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Yarrow, British Columbia

Edited by
Esther Harder, Edwin Lenzmann, and Elmer Wiens

Vedder River Flats

by
Chester Brown and Elmer Wiens

Elmer Wiens and Chester Brown - August 1, 2009
Elmer Wiens and Chester Brown - August 1, 2009

An excerpt of this page is reprinted on the web page of the Vancouver Sun in its BC150—Celebrating Our Diversity—series.

Vedder River Flats
Hudson   |   Brown   |   Heinrich Nickel   |   Derksen—Wiens

Historically, people of the Sumas (Sum-Aht) and Chilliwack (Ch.ihl-kway-uhk, Chilukweyuk) tribes of the Stó:lo, Salish First Nations resided in the region around Sumas Lake. The Chilliwack traded and affiliated with the Salish tribes on the Nooksack River of Washington State by way of the Old Nooksack trail meandering between Vedder Mountain and Sumas Lake, and by way of Columbia Valley and Cultus Lake.

Sumas, Stewart, Street, Vedder, and Lewis Creeks, plus numerous Vedder and Sumas Mountain streams flowed into Sumas Lake, drained by the Sumas River to the north into the Fraser River. During the spring and early summer snow melt, Sumas Lake flooded and expanded, diminishing in size in the fall and winter seasons.

Vedder Mountain, and the Fraser River and Sumas Mountain confine the region to the south and north. The white, snowy precipices of Mount Cheam and Mount Baker stand out to the east and southwest.

Mount Cheam from the Vedder River Mount Baker from Sumas Prarie
Mount Cheam from the Vedder River
Photograph: Elmer Wiens
Mount Baker from Sumas Prairie
Photograph: Stan Harder

The area occupied by Sumas Lake expanded after 1875, when a logjam blocking the Chilliwack River's route through Sardis diverted some of its flow into Vedder Creek. Sumas Lake's extent expanded again after 1882, when the headwater of the Chilliwack, Luckakuck and Atchelitz streams on the Chilliwack River was blocked, causing all the Chilliwack's water to flow into Vedder Creek, later known as the Vedder River.

Before 1882, the Chilliwack River twisted to the right at Vedder Crossing, continuing as the Chilliwack River through Sardis toward the Fraser River. After 1882, it curved left to overwhelm Vedder Creek, known as the Vedder River below the Vedder Crossing Bridge.

Vedder Crossing Bridge
Vedder Crossing Bridge
The Chilliwack River becomes the Vedder River

Settlement of the area by Europeans accelerated with the arrival of the Hudson Bay Company's traders (circa 1800), the Cariboo Gold Rush (circa 1858), the construction of the Collins Overland Telegraph line (1865), the Colony of British Columbia joining Canada (1871) as a province, the incorporation of the Municipality of Chilliwhack (1871), the completion of the B.C. Electric Railroad from New Westminster to Chilliwack (1910), the Sumas Lake Reclamation project (1924), and Mennonite immigration into Yarrow (1928).

The Vedder, McGillivray, and Chadsey families were early settlers (circa 1860's) to the region.

After their Cariboo gold-rush days, Volkert Vedder (1808-1898) and his sons, Adam and Albert, owned up to 1,200 acres of land to the east and south, and adjacent to Sumas Lake, known as the Vedder Ranch. Adam Vedder (1834-1905) was a Member of the Provincial Parliament, and served as Warden of the Township of Chilliwhack.

Donald McGillivray (1838-1913) farmed 800 acres on Sumas Prairie until 1903, after which he moved to Chilliwack. He was a Member of the Provincial Parliament, and served as Reeve of the Municipality of Chilliwhack.

William (1843-1906) and Mary Jane (1845-1936) Chadsey were among the first settlers on Majuba Hill. During the gold rush, William and his brother, James, shipped hermetically sealed cans of butter to the Cariboo gold fields from their Chilliwack and Sumas area farms. Following this successful venture, they built and operated the first flour mill in the Chilliwack area. After the 1894 Fraser River flood, the Chadsey's built and occupied homes on Majuba Hill. From 1900 to 1910, William and his son Lockhart served as postmasters of the Majuba Hill Post Office (Coutts 109-110).

