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Presettlement Trails through Surrey

Early Trails through Surrey

The movement of white men into Surrey became more frequent after 1827 once Fort Langley had been constructed. Trails such as the Semiahmoo-Langley Trail, the Kennedy Trail and the Telegraph Trail were the existing routes which the earliest settlers used before 1870.

Early Settlement Trails


The first major influx of white men into South Surrey did not take place until 1857. Contractors established a base camp at the mouth of the Little Campbell River which they used as a base while they constructed the Fort Langley Trail. This trail opened for 1858 to give access to miners heading to the Fraser River gold fields. The next year, the American Boundary Survey Commission, used the Camp at Semiahmoo as a base while marking the boundary along the forty-ninth parallel. They erected their headquarters on a little strip of open land near the mouth of the Little Campbell River close to one of the Semiahmoo winter camps. The site was just north of the forty-ninth parallel; it was clear, contained a fresh water supply, and the Campbell River channel provided water access over the tidal flats. A brief description of the site appeared in the Pioneer and Democrat in November 1857. (See Camp Semiahmoo)

Semiahmoo Bay - this is the point at which the American Boundary Commission is located. The British steamer Satellite lies at anchor off a spit, from 6 to 8 miles from the fortification of the Commission. The initial point of boundary established by those entrusted with the survey, has been located about 2 miles south of their present encampment - being, it is very rational to conclude, in the neighborhood of the 49th parallel. The selection for an encampment we regard as miserable, and with commendable prudence, the steamer Constitution will not venture within from 4 to 6 miles approaching the shore.

While at this site the troops improved access along the beach berm for about a mile and three-quarters along the shore of Semiahmoo Bay between the boundary and their Camp Semiahmoo headquarters. This base was used while the boundary was slashed and marked from Semiahmoo Bay to the Sumas Flats. This section of road was improved with the construction of the Semiahmoo Road in 1874.


The British Columbia gold rush which began in 1858 caused a short flurry of trail construction in the area. The California miners were determined to reach the Fraser River mines through American territory. A trail was planned from Whatcom on Bellingham Bay through Sumas to Hope. This trail was completed in 1859. The Royal Engineers' map of 1861 shows the Whatcom Trail from the Nootsack River to the mouth of the Sumas. It crossed the International Boundary about one–half mile east of the present Huntingdon townsite, on the west bank of the Sumas River.

In order to control the influx of miners the government announced on July 25, 1858, that a second trail (The Fort Langley Trail) was to be built from Semiahmoo Bay to Fort Langley. This would provide better control of the rush and allow the Engineers to collect the miners tax. The route chosen was from the mouth of the Little Campbell River, following the north bank for about four miles, and then turning north–easterly across country to Fort Langley.

An early account of the trail was given by Henry T. Thrift.

Another development was the construction of the trail or road and the bridges from the shore of Semiahmoo Bay near where the Douglas Canadian Customs House is now located through the woods across Hall's Prairie, Hazelmere, Belmont and Langley Prairie to Fort Langley. This trail or road was constructed to control the gold seekers who surreptitiously came in, attempting to evade payment of taxes and customs duties assessed and collected by the British authorities on those who entered the colony by ways and means officially recognized.

The original trail of 1858 ran from the mouth of the Little Campbell River along the north bank. In later years other access routes were cut to the trail. A branch which ran from the International Boundary north along the Coast Meridian(as is described by Mr. Thrift) which was the original survey line cut by J.W. Trutch in 1859 and later improved by the settlers as a road. The original trail and its branches are shown on a 1874–75 map drawn at the office of the Lands and Works, Victoria, B.C. and on an International Boundary Survey Commission map surveyed in 1907. From the Gulf of Georgia to the Northwestern most point of the Lake of the Woods, Sheet #2

Map of BC Trails

This map, drawn by the United States Boundary Commission in 1858, shows the route, from Semiahmoo Bay to Fort Langley. The trail was built by local contractors in 1858 during the period of the BC Gold Rush. In British Columbia it was known as the Fort Langley Trail, while in Semiahmoo (Blaine) it was known as the Semiahmoo Trail. The trail began at the mouth of the Campbell River and followed the north bank, crossed Langley Prairie near the old portage route and then along the Salmon River valley to Fort Langley.

