning until
dark up to the 28th of June, taking on board seed as it arrived at New Westminster, the bulk
of it from Portland and San Francisco.
As the applications for seed came in to the distributors from the various farmers and
settlers they were checked and reduced by each distributor and by the Reeves, and afterwards
submitted to me and gone through again, and in some cases further reduced. Each settler
had to sign a receipt for the amount of seed he received, and those who could afford it signed
agreements to repay the Government for the amount of seed and fodder provided.
In no case was any food given as relief without strict enquiry into the circumstances of
the applicants from local people of respectability.
Numerous and urgent applications for food, fodder and seed, were made from people who
did not really require assistance, but they were always refused. There may be a few isolated
cases of misapplied grants, but I am sure they are quite exceptional, and under all the circumstances it was impossible to prevent it.
As I plied up and down the river flags used to be waved from numerous points to stop
the steamer. At first I attended to them, but soon found that such frivolous requests were
frequently made that precious time would be wasted and I therefore confined my trips to
definite points for relief, frequently calling at the camps to attend to their wants. By the
28th of June, 18 days after the first order for the seed was given, it was nearly all obtained,
received and delivered to the farmers, and at Chilliwhack and Agassiz where the waters had
subsided the farmers were busy sowing their crops.
On the 28th June, I had to leave for East Kootenay in order to be present in my constituency during the general elections. I left Mr. W. B. Townsend in charge of the Government
Relief Works in the Fraser Biver valley, for the purpose of completing the work in progress,
and also with instructions to gather in and classify all the returns, which duties he performed
in a very able and satisfactory manner.
During my work on the Fraser Biver, I had to employ the services of a Secretary, Mr.
Bridgeman, and a Clerk, Mr. Townsend, as there was a very large amount of correspondence
to be carried on in addition to numerous accounts and tallying in the distribution of seed and
fodder. Both these gentlemen shewed praiseworthy energy and devotion to their work under
trying circumstances.
The total amounts expended for the Fraser River Government Relief, are as follows :—
Seed $20,136 06 Food $     714 43
Fodder      1,251  63 Shelter and compensation,       188 40
Survey         203 00 Transportation      5,397 82
Distribution      1,138 42 Administration         773 25
The distribution of relief, &c, &c, as follows :—
Number of cattle rescued :—Horses      21
Cattle    397
Hogs    198   ,
Sheep    102
Number of cattle returned :—Horses      52
Cattle    295
Calves        4
Hogs    170
Sheep      50
 571 58 Vict. Fraser River Relief. 451
Number of settlers assisted with seed    666
Number of settlers with food      90
Number of settlers with forage ,      73
Amount of promises to pay or return , $5,375 79
Cash returned for seed sold  20 92J
Charges that are not directly under " Fraser River Relief" ....      355 81
I have the honour to be,
Your most obedient servant,
October 10th, 1894.
Provincial Secretary.
Printed by Richard Wolfenden, Printer to the Queen's Most Excellent Majesty.


Citation Scheme:


Citations by CSL (citeproc-js)

Usage Statistics



Customize your widget with the following options, then copy and paste the code below into the HTML of your page to embed this item in your website.
                            <div id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidgetDisplay">
                            <script id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidget"
                            async >
IIIF logo Our image viewer uses the IIIF 2.0 standard. To load this item in other compatible viewers, use this url:


Related Items