James Hounsome succeded Lockhart Chadsey as postmaster. In 1912, Hounsome relocated the post office from Majuba Hill to his house north of Yarrow Station, on the shore of Sumas Lake. On January 1, 1914 this Post Office was renamed to Yarrow. In 1927, William and Ella Siddal (1885-1976) followed Hounsome as postmaster. They had built a "house and store south of Yarrow Station" in 1920, on the mountain side next to the railway tracks (Coutts 112). The picture below shows Siddall's store, post office, and house south of the BCE railway tracks at Yarrow Station, with Yale Road on the right and Wilson Road heading north on the left. The telephone poles in the background run next to the BCE Railway tracks. The footbridge in the foreground crosses the spillway creek from the Yarrow Reservoir, which flowed along the east side of Wilson road to join Stewart Creek. For many years, salmon spawned here, arriving from the Fraser River by way of the Sumas River and Stewart Creek.

Siddall's Store, Post Office, and House
Siddall's Store, Post Office, and House, circa 1930
Photograph Courtesy of Frank Parker — Son of Vivian (Siddall) Parker

Today, the Majuba Heritage Park is situated on the site of Sidall's house, store, and post office. Yale Road is now the Heritage Site called the Old Yale Wagon Road that runs along the foot of Vedder Mountain to Vedder Mountain Road.

Majuba Heritage Park
Majuba Heritage Park (October 18, 2008)

Majuba Hill consisted of the bench on Vedder Mountain situated south of Sumas Lake, and bisected by the Yale-Westminster Highway. Begun in 1865 and completed in 1875, this highway continued to the north to cross Vedder Creek by way of a bridge, and to the west to skirt Sumas Lake on its way to Fort Langley.

Sometime around 1885, Frank and John Lumsden acquired the Vedder Ranch. The brothers incurred financial difficulties when their project to drain Sumas Lake proved unsuccessful.

Apparently, John Sampson (1858-1940) leased the Vedder Ranch (circa 1895), living at the Vedder's homestead house, and sharing title to the property with the British Columbia Land and Investment Company.

Circa 1898, the British Columbia Land and Investment Company obtained full title to the Vedder Ranch, which they held until 1905.

In 1905, Joseph Knox (c. 1857 - 1931) and Margaret Knox (1845 - 1910) procured the ranch. Circa 1908, Knox sold to Ernest Crain and Chauncey Eckert a large portion of his farm west of Yale Road (Wilson Road), which at that time proceeded due north to the Vedder River from the eastern extremity of Majuba Hill.

Joseph and Margaret Knox
Joseph and Margaret Knox
Photograph Courtesy of Ethel and Edith Knox

The B.C. Electric Railway, completed in 1910, divided what came to be Yarrow: "Yarrow Proper" west of the tracks up to Boundary Road, the "Vedder River Flats" east of the tracks and north of Vedder Mountain up to the Vedder River, and "Majuba Hill" south of the tracks on Vedder Mountain. Affectionately or derisively depending on one's point, the Vedder River Flats were known locally as "The Bush." Today, properties on Majuba Hill are prized for their views; then, settlers preferred the productive farms on the plain of Yarrow and Sumas Prairie.

While the settlement of "Yarrow Proper" waited for Sumas Lake to be drained in 1924, the settlement of the "Vedder River Flats" was facilitated by the relocation of the Yale-Westminster Highway (c. 1908 - c. 1920) along Vedder Mountain from Majuba Hill to Vedder Crossing. This new road next to the mountain was known at first as Yale Road, and subsequently as Vedder Mountain Road.