The early settlers in Semiahmoo(present Blaine) referred to the Fort Langley Trail as the Semiahmoo Trail. Ships would deposit prospective miners at Semiahmoo, the community would sell them supplies and they would then hike the Semiahmoo/Fort Langley Trail to the Fraser River. It would appear that the Semiahmoo Trail went from Semiahmoo Bay to Fort Langley, rather than to the New Westminster area. A notice regarding its survey and building appears in The Victoria Gazette. 29 July 1853, p. 2:
A new American town.
From the following notice, printed in Whatcom, we should judge that the speculative movement at Semiahmoo had taken a definite shape. What effect it will have on the Bellingham Bay city remains to be seen.
This is the placard:
NOTICE.– A party will leave Semiahmoo Bay on the 29th inst,, for the purpose of surveying the route from that place to Fort Langley. As soon as the survey shall have been completed, proposals will be invited for making the road, and contracts let for sections of the same. Persons who may have desire to engage on the work, are therefore notified of the day of leaving, in order that they may go with the party over the ground, and make themselves acquainted with the character of the obstructions to be removed, and bid advisedly.– For further information apply to C.A. Sears, at the El Dorado, or to G. U. Gift. July 25, 1858.
According to W.N. Draper in his "Early trails and roads" (B.C.H.Q., January – 19439 vol. 7, pp. 49–56), the Semiahmoo Trail followed the general course of Campbell River for about four miles from its mouth, then went in a northeasterly – direction across country to Fort Langley, a distance of about 12 miles. Rare Books Section, UBC Library, Fran Woodward March 21, 1965.

The decline of the Fort Langley trail

Colonel Moody was pre–occupied with the defense of British Columbia. He was concerned that the Fort Langley Trail, leading directly to Fort Langley, was a ready made invasion route. As a result he allowed it to fall into disrepair and it quickly became almost impassable due to fallen timber.

This decline of the Langley Trail is illustrated in this story from Not the country for Serfdom: Land Settlement and Roadmaking Opposite the City of New Westminster, 1858 – 1879..

The Fourth of July, 1861 up at Yale, a doctor was murdered point–blank with a shot to the heart. The gunman escaped in a canoe paddled by two Indians and headed downriver. The colony was thrown into an uproar. The murderer of Dr Fifer [also spelled Phiefer] of Yale was Robert Wall, and of the two Indians aiding his escape, one was the stepson of Tsimlana, the Musquiam Chief living opposite the RE Camp. There followed a rapid canoe chase through the Fraser Canyon, past Fort Hope and down into the Valley, but the Indian canoe could not be overtaken and Wall eluded his pursuers. Word quickly spread down the river to New Westminster and a search was made as far as Point Roberts, with no sign of Bob Wall.

On July the 8th, the fugitive Wall was sighted by William Winnard, just above Langley, starting on the trail towards Semiahmoo. James Huston hastily paddled a canoe to New Westminster with the news. The Chief Inspector of Police, Chartres Brew, dispatched Constable McKeon and some men with Huston in his canoe down the Fraser and around Point Roberts to the mouth of the Tah–ta–loo River, the Semiahmoo end of the trail, where the US Boundary Survey formerly had their camp. It was a gamble by Brew, who knew that the trail between Langley and Semiahmoo was, at that time, was nearly all but impracticable.

At daylight on the 9th, they started upstream along the bank of the Tah–ta–loo (Campbell River).

They closely examined the trail but finding no tracks in the soft places where it would not be possible for a man to walk without having foot marks, they concluded that the man of whom they were in search had not passed. They remained watching the trail till after noon, then finding the man did not make his appearance Mr McKeon determined on sending home the canoes and proceeding with his men by the trail into Langley, hoping to meet on the way the man he wanted to arrest. He despatched the canoes and started along the trail and they had not marched 300 yards when they saw the man walking towards them with his head down. Mr McKeon's party rushed towards him and he made an attempt to escape into the bush. He drew his Revolver and turned his head to look behind him when he tripped and fell. Mr McKeon was on him in an instant; a constable wrested his Revolver from him and he was secured. He was marched into Langley and brought down here by boat that same night.

Wall was hanged over the grave of Dr Fifer, and both the Indians were convicted as accessories after the fact and sentenced to a year's hard labor. This aroused comment in the press: "In reading over the evidence it will puzzle one to account for the sentence of the two Indians."
Not the country for Serfdom: Land Settlement and Roadmaking Opposite the City of New Westminster, 1858 – 1879..


(see Kennedy Trail)

The Kennedy Trail was the first trail running south from Annieville (across the Fraser from New Westminster) to Mud Bay and was built in 1861. Kennedy built the trail under contract from Col. Moody. Kennedy used the trail to drive cattle from Mud Bay to his holdings on the Fraser River. The beef was then sold into the New Westminster and Gold Rush markets. When the trail was used to bring the first telegraph line to New Westminster in 1865, it was extended up the Fraser to the wharf at Brownsville.

