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Early Provincial Roads

Road Development 1871–1890

In 1871, the British Columbia entered Confederation with Canada. This union meant the removal of British Columbia's burdensome debt by the Federal Government which now allowed the province to undertake additional public works projects. In 1873 the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia appropriated larger sums of money than usual for road construction. The government recognized the need for roads to open up the vacant lands and stimulate settlement. The settlers especially needed well organized land routes: to reach the land he had claimed or acquired; to provide mail services; to bring equipment, supplies, building materials, and livestock to the farm; to ship out farm produce to the local market; to meet social needs - travel to school, church, public meetings or just undertake a neighbourly visit. For these reasons and beginning in 1873, the Provincial government undertook the construction of a number of trunk roads which would provided access to and from New Westminster as well as all parts of Surrey. While these roads once constructed provided a very important facility, they were not all-weather routes and therefore could never replace entirely the local rivers as a year-round bulk commodity transportation system.

Early roads before 1886

The Semiahmoo Wagon Road

In 1873-74 the Semiahmoo Wagon Road was built from Brownsville (opposite New Westminster) to the International Boundary. The wagon road was surveyed by two former Royal Engineers, George Turner and Crimean war veteran Lewis F. Bonson. This provided the first north-south wagon route across Surrey, and in 1874, a mail stage began operating along it between New Westminster and Semiahmoo.

Charles McDonough, W.J. Brewer, William Woodward, John Kirkland, William Thompson and William Litster were contracted to construct different parts of the Road, with William Ladner as supervisor. According to the 1873-1874 Sessional Papers, the cost was $13,862. Citizens of New Westminster contributed $1,227.50 toward the cost.
Semiahmoo Wagon Road story board. Surrey Heritage Services

This road still exists in part in North Surrey and as a heritage trail in South Surrey.

Map of Ward III Elgin
Courtesy of Surrey Heritage Commission.
Semiahmoo Wagon Road story board.

From an unpublished document in the Rare Books Section. UBC Library. Fran Woodward March 21, 1966.


In 1872 the Government began construction of a road from Brownsville to Semiahmoo Bay. It is understood to have started at the Brownsville Wharf and followed what is now known as the Old Yale Road to a point about 3/4 mile west of the present King George VI Highway, then veered southeast, descended Woodward's Hill (now known locally as Panorama Ridge), crossed the flats on what later became known as Mud Bay Road (Elgin Road), to Elgin, crossed over the hill to the intersection of present Stayte Road with the Campbell River Road, crossed the River and followed the trail constructed by Boundary Commission along the shore to Blaine, (see Draper for this route – This does not agree completely with the Map of New Westminster District B.C. I876 produced by the B. C. Dept. of Lands & Works, which shows the road in relation to the surveyed lots.) According to Draper, this road had mostly fallen into disuse by 1942, though it was still legally a public highway. He says (p. 52)

The citizens of New Westminster subscribed $1,227.50 towards "the cost of this road". The route was located by George Turner, the former Royal Engineer, on behalf of the Government, assisted by Lewis F. Bonson on behalf of the citizens of the city. Bonson was subsequently appointed superintendent for the district and had supervision of the first contracts, which were let in four sections: to Charles McDonough, afterwards a prominent New Westminster merchant; Messrs. W. J. Brewer and William Woodward, farmers; and John Kirkland, later a prominent resident of the Delta. The total amount paid out on the four contracts was $5,537. When these contracts were completed there regained 8 miles to be built in order to reach Semiahmoo (Blaine). This portion was also let in several sections, as follows: William Thompson, $2,375; W. J. Brewer, $4,750; William Litster, $1,200. William H. Ladner, well–known resident of the Delta, had supervision of the contract.

The Public Works Report for 1873 (Sessional Papers 1873–74, p. 12) gives a few more details. The total distance was 16 miles. Section A to B: Charles McDonagh, contractor, at $750.

Upon this Section Mr. E. Brown paid for extensive improvements, which were not specified for in the contract.

Ebenezer Brown of Brown's Farm, later Brownsville purchased Lots 3, 4, and 7 on 9 February I861. He was a wine and spirits merchant of New Westminster. (Sea F. W. Laing, "Colonial Settlers...," pp. 144-145) Section B to C: Messrs. Brewer and Woodward, contractors, at $2,137. Section C to D: John Kirkland, contractor, at $1,100, 7 1/2 miles. Section D to E: John Kirkland, contractor, at $1,150, 4 1/2 miles.


The McLellan Road

In 1874-75, A.J. McLellan contracted to build part of the Ladner Trunk Road from the Semiahmoo Road to Langley (later it became known as the McLellan Road; presently, part of it is Highway #10). In the same year, John Kirkland build the portion from the Semiahmoo Road to the Scott Road. It was hoped that this east-west road, linking Ladner with Hope, would provide valley settlers with a means of marketing farm produce outside the Fraser Valley. This link from its connection with the Yale Road and Ladner would provide an alternative when the Fraser River at New Westminster froze over or was plugged with flow ice. This road still exists as New McLellan Avenue from Scott Road to the King George Highway, as Highway #10 from King George Highway to the Serpentine Bridge, as Old McLellan Road to Surrey Centre and 60th Avenue into Langley.
(See McLellan Road)


The Scott Road

In 1875, J.T. Scott contracted to build a wagon road south from Brown's Landing to meet the Ladner Trunk Road at Oliver Slough. Scott was unable to complete his contract, and the Provincial government undertook to finish the road the following year. Scott Road provided a shorter road link between Ladner and New Westminster. Settlers in Ladner could market their products in New Westminster rather than ferrying them up the Fraser, and New Westminster residents had an ice free port in winter as ice blocked the New Westminster Harbour. Today, this is the present 120th Street.


The Yale Road

In 1875 The Yale Road was completed through Surrey to provide a land link between New Westminster and the Yale–Cariboo Wagon Road into the interior. This land route was of strategic value when winter ice on the Fraser River frequently made regular steamship service to Yale impossible. Today the Yale road still exists in parts of Surrey and the upper valley. Parts of it are incorporated into the Fraser Highway.

Carriage in Green Timbers Horse and carriage in Green Timbers

Yale Road provided an important link between the Cariboo Road and New Westminster when the Fraser River was frozen over.


By 1875 the construction of trunk roads underwritten by the Provincial Government was completed. Further road construction had to wait until the Municipality of Surrey was incorporated on November 10, 1879.


Source: Rare Books Section, UBC Library. Fran Woodward March 21, 1966.

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