Yarrow Pioneers: Vedder River Flats

The land east of Sumas Lake, overshadowed by Vedder Mountain, cut and ravaged by the Vedder River, was a rugged area. During the late summer, fall, and early winter, sizeable runs of spawning salmon invaded Sumas Lake, the Vedder River, and their tributary creeks, joining resident fish that included nimble cutthroat and rainbow trout, lissom whitefish, indolent olive green dolly varden, tiny, prickly sticklebacks and minnows, bristly languid suckers, and huge scavenging Pacific sturgeon. Vast flocks of geese and ducks, and occasional groups of trumpeter swans populated Sumas Lake, while pheasant and grouse inhabited the thickets of pussy willows, poplar trees, and blackberry bramble patches. Deer, bear, coyote, bobcat, and cougar roamed the mountainside and flats covered by hefty cottonwood, maple, hemlock, fir, and cedar trees.

The next aerial photograph reveals the Vedder River Flats to the south of the Vedder River, and South Sumas (Greendale) to the north of the river.   Vedder Mountain Road (Yale Road) traces the northern bottom of Vedder Mountain.   Vearing away from the mountain and the Old Yale Wagon Road, it becomes Yarrow Central Road as it crosses the BCE Railway tracks that run to the north to the Vedder River and on to Chilliwack.   On the west side of the tracks lies "Yarrow Proper."   The road to the north of the Vedder River is Keith Wilson Road.   The roadway on Vedder Mountain toward the bottom of the picture is the railroad bed built by the Vedder Logging Company during the early 1930's.

Click on the photograph for a larger version!

Vedder River Flats, July 15, 1940, Click for Large Photo
Vedder River Flats, July 15, 1940
Photograph Courtesy of Chester Brown

Travelling west from Vedder Crossing one passes a few farms lying between the highway and the Vedder River.   Then, one encounters Ford Road, Browne Road, and Martin and Simmons' Road jutting from Vedder Mountain Road and Vedder Mountain.   Browne Road and Ford Road, proceeding due north to the Vedder River, are joined by the barely discernible Duncan Road.  Browne Road and Martin and Simmons' Road share a junction off Vedder Mountain Road.   Martin and Simmons' Road, later known as Lumsden Road, runs due west, ending at the BCE Railway tracks near its Vedder River bridge.   Bergman Road juts north to the Vedder off Lumsden Road, while Simmons Road juts south to the mountain.   Knox's farm consists of the rectangular area east and next to the BCE Railway tracks.

Emails and letters exchanged with Chester Brown depict with text and photographs many of the early settlers of Majuba Hill and the Vedder River Flats. Pioneers cleared these lands to develop farms for livestock and produce.

Edward Hudson and Will Mathews
Will Mathews and Edward Hudson Sr.
Photograph Courtesy of Donald Hudson

Chester Brown writes, "To the east of Yarrow, a dozen or so families lived on the Browne and Ford Roads, and a few more along the Yale Road east of Ford Road as far as Vedder Crossing, about three and a half miles from Yarrow. The one-room Vedder Mountain School served these families until 1926, when it was closed. For the 1926-1927 school year, these children were trucked, first to Majuba Hill for a half term, and then to Atchelitz School. From 1927 to 1929, students in grades 6 through 8 from Majuba Hill and east along Yale Rd were trucked to Sardis School. Starting in 1928, younger students from Majuba Hill attended the new Elementary School located at the south-west corner of present day Yarrow Park."

Vedder River School Students - 1915
Vedder Mountain School Students — 1915
Edward Hudson Jr. in Centre
Photograph Courtesy of Donald Hudson

The farms of the pioneers of Vedder Mountain Flats were located along Martin and Simon's (Lumsden), Browne, Duncan, and Ford Roads, and east of Ford Road along Vedder Mountain Road

The Abe Simmons and Jack Martin families owned farms on their road.

Vedder River Flats' Pioneers
Mr and Mrs Abe Simmons, Mrs Hudson, Rosa Martin, Jack Martin in rear, and Mrs Martin in white — mid 1920's
Photograph Courtesy of Chester Brown

Mrs Simmons was the sister of Rosa Martin and Jack Martin.