In an unpublished document in the Rare Books Section, UBC Library. Fran Woodward March 21, 1966, Ms. Woodward writes:
The first trail running south from the New Westminster area was Kennedy's Trail, or Mud Bay Road. This road was built under contract from the Chief Commissioner of Lands & Works, Colonel Moody, by James Kennedy in 1861. The actual route of this road is not clear. Only three contemporary maps have been found with the road shown (Anderson, Trutch, and McColl), but none are detailed enough to be of much use in locating the route. At least two other roads were later called Mud Bay Road (Scott Road or 120th Road, and a road running to Mud Bay between the Serpentine and Nicomekl rivers. According to Draper, the Kennedy Trail did not take the same route as the later Semiahmoo Road. However, the route which he gives for the trail can not be correct in view of Kennedy's own correspondence relating to it.

According to Kennedy's statement to Moody, 19 November 1860; the Trail ought to start at a little bay where the line between his property and the Sappers strikes the Fraser River (i.e. between Lots 15 and 25, Group 2, H.W.D.) from thence it should run on an East line until it would intersect the Trail which is under contract from Manson [Douglas] Island to Langley which would be perhaps three (3) miles, the Trail or branch which I propose towards Mud Bay should start about a mile from the river on the main line [of Kennedy's trail] to Langley and run directly South, ...and which would strike I think a little above the mouth of the little River emptying into Mud Bay; the length of this branch would probably be SIX (6) Miles, both of these Trails should be straight lines.... The specifications called for a road ten feet wide, the grade not exceeding one in fifteen, with all stumps grubbed out or cut down six inches below the level of the ground. All soft places were to be properly corduroyed, brushed and ditched, and bridges and culverts were to be installed where necessary. The road, nine miles altogether, was to be completed on or before 30 June 1861.
In a letter to Moody dated 29 January 1861, Kennedy stated that he was ready to begin the Trail as soon as Moody gave the word. He was to be paid in a combination of cash and land scrip at the end of each mile after it had passed inspection. The first mile was completed, by 9 March 1861, and passed inspection. Unfortunately, Kennedy had gained an enemy in Moody over some land question, and the Colonel had the upper hand in the road contract. Kennedy soon realized that he could not possibly connect with the road to Langley in less than seven miles (the road started on the River bank about five miles above New Westminster on the opposite side, dropped down to a point on the river opposite the west end of Barnston Island, and on to Fort Langley), and requested an additional four miles to meet the Trail at its nearest point, near Barnston Island. In a letter to Douglas, dated 2 April 1861, Kennedy states that Moody had misrepresented the request, stating that the four miles would reach Semiahmoo. Moody must have won, because the Langley trail stopped at the end of the three miles, that is, four miles east from the river (Letter to Moody, July 1, 1861; Letter to the Editor, British Columbian. November 15, 1862. p3). The Trail to Mud Bay branched south from the Langley trail. Seven miles were completed by 17 May 1861, six miles completely unpaid-for, and payment still owing on the first mile. Kennedy had proposed a Trail, but had built a road as called for in the Specifications. Unfortunately, the Specifications left nearly every thing to the judgment of Moody and his agents, who seemed to differ on their definitions of a road. By 1 July 1861 the nine miles contracted for were nearly completed, and the additional four miles at Mud Bay were started.
I expect by the time you come over to inspect the nine Miles to have the Trail opened through to the bay;

In another letter to Moody ten days later, he writes:

I was at Mud Bay yesterday and find that there is one Mile of the last four miles done. It is out to the meadow I have started the branch up the Valley. The mosquito's are horrible in the Woods I suffered like a martyr, in spotting the line, it is a dreadful place to make a Trail; the logs, and undergrowth, are so thick I shall want some money to carry on the work on these four Miles,

On 13 August 1861, Kennedy wrote Captain Luard that the last four miles were nearly complete and ready for inspection on 19 August.

