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The Coulthard Family

of Colebrook, and New Westminster.

This family history is taken in part from "Land Under Water: The Coulthard Farm in 1935" by Rosemary Cunningham. The Coulthard family was one of the early settler families in Surrey. Fred. J. Coulthard purchased the property with Chris Brown in 1898. Fred Coulthard was Rosemary Cunningham's grandfather.
Rosemary Cunningham began a second career as a writer following retirement from her career as a librarian. Her family history is reprinted from British Columbia History 45:2, 2012.


The Coulthard family

F. J. Coulthard

Frederick John Coulthard was born in Hull, England in 1866. He came to Barrie, Ontario in 1884. He worked his way across Canada, arriving in New Westminster in the 1890s. Mr. Coulthard established a real estate and insurance business with a Mr. Warren Malins, and later a Mr. Edward (Ted) Sutherland. Later his son Fred took over eventually followed by his grandson.


In New Westminster Fred Coulthard met and married Elizabeth Carrick Hill, who was born in Wolfville, Amherst, Nova Scotia in 1867. They were married November 12th, 1894. Mrs. Coulthard's father was Albert H. Hill, a pioneer engineer and surveyor in and around Surrey.


Mrs. Coulthard and children

Mr. and Mrs. Coulthard had three girls and two boys – Chloris (Mrs. James Scott), Phyllis (Mrs. N. Nicholson) Fred, 1899, Margaret (Peggy, Mrs. R. Peers) and Richard.



Surrey 1897 map

This 1897 map of the Colebrook area is part of a Surrey map showing land ownership in Surrey. The engineer and surveyor responsible for the map was Albert H. Hill, Mrs. Coulthard's father. His map shows Lot 51, the former Moodyville Estate, as being held by Brown and Coulthard. Chris Brown built his home on the western portion of the property in 1898, but the final title transfer did not take place until 1901 so there must have been some prior arrangement with the Moodyville Estate.


In around 1897–98, along with Chris Brown, Mr. Coulthard bought DL 51 from an English Estate. This had been known locally as the Moodyville Estate. Brown settled the western half and Coulthard the eastern half of the estate.

(See The Brown Family)

Fred Coulthard built a house and farm buildings. He never lived on the farm as his wife Elizabeth preferred their permanent home in New Westminster. The Coulthard property was on Colebrook Road, about half a mile west of the King George Highway to Station Road the western boundary. There were 1500 acres in the two farms.


Mr. Coulthard developed a large scale commercial farm at Colebrook, but also retained his New Westminster interests. He owned one of the first automobiles in Surrey and drove on what were little more than wagon roads through bush and mud. Mr. Coulthard built a small wharf and shipped farm produce, mainly to the Farmers' Market in New Westminster. One of the boats was the old S.S. Grainer.


In 1913 Mr. Coulthard joined the New Westminster Harbour Board and served as chairman until his death April 18th, 1935. Mrs. Coulthard sold the farm shortly after her husband's death; she lived until December 2, 1954.


The following are excerpts from Rosemary Cunningham's history of the Coulthard Family and the flooding in 1935, reprinted from British Columbia History 45:2, 2012.

My family moved to south Surrey from New Westminster in 1929 so that our father, F.H. "Sonny" Coulthard, could manage the large piece of land his father, F.J. Coulthard, had owned since 1898.

Fred Coulthard

Fred "Sonny" Coulthard took over management of the Coulthard farm in 1929 when his father ran into financial difficulties with the start of the Great Depression. His family worked the farm until 1935 when his mother was forced to sell the farm after his father's death.


That year, Grandfather and his friend, Chris Brown, purchased 1500 acres, reputedly one of the richest, most fertile tracts in Surrey, bordered by what is now the King George Highway on the east, the McLellan Road on the north, a line from the Scott Road down to Mud Bay on the west, and the Serpentine River on the south. The two men divided the property in half, Grandfather taking the east half, and Brown taking the west half. Although Grandfather never lived on the farm, he built a substantial house and outbuildings on it, and, with hired help, operated it for many years as a successful business. He sold dairy products and a variety of agricultural crops, such as oats, barley, sugar beets, mangels, potatoes, hay, and truck garden produce, which was sent weekly to the New Westminster Public Market by boat from his dock on the Serpentine River.

Coulthard farm house

Coulthard farmhouse, circa 1925


When we moved to the farm, there were draught horses, cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, geese and ducks and one tractor; all contributed in some way to the output of the farm and the income it produced. Had it not been for the 1929 Stock Market Crash, during which Grandfather suffered serious financial losses, it is likely we children would never have experienced the joys of living on a farm, for there would have been no need for Dad to step in as manager in order to save his father the financial burden of a paid overseer. As other pressing money matters began to worry Grandfather, he found it necessary to take out a large mortgage on the farm, which was to have unforeseen consequences for our family in 1935.

Rosemary and Bill c1931 Rosemary, Bill and F.H. Sonny Coulthard

On the left, Rosemary and Bill Coulthard circa 1931.
On the right Rosemary, Bill, and father F.H. "Sonny" Coulthard


Rosemary and Bill on grain sacks

Rosemary and Bill on grain sacks


We settled into country life very easily; my brother, Bill (F.W. Coulthard), was enrolled in Grade 1 in Colebrook School on Station Road in September, 1931, and I followed in September, 1934. Our brother, Doug (D.J. Coulthard), born in December, 1933, completed our family.