Rosa Martin, Jack Martin, and Mrs Simmons
Rosa Martin, Jack Martin, and Mrs Simmons
Photograph Courtesy of Chester Brown


Hudson Family

Edward (c. 1865-1940) and Esther Hudson (1869-1956) were early pioneers, who cleared land on Duncan Road and built a house. To the west, a wagon road connected the Hudsons to Majuba Hill and Yarrow Station. This wagon road continued east to Ford Road which proceeded north to the Vedder River, possibly crossing the river by way of a gravel ford to connect with Lickman Road in South Sumas (Greendale) north of the river.

Original Hudson House Prior to 1920 Edward  and Esther Hudson
Original Hudson House Prior to 1920 Esther and Edward Hudson
Edward Hudson's Farm House
Edward Hudson's Farm House
Duncan Road at the "S" Corner
Esther Hudson Ed Hudson Jr. and Esther Mathews
Esther Hudson Ed Hudson Jr. and Esther Mathews

— Photographs Courtesy of Donald Hudson —

Being somewhat isolated, the young people of the Vedder River Flats and Majuba Hill, generally socialized amongst themselves in homes, or at parties and dances in the Vedder Mountain and Majuba Hill Schools.

Bill Parker and Ed Hudson Jr., Parker Girls and Betty Powell
Bill Parker and Ed Hudson Jr. (1908-1992)
Parker Girls and Betty Powell

Chester Brown states, "Mother's uncle Edward Hudson married Esther, his bride from London, in 1907 in Vancouver, and they had a son, also named Edward. The Hudsons bought 15 acres off what later became Browne Road south of a wagon road, near Yarrow, sometime in the early to mid 1910's. They sold the property and moved away in the early 1920's. Edward junior married and had two sons, Donald and Gordon. They had successful professional careers, and are now retired now on Vancouver Island."


Brown Family

Chester Brown writes that his father, Ernest William Browne, was born in Shropshire in 1871, and in 1889 immigrated alone to Vancouver, Canada, working at whatever he could find for some years. He changed his name to Robert Brown because of the disfavour Englishmen faced in the job market at that time (his name sounded and looked just too English), started working on coastal boats around the turn of the century, and obtained his Master Mariner certificate in 1907. He skippered tugboats out of Vancouver as Captain Brown until 1930, when the economic depression and his ill health forced him out of work permanently.

Robert Brown
Robert Brown — early 1942
Photograph Courtesy of Chester Brown

"My mother, Elizabeth Hudson, was born in London, England in 1883, serving a long apprenticeship as a seamstress / fitter / tailor. She immigrated to Vancouver with her uncle, Edward Hudson, in 1907, where she met Dad. They married in December 1908. She worked at her trade until my sister, Annetta, was born in 1917."

"In 1918, my parents, Robert and Elizabeth Brown, bought 15 acres on Browne Road, immediately south of Duncan Road (then only a wagon road), and west of the Hudson's homestead. Soon after this purchase, through a long-term payment agreement with the Soldier Settlement Board, they bought the adjoining 20 acres to the south, next to Browne and Yale Roads. They cleared a few acres on the 15-acre parcel and built a tiny house, to which they added over the next few years."

Brown Family home and back yard on Browne Rood
Original Brown Family home and back yard on Browne Road — early 1920's
Photograph Courtesy of Chester Brown

"The barn my father built in the 1920's beside what is now Duncan Road was still standing in 1982, a testimony to good workmanship."

Duncan Road looking East
Barn built by Robert Brown - early 1920's
Barn built by Robert Brown — early 1920's
Still standing in 1982
Photograph Courtesy of Chester Brown

"Because Dad's work was based in Vancouver, my mother raised two kids, kept a cow, a pig, chickens and a large garden all on her own — an amazing achievement for a woman raised in London with no rural experience!"