In the British Columbian for January 23, 1862 (p, 2) Kennedy pointed out to Moody and all the others who had opposed his trail that it had been the means of their survival when the Fraser River had frozen over and the City and Camp were out of meat. A party of Yankees from Oregon had landed a drove of cattle at Point Roberts, and nine fat heifers were driven up Kennedy's trail and across the ice to New Westminster. Yet in the issue for 1 November 1862 two separate articles complain about the road situation, appealing for a road to Langley and the Cariboo, and one mentions the Whatcom Trail, but no mention is made of Kennedy's Trail. A letter to the Editor on 15 November signed "A Lone Settler Near Mud Bay", who appears to be Kennedy, reminds the people of the road to Mud Bay and its unfinished branch to Langley, and hopes that tenders will soon be called for its completion.
On 9 December 1864 William McColl reported to the Colonial Secretary on his survey of a line for the Telegraph. The Kennedy Trail was to be incorporated in the line of the Telegraph. McColl stated that it needed some clearing and some of the corduroying needed repair to restore the trail to its original condition.
Alex Annandale reported to the Colonial Secretary in a letter dated 27 April 1865 that the road was closed up at a point about 4 Miles from New Westminster and the obstructions have been entirely caused by the Telegraph Co.


Some of the reasons for Kennedy's problems with his trail can be partially explained with two letters from James Lindsay. The letters, and both were contained in James Lindsay's Colonial Correspondence file (F999) in the BC Archives.

Sgt. James ('Whispering Jimmy') Lindsay was Royal Artillery, one of two gunners added to the RE Detachment at the last minute at the request of Col. Moody, who thought they might be useful in training a militia. Since there were no cannon in the colony, Lindsay worked inspecting roads and was even seconded to the Colonial Treasurer for a time to help balance the books. He returned to BC in 1867 after retiring from the Army, and ended up as a constable in Richfield and eventually Chief Constable of Cariboo.

The first letter is addressed to:

Capt. John Marshall Grant, R.E.:
R.E. Camp New Westminster
6th April 1861
In compliance with your instructions I inspected 2 Miles of the road from opposite New Westminster towards Boundary Bay now in Course of Construction by Mr. Kennedy, and I have to report that it does not agree with the specifications in the following points Viz,
  1. That at the commencement of the 1st Mile it is not the width and too steep for a waggon road.
  2. That there are a quantity of stumps above the surface of the Ground.
  3. Toward and at the termination of the 2nd Mile there is a quantity of surface water on each side of the road, rendering the road too soft for a waggon road, and requires to be corduroyed.
  4. I consider it to be only a good trail, but not a waggon road.
James Lindsay, Serjeant, R.A.
The back of the letter is marked 8/1861 – Report on Mr. Kennedy's Road to Mud Bay, Srjt. Jas. Lindsay, RA, 6 April 1861. There is Capt. Grant's note that the report has been submitted to the Colonel Commanding (i.e., Moody), and a further faint note seems to say Lt. Palmer is to have another inspection done.

The second letter, dated six days later and addressed to Capt. Henry Reynolds Luard, is very similar:

R.E. Camp New Westminster
12th April 1861
In Compliance with your instructions, I inspected the second Mile of a road from opposite New Westminster toward Boundary Bay now in course of Construction by Mr. Kennedy, and have to report that it does not agree with the specifications in the following points Viz.
(This is a second examination)
  1. That there are a quantity of stumps throughout the whole mile above the surface of the Ground.
  2. At the commencement and termination there is a quantity of surface water on each side of the road, rendering it too soft for a waggon road and requires to be corduroyed in 4 places.
  3. I consider it to be only a good trail, but not a waggon road.
I Certify to the correctness of the above.
James Lindsay, Serjeant, R.A.
John McMurphy, Serjt, R.E.

I note this one is counter–signed by Sjt. McMurphy, the Detachment's most decorated old soldier, probably as evidence of a second opinion. Lindsay and McMurphy would work together in 1863 inspecting the Cariboo Road north of 100 Mile House, as well.


James Lindsay's Colonial Correspondence file (F999) in the BC Archives. Courtesy of Timothy Watkins and Ron Dowle.


Another of the earliest trails cut through the region was that of the ill–fated Overland Telegraph (The Telegraph Trail). With the failure of the 1858 Atlantic Cable, plans were made to construct an overland telegraph system linking the existing network in North America with that of Europe via British Columbia, Alaska and Siberia. The line reached New Westminster from the United States in June 1865.

A trail was built along the line, both to facilitate the transportation of supplies and for purpose of maintenance... the line of this telegraph trail entered British Columbia at the present site of the Peace Arch; thence it ran along the beach berm and over the hill behind White Rock to the Mud Bay Flats, which it crossed, swinging to the northwest to connect with the Kennedy Trail, which it followed to Annieville, then along the shore of the Fraser River to Brownsville opposite New Westminster. From New Westminster the Telegraph Trail continued eastward along the south shore of the Fraser to Yale and the Cariboo Wagon Road.


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