The following paragraphs deal with the 1935 flood:

Occasional flooding is a fact of life in many places in British Columbia, particularly in the Fraser Valley, the fertile delta west of Hope. Flooding is due to a number of factors: the depth of the snowpack on the coast and interior mountains; the amount of snow on the ground; the rate that the snow melts in the spring; normal climate conditions that frequently include heavy rain, but most of all; the low level of the land that borders the lower course of the Fraser River. When the mighty Fraser River overflows its banks, the result is economic hardship and misery for those who live and work near enough to the river to be considered on the flood plain. The most devastating Fraser River flooding in the Fraser Valley occurred during the spring freshets in 1894 and 1948, and is well documented. Although nowhere near the magnitude of those natural disasters, another flood in 1935, not involving the Fraser, severely affected those who lived in Surrey, as my family did, and throughout the Lower Fraser Valley, the lands on both sides of the Fraser River west of Chilliwack stretching to the outlet of the north and south arms of the river into the Strait of Georgia.
The 1935 flood was unlike the 1894 and 1948 floods in that it occurred in the middle of winter during a period of the most extreme and unprecedented weather. Although the water levels of the Fraser River were of no concern, many of the numerous smaller rivers, streams, sloughs, and ditches that drained the delta were not dyked, or had dykes inadequate to contain the high water levels caused by freak conditions that began in late December 1934.
During Christmas week the temperature dropped into the minus Fahrenheit figures and it began to snow heavily. People listened anxiously to their radios for weather developments as the cold and snow continued throughout early January, 1935; on January 16 six inches (15.24 cm) of snow fell in twenty–four hours. By January 17 there were huge drifts in the Fraser Valley, the temperature was 1° F. (–17° C.), many schools throughout the region were closed, and getting around was extremely difficult. Then, suddenly, on January 21 the cold snap ended and a rapid thaw ensued as the temperature rose during the day from 6° F. (–14° C.) to 40° F (4.44° C). To add to the problem, it began to rain heavily and the water could not be absorbed by the frozen ground. By January 23, The British Columbian reported that "continued rain and melting snow have turned the lowlands of Surrey into lakes."
Conditions went from serious to disastrous in the days that followed, as the rising waters of the Serpentine and the Nicomekl rivers broke through their dykes and overflowed into the already flooded low-lying fields. Reports in "The British Columbian" document the extent of the situation: on January 25, ". . . the road to Crescent Beach washed out [and] a snow storm collapsed a barn, sheep shed and a pig barn [in the area]. The Nicomekl dyke broke again . . ."; on January 28, "Working in the rain day and night in boats [rescue workers] saved the lives of the residents of the Meridian and Cameron Road districts in Surrey . . . flooded out last week by waters of the Serpentine and Nicomekl rivers. . . . only boats and rafts could be used to take families to places of safety. The boats and rafts were rowed a mile and a half [2.4 km] over submerged wire fences and through floating blocks of ice. . . . The water rose three feet [90 cm] during Thursday night [January 24] and continued to rise so rapidly on Friday [January 25] that residents only had time to dress themselves and make rafts to get away from the houses . . . cattle, horses and chickens were left behind. In some of the houses water was from three to four feet high.... The losses to the farmers will be tremendous ...." Further up the Valley, conditions were equally severe. On January 20 the front page of The "British Columbian" described the Hatzic prairie as "one vast lake... the flood waters were so high that a cow placed on a raft was floating between the rafters of a barn." On January 30, the same source reported houses floating off their foundations in Sumas. A story on January 31 told of the rescue of a Hatzic family in grave danger of drowning after falling from a raft into the turbulent flood waters. On February 9, the paper reported that all roads on the south shore of the Fraser River leading to Chilliwack were still closed, residents had been without electric light since the week of January 21, and only 100 telephones were in working order.
By February 4 the newspaper confirmed that all main roads in our area of Surrey were temporarily passable, but the Johnson Road Bridge over the Nicomekl River had washed out. One of the last newspaper references to the flood was the following on February 25: "Surrey's road crews during the past week have been engaged mainly in going back over temporary repairs of storm damage and making a permanent job. Among those completed during the week were; the Johnston Road ... the Crescent [Road] fill. . . Elgin Hill and Bose Road." These areas were very close to the location of our farm, so it is safe to assume, in the absence of any further documentation, that the water had receded sufficiently to allow people around us to return to their homes to salvage what they could and start the massive clean-up of their property.
Our grandfather had had the foresight to raise our house on blocks so that the main floor was more than four feet (1.2m) above ground level. That meant we were in no immediate danger when the flood waters rose to that level in January 1935, and never had to be evacuated, unlike many of our neighbours whose houses were built directly on the ground. There were seven steps up to the veranda of our house, and they were completely submerged. The boat used to get to various areas of the farm was tied to the lower rail of the veranda beside the steps, and we were able to step directly into it from the veranda level without getting our feet wet. When I think back to that time, I seem to hear the distinctive noise made by the boat bumping against the wood of the rail. From the veranda our farmlands looked like a vast inland sea: the water rose above the barbed wire fences and the fence posts, so it was possible to row the boat over them as though they did not exist. Some of the farm's outbuildings were also raised above ground level, for example, the granary and the piggery. The higher level of the chicken coop was where the poultry found refuge, but neither my brother nor I can account for how the other animals were able to survive, remaining on the farm as they did during the entire flood period. The barn may have been slightly raised, but certainly not high enough to avoid being flooded. I have read one memoir that told of bloated animal carcasses bobbing on the flood waters, but we never saw that. As far as we know, none of our animals was lost.

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