Annetta and Chester Brown Chester Brown
Annetta and Chester Brown — ages 6 and 4Chester Brown — age 4

Photographs Courtesy of Chester Brown

"Our neighbours in the earliest years included the Duncans, across the wagon road (Duncan Road) and immediately north of us; Hudsons, directly east of us; Mortons, east of Duncans; George Rowtasch, the Swiss farmer, west across Browne Road; Martins and Simmons on the neighbourhood's largest farms on their road (now Lumsden Road); and Latties south of Yale Road at Browne Road junction. Later, the Currence family bought Latties; Nickels bought Duncans; Johnsons bought Hudsons; Downings bought the property north of Duncans; and Nowells bought west of George Rowtasch. Roy Rexford built a little house in the "V" between Yale Road and Martin and Simmons' Road."

Susan Nickel, Annetta Brown, Mabel Horsley, Margaret Maitland
Susan Nickel, Annetta Brown, Mabel Horsley from Promontory Hill, Margaret Maitland from Majuba Hill — 1932
Photograph Courtesy of Chester Brown

"In 1930, we moved to the Johnson's (Hudson's) 15-acre property, which we bought for $5000. The house built by my mother's uncle, Edward Hudson Sr., was situated south of the "S" curve of Duncan Road. Our friends included classmates from the Majuba Hill and other area schools that my sister, Annetta, and I attended. From among our circle, Margaret Maitland and Annetta remained fast friends throughout their lives."

Elizabeth Brown, Margaret Maitland, Annetta Brown
Elizabeth Brown, Margaret Maitland, Annetta Brown — 1936

Brown's Duncan Road Home: 1930 — 1938
Margaret Maitland, Elizabeth Brown, Annetta Brown
Margaret Maitland, Elizabeth Brown, Annetta Brown

—   Photographs Courtesy of Chester Brown   —

"In 1931, we sold the 15-acre Browne Road property to a Mennonite family. The 20-acre property's ownership, at Browne Road junction, reverted to the Soldier Settlement Board in 1935."

Brown Family: Robert, Elizabeth, Chester, Annetta - 1934
Brown Family: Robert, Elizabeth, Chester, Annetta — 1934
Photograph Courtesy of Chester Brown

Chester Brown writes, "The BC Electric Railway was completed in 1910 to provide passenger and freight transport from Vancouver / New Westminster to Chilliwack, and beyond to the Fraser River and the old Yale Road. There were stations at Yarrow and Belrose on both ends of Majuba Hill, and a flag stop south of the Vedder River Bridge at the end of Martin and Simmons' Road. To shop in Chilliwack, we flagged the BC Electric Interurban train.

BC Electric's Vedder River Bridge
BC Electric's Vedder River Bridge
Greendale to the right and North of the Vedder
Yarrow to the left and South of the Vedder
Sumas Mountain in the Background

"Usually, we shopped for day-to-day staples in Yarrow at Bill Siddall's store, at Yarrow Station along Yale Road."

Yarrow Children at Siddall's Store, circa 1928
Yarrow Children at Siddall's Store, circa 1928
Photograph Courtesy of Frank Parker

"For my first year of High School in Chilliwack, I lived in a house owned by the Maitlands in Chilliwack. Parents of Yarrow students staying in this house rotated in providing care for us. Thereafter, I cycled the ten miles to Chilliwack from Duncan Road, regardless of the weather. The road to Chilliwack could be dangerous. On one occasion on my way to school, a car driven by someone travelling to Vedder Crossing from Chilliwack struck me in Sardis, and I spent some time recovering from my injuries in the Chilliwack General Hospital. However, I persevered to get my education, despite the hazards presented by inclement weather, road conditions, and careless drivers."

"Yale Road traversed the valley west of Sumas Lake, crossed the BCE rail line a mile or so southwest of Belrose Station, followed the lower slopes of Vedder Mountain to a half mile east of Yarrow, and then continued along its present route next to the mountain to Vedder Crossing. This road provided the only overland, road route up the Fraser Valley south of the river."

