William John Brewer, a native of Cornwall, England, arrived in British Columbia in 1870 and came to New Westminster. He was interested in settlement land and he selected 160 acres of land "Situated on the north bank of the Serpentine river or slough, Mud Bay," which he registered in October 1870. This pre–emption was near the end of the Kennedy Trail which had been opened by James Kennedy in 1861. This was the first settler trail built south of New Westminster and it linked the area downstream from Brownsville to Mud Bay and to the good meadow land of the Serpentine and Nicomekl Rivers. Brewer's pre–emption was lot 168 which extended from part of the upland, later known as Panorama Ridge, to the north bank of the Serpentine River. This was located at the southern and eastern end of the Kennedy Trail.
Lot 232 belonged to William Woodward, while lot 168 belonged to WJ Brewer
Courtesy of John Macdonald's Kennedy Trail
To this original pre–emption Brewer added a further 40 acres to the west and within ten years had increased the size of his holding to over 300 acres, comprising Lot 168 and adjacent sections. Brewer came into contact with William Woodward, who was also interested in settlement land in Surrey. Woodward in January 1873 pre–empted the parcel of land west of Brewers Lot 168. Woodward's parcel was known as Pre–emption #977. On January 8th, 1873 he registered his 160 acres of land along the Semiahmoo Road which he would open that same year. His son John pre–empted an additional 160 acres.
A current map showing the location of Woodward and Brewer holdings
Courtesy of John Macdonald's Kennedy Trail
(See Kennedy Trail)
Brewer and Woodward formed a partnership. They jointly bid on the contract to build the section of the Semiahmoo Wagon Road, Section B-C, from the base of Snake Hill to the north bank of the Serpentine River. They were awarded the contact on July 3, 1873. The road ran from Brownsville southeast across Surrey and along the boundary between the parcels of land held by Brewer and Woodward. Both partners had been farmers in England before coming to British Columbia. The benefits of this contact would provide each the monetary means to improve their holdings and the road would provide them good access to the market of New Westminster.
Section B C contract with William Woodward and WJ Brewer
Courtesy of Ron Dowle's Semiahmoo Trail
Both Brewer and Woodward were amongst the 35 males who signed the petition applying for Letter Patent for Municipal status. The signed petition was presented and accepted by the Provincial Government. Letter Patent was issued for the formation of "The Corporation of Surrey" dated November 10. 1879. Regulations were included that called for nominations and election to be held on January 5th 1880. The first meeting of the new Council was held in Joe Shannon's house on January 12th, 1880. Council was sworn in by the Warden and they proceeded to appoint W.J. Brewer as Clerk of the Municipal Council. The Clerk's duties were heavy. He had to transcribe all Council Minutes, handle correspondence and act as Collector and Assessor as well. Possibly Brewer found too much time was required away from his farming or logging operation for the amount of salary paid, since it was only a little more than ten dollars a month. As a result, Brewer resigned his Clerk's position within the first year.
The name of Surrey is credited to pioneer William John Brewer. In England, across the Thames from Westminster is the County of Surrey. It seemed appropriate that across the river from New Westminster there should also be a Surrey. "Surrey" was the name selected for the new Municipality by the first Clerk of the Municipal Council, Mr. W. J. Brewer, around 1880. "Due to the geographic similarity of this district to that of County Surrey in England, in relation to Westminster, I suggest it be named Surrey, British Columbia."
While living in Surrey, Brewer's name made the New Westminster papers.
The perils of crossing the Fraser River between New Westminster and Brownsville have been oft noted in history. In the first week of December 1873 a cold spell had choked up the Fraser River with ice floes once again, cutting off steamer traffic. In such circumstances, for travelers from New Westminster to the Fraser Valley, taking the road was the only option. Starting from Brown's Landing, travel by horse–drawn sleigh in winter could prove a relatively easy trip, barring fallen trees. However, the first leg of the journey was the risky river crossing. William Jenkins, a settler from along the old Telegraph Road above Barnston Island, and WJ Brewer of Mud Bay set out together by canoe to reach Brown's Landing.
The report is from the Mainland Guardian.
"Very Near An Accident"
"Two of our farmers, in endeavoring to cross the river on the way to their several localities – Brewer on the Semiahmoo Road, and Jenkins upriver – ventured the perilous trip in a canoe amongst the ice floes. They had reached probably about the centre of the river, when the swift whirling current brought two of the masses together, and their frail bark was seized in the terrible embrace of the frozen monsters. The resistance was but momentary: the canoe was broken in two. The unfortunate voyagers clung each to a fragment of the canoe and the adjoining mass of ice, and were thus enabled to sustain themselves until a number of spectators of the catastrophe, reached them in a boat which was with much difficulty taken to their rescue, the men in the boat being compelled to cut their way through the ice for a considerable distance. The poor fellows –Jenkins and Brewer – must have perished if the current had caused the sheets of ice to separate."
W. J. Brewer – Very Near Another City, Opposite the City, October 12, 1012
Brewer moved from Surrey in the mid–1880?s and by 1890 is listed by the census as farming at "North Arm." Brewer took up a lot on Victoria Road, just north of the Westminster Road (now Kingsway) in the neighbourhood later known as Cedar Cottage, where he resided for more than 40 years. Out of the bush he planted gardens of flowers and vegetables.
A current map showing the location of Brewer's home in South Vancouver.
At his new home he was joined by his father Sampson Brewer, who emigrated from England in 1890. WJ Brewer was married for the first time, at the age of 49, the same year. Brewer's wife died in 1910 and he married again at the age of 71 to actress Elizabeth Heron, age 40. Brewer once again played an important role in the creation of a new municipality. In May 1892 William John Brewer was nominated by JW Lawson and E McHendry and elected by acclamation to be the first Reeve of the Municipality of South Vancouver. The new district lay to the south of Vancouver, extending to the Fraser River. Whether Brewer also dreamed up the name for this municipality is not known. Brewer served just one year before giving up the position in favour of the man who had nominated him, James Williamson Lawson. South Vancouver was absorbed into Vancouver in 1929.
This photo was taken July 1st, 1927. Mr. Brewer and Mr. Cornett were photographed on Georgia Street Viaduct during the Dominion Day celebrations.
WJ Brewer died in 1931, age 90. A portion of his property survives in “Brewers Park”, on Victoria Drive at 26th Ave.