sailing ship    First White Child Born in B. C. Mainland Recalls Past

Here is a first-hand story of the early history of Whatcom county and British Columbia along the Canadian border at Sumas. Fraser YORK was for many years a Canadian customs official at the Sumas port of entry and is well known by Whatcom county people. Old-time residents of Maple Falls will undoubtedly remember his daughter, Leonora, who about twenty-five years ago, was assistant in the Maple Falls postoffice during the time the publisher of this paper was postmaster of the village.

The story related by Mr. YORK is authentic from every viewpoint and it will be interesting to many of the early pioneers, as well as those who have become residents since those early days, to know just what happened before real civilization has come into common use, as we have it at this time.

Here is the story as given by Editor Ed C. ROBBINS, of the Sumas News:

"Fraser YORK, first white child born on the British Columbia mainland, stopped in the News office Saturday morning to recall some of the impressions of Whatcom county and British Columbia more than a half century ago.  Coming from Huntingdon, just across the line, and holding a document of written recollections; he sat down comfortably in the office and began retelling his experiences.

"In a way it might be referred to as a double barrel interview. Being vitally interested in the community, Miss Wilma GILLIES pulled up the big stool from behind the counter, and listened. From time to time she gave a colorful touch to the discussions by her dainty effeminate impression. Mr. YORK took us back almost three-quarters of a century in opening his conversation. Before beginning it might be stated that he got his first name from the famous Fraser river of Canada. Now let's go back to the fifties and sixties of the past century.

"My parents, Thomas and Phoebe and Maria  YORK, together with Phoebe YORK, a sister, left Liverpool, England, in 1854 on the Princess Royal, a sailing vessel. Six months and ten days were required in making the trip around Cape Horn," began Fraser YORK.

"The landed at Nanaimo, in the colony of Vancouver Island. That was in 1854. The Hudson Bay Co. sent them out to open coal mines at Nanaimo. Moving to old Whatcom they took up a land claim under the U. S. government in '56. My father opened a coal mine just about where the Leopold hotel now stands in Bellingham.

"Part of Sehome hill is now located on part of that land claim. It has become generally known as York addition.

"In 1858 he and my mother and sister Phoebe, then seven, left old Whatcom with Indians in a canoe and traveled to the Fraser river. Traveling up stream they stopped at Fort Yale, B. C. The canoe was used because steamboats and other means of transportation were lacking. New Westminster, Vancouver, Chilliwack and other metropolitan centers were unheard of wilderness. Wild life and Indian life were about all that were known in those days. Derby, just below Langley, was chosen as the center and formed the first city in the mainland for those days. Later it was moved down and called New Westminster. The crown colony of British Columbia formed the mainland of the Canadian side of the line. Vancouver Island formed a separate crown colony. Several years later it was joined to British Columbia.

"I was born shortly after my mother arrived at Fort Yale, October 21, 1858. This makes me the first white child born in the original crown colony of British Columbia. My mother and my sister, now Mrs. Phoebe CAMPBELL of Abbotsford - were the first white women to enter that crown colony. The family moved with us to Spuzzum, B. C., in '61; and he and his partner, Frank WRAY, stretched a hemp rope across the Fraser river and operated a scow ferry so as to transport the miners across the river together with their mules and grubstakes. Dad remained there until his return to Fort Yale." After operating for some time, the boat blew up in 1864 above Fort Hope. The boiler exploded as a result of being filled too rapidly after going dry.

"It was in 1865 when we all picked up and moved to Sumas Prairie. And that has been my home ever since.

"Entering the Canadian customs service, I retired after 23 years service, in 1915.

"We found no white people in the region. Chilliwack had six settlers at that time. Numerous reservations were the places where large numbers of natives were to be found.

"Robert JOHNSON, father of Archie JOHNSON, of Sumas, and MARTIN, were the first settlers where Sumas is now located. Next came John HINCHEY, who homesteaded the THALHEIMER place. Gerald LOCKWOOD located the Noble place. That year of the close of the Civil war in the states found only one settler between here and old Whatcom; his name being HAMPTON. He was at what was referred to as Nooksack Crossing, below Everson. He ferried us across the Nooksack in a shovel nosed canoe; especially designed to buck the current. Our riding horses would lead behind the canoe.

"During one event, HAMPTON's canoe hit a snag and split wide open from stem to stern, drowning Mr. HAMPTON.

"Lynden only had two settlers and their names were JUDSON and HAWLEY. The entire country certainly was a wilderness in those days. The old 1858 trail was the only means of traveling to old Whatcom; the route followed by the Cariboo miners to the old placer mines on the Fraser river. This trail crossed the Sumas river four times between Sumas and Nooksack crossing. And crossing rivers in those days meant something. Bridges being unknown, the crossing was made by means of going over the felled trees. They lay across the stream and were flattened slightly to form a surface. The saddle horses were all trained to walk to logs. It was some sight to see them step gently across the logs. Once in a while a stranger's horse would fall off but the trained animals rarely slipped.

Referring to the Indians, Mr. Fraser YORK went on the say,  "Some of them were pretty bad. One was lynched where my farm is now located. The  lynching was carried on by a number of people from the American side of the line," continued Mr. Fraser YORK in presenting his version of the event. "I saved the barrel of the gun that the native, Louis SAM, used in shooting Mr. BELL at Nooksack with. Mrs. SIMPSON, now of Everson, is the widow of that Mr. BELL. The firearm was badly battered by one of the lynchers who had banged it over the tree."

From The Deming Prospector, July 15, 1932; copied by Susan Nahas

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