The Old Yale Wagon Road ascends Vedder Mountain southwesterly to Majuba Hill
The Old Yale Wagon Road ascends Vedder Mountain southwesterly to Majuba Hill

"Even after the Vedder Canal Dykes were built in 1924 and Sumas Lake was drained, Sumas Prairie was subject to flooding."

Sumas Prairie in flood — February 1935
Sumas Prairie in flood - February 1935
—   Sumas Mountain in background   —
George Ferguson Farm - February 1935
George Ferguson Farm — Vedder Mountain in background

—   Photographs Courtesy of Chester Brown   —

When an ice storm cut the power lines in 1935 to the Sumas pump-station, much of Sumas Prairie was flooded with disastrous consequences for the crops of tobacco. The two biggest players on Sumas Prairie, the Canadian Tobacco Company and the Totem Tobacco Company, were put out of business. In 1936, a group of small tobacco farmers formed the Sumas Tobacco Growers Co-operative Association, selling its tobacco leaf to Imperial Tobacco of Eastern Canada (Sleigh 69-72).

Chester Brown writes, "In 1935, I moved to the Okanagan.   My parents lived in Yarrow until 1938, after which they moved to Burnaby. My sister, Annetta, changed her name to Adrian, trained as a nurse in New Westminster, and married an electrical engineer by the name of Alton Hurt.   After serving with the Canadian Navy during the war in the Pacific and Eastern Mediterranean Zones, I attended U.B.C.  

Chester Brown - WWII Chester Brown - WWII
Chester Brown — WWII
Photographs Courtesy of Chester Brown

Having obtained a degree in geography at U.B.C., I worked in Saskatchewan for a while.   I married Margaret Gibson at the age of 34; we have three chilren. I worked for the federal government in Ottawa until my retirement in 1976."

Mrs & Mr Chester Brown
Margaret (Gibson) and Chester Brown
Photograph Courtesy of Chester Brown


Heinrich H & Maria (Decker) Nickel Family

Heinrich H & Maria (Decker) Nickel Family Photographs Heinrich H & Maria (Decker) Nickel Family Photographs
Heinrich H & Maria (Decker) Nickel Family Photographs Heinrich H & Maria (Decker) Nickel Family Photographs
Heinrich H & Maria (Decker) Nickel Family Photographs
Heinrich H & Maria (Decker) Nickel Family Photographs Heinrich H & Maria (Decker) Nickel Family Photographs

Remembering Yarrow
by Bill Nickel

Bill Nickel We moved into our new 14'x20' shack on the 4 acre Yarrow farm at the dyke in 1934, starting bare bones scrambling for food and shelter in the depths of the Great Depression. The advantages of our 'great American dream' experience, already lost in five short years, left us as 'poor white trash' among our contemporaries of the closed religious society of Depression Yarrow. Many of the more recent CPR and MCC sponsored immigrants who found their way to Yarrow during this period were hungrier, in the sense that they were more anxious to recover the lost glories of their pre-revolutionary villages in Russia. Many were more aggressive, harder working, more cohesive and less sensitive to the express or implied criticism of the larger English speaking community all around.

Most Yarrow adults in that time had no wish to be absorbed in the surrounding English-Canadian culture. Even Yarrow’s geography conspired to isolate its closed society from the surrounding community. The closed triangle created by the Sumas prairie, the BC Electric Railway tracks and the Vedder Canal, allowed the church centred immigrants to drop their spoor around the village like a badger around its hole. Those few of the original 'Canadian' settlers who stayed on, whose homes and farms hugged the old Road along the lower slopes of Vedder Mountain, like the Siddals, the Eckerts, the Belroses, and the Knoxes, (Mr. Knox, not a fan of the Mennonites or their settlement, had been heard to prophesy, 'they'll all drown down there, and I hope they do!') were tolerated as outside functionaries or adopted as resource people. Most had well established homes and orchards, and were a source of free fruit, tree and shrub cuttings, berry plants, employment and credit for the new settlers.

Some of the new settlers had natural advantages, though I never heard any of our family concede even at their lowest ebb, that some of their neighbours might be their 'betters' with both physical and intellectual advantages that Mom and Dad had never acquired. Some had been proud owners of large estates in Russia. They were not simply run-of-the-mill villagers who had a house and barn on a small village holding with a 'destine' or two of grain outside the village. There were those whose private holdings had rivalled those of the lesser Russian aristocracy, and some lived in Yarrow. Others were better educated in the old country than any of the Nickels. Most were prepared to use any available means to rebuild what they had lost because of the Godless red tide that swept away their riches and their independence.

Above all, though, almost all the villagers had an advantage the Nickels by now could not aspire to. That was the advantage of being unified in their families and in their church relationships. There was a great deal of hypocrisy, though no greater than that found in other social groupings, but publicly the large majority of the villagers accepted the sanctions of the church without question and the church took them to its bosom. Such was not the case with the Nickels. Though women could be dominant in the privacy of the home, they were 'untertan' ruled by their husbands, in public. Families worked as units and children of large families most often put all their work and earnings in the family pot. Such togetherness did not work for us even though my oldest brother and sister helped Mom and Dad keep bread on the table.


I was six that spring. Where was my home? I may well have wondered for I had literally been on the move since conception. First, still in the womb, by Model T from Kansas to Washington. Then as a baby I was moved by train to Ohio and several farm places there. At age one, it was back in the car, a 1924 Studebaker then, by slow trek and various stops and north to the Canadian border and the newly settled Yarrow Village. That was the new Mennonite Brethren land of promise where recently arrived Russian Mennonite refugees could re-create there sect’s old country order in the New World.

Little or nothing of my age one and two experiences stayed with me but by the time we were flooded out at the rented Duncan farm east of the Vedder dyke, I was four years old. Our next move was from the flood plain to the Vedder promontory called Majuba Hill. We moved our mixed farming efforts to the old Chadsey place on the hill above Yarrow Village. 1933 was my third summer there. It had become my special place. There I experienced my first independent consciousness of the world around me with its adventures and difficulties, creating memories or exaggerations of them that stayed with me ever after.

Early spring that year provided one such adventure. The walk from our rented clearing along Majuba Hill Road to the post office and BC Electric Railway station, then south on Wilson Road to Central and west again to Derksen's General Store was 3 miles or more. Still, one Saturday, Mom decided she needed some things to prepare her spring garden, so she took her two youngest kids with her to the store. About a mile down the road we took the short cut into the village. It was just a narrow footpath down a steep cliff down to railway level, across the tracks through heavy bush and tall firs and cedars to the foot of Eckert Road. From there it was only a short walk to Central Road and the store.

Our loyal dog, Sirdo, ( the above image shows Sirdo on the raft at the Duncan farm with my brother Henry, then age 17, during the 1931 flood) who had been with us at the Duncan farm, trailed along as he usually did to keep us company. Mom bought her few supplies, likely on credit, perhaps visited briefly with her older sister who lived on the Eckert and Central Road intersection and headed home by the same short cut. Days were still short and dusk approached as we headed into the narrow footpath to the rail tracks.

Going into the dense bush and large trees, our brave Sirdo acted strangely. He stopped repeatedly. When told to 'heel' he slunk along reluctantly with tail between his legs. He suddenly stopped again as we neared the tracks, stiffened, and the hair on his neck stood straight up. He barked and ran back toward Eckert Road time and again. We backed up.

The previous winter we had experienced a late night cougar raid at Mom's goose pond just a few yards from our kitchen add-on to the back of the Chadsey house. The hungry cats were known to roam the forest above our clearing and we kids were told frightening stories about the dangers, just to keep us from wandering up the many trails into the Vedder Mountain bush. The raid left the lone cat still hungry because Sirdo's barking frightened it off and brought Dad out of the house with a ready lantern to see the big cat take off with one of Mom's valuable geese in his teeth. Next morning the dead goose, well bled, was stuck in a deadfall not far from the house. There was an unexpected goose dinner, and Mom added some fresh feathers to her supply.

Back at the foot of the shortcut, Mom considered our position. She knew from experience of Sirdo's courage that our dog was trying to protect his charges. She could insist on taking the shortcut where a cougar or wildcat might jump out of the branches of a large tree to attack the kids, or drag two tired kids, supplies from the store, and her own nearly two hundred pounds at the time, back around the extra three miles. We walked home the long way.


The book, A Generation of Vigilance, the biography of Johannes Harder and his wife Tina, was written by retired Saskatchewan University history professor and author, T. D. Regehr and published by the CMU Press of Winnipeg at the behest of the Yarrow Research Committee and the editor of its Yarrow history, Leonard Neufeldt. After advised of the book's publication I picked up my copy of the book, glanced at it briefly and found it somewhat hard to revisit those Depression days again.

The reason for that ambivalence lies in the differences between my family's personal and church relationships and those of so many others who have written generally positive histories and memoirs about those early Yarrow days and the heyday of the Mennonite Brethren Church there under Harder's leadership. I grew up and went to school with the two oldest of Harder’s sons and experienced his invasive influence on our family. I remember him as a stern but approachable gentleman of the old school. I was not one of his fans. Still, any resentment I may have had about the treatment of my parents by the church in the Harder days has never stayed with me. Harder and his fellows in the church were no more able then to accept the changing culture, than I am able to accept much of today's overly permissive culture.

Those differences went back many years. Firstly, my father's family still had German citizenship after several generations in Russia. Being of military service age Dad was interned as an enemy alien from 1914 to 1918 and our family patriated to Germany as Red Cross refugees in 1919/20 with 4 Russian born children. Later, after correspondence with my mother's Holdeman Mennonite cousins in Kansas they emigrated to Halstead in that state with travel assistance arranged by the cousins (thus their later dispute with the Yarrow Church about its levy for a share of the CPR reiseschuld), arriving in that community in December 1922. After four upwardly mobile years there but with differences between my parents continuing as it had almost since their marriage in 1910, my family again became what I have called 'Footloose and Rootless in America', eventually arriving at Yarrow by car on December 7, 1928, some 14 months before the younger Harder family arrived there in January 1930.

Until my reading of Vigilance I had never made myself familiar with the detailed and restrictive rules and regulations insisted on by Harder and the closed committee he led for those who wished to maintain Yarrow MB Church membership. It explains much about the trauma experienced by our so frequently non-conforming family members with the incompatibility between my parents and the already Americanized ways of my three surviving Russian born brother and sisters, in their late teens in those years.

The story of the Harders, their backgrounds and their troubles and migrations after the Russian Revolution is by now a familiar one. Except for their generational connection to the Mennonite preaching ministry, their story is not unique. Nor is the story of their poverty stricken beginnings in Yarrow. It was common to many through the whole of the Depression era, except for the demands of Harder's devotion to preaching and church leadership. Nevertheless, for those efforts the Harders were often rewarded when 'God provided' in the form of gifts from grateful church members. Regehr also describes such hardships as cycling to the hop fields and the need to work away from home. That was true of many of the villagers. For many years my own father started out early in the morning after farm chores to ride his two-wheeler along the gravel mountain road to Vedder Crossing and on to the foot of Promontory Hill to work a full day at Bowman's Sawmill, then back home for more chores, all the while suffering from a debilitating asthma condition. All able hands got as much year-round work as they could at the hop yards either on Sumas Prairie or at Sardis and everyone picked rhubarb when that crop was for a time in vogue, berries, tobacco and hops in season. At age 12 I biked five miles to the tobacco fields on rough gravel roads and often worked 12 hours for twenty cents an hour before biking home.

The religious governance instituted by Preacher Harder was another matter. From my very first memory of Sunday school experiences at the MB Church I had difficulty accepting the biblical mythology as presented in the church basement by Petrus Martens, one of the many preachers in residence who taught there when I was around seven. Except for a long period of rationalized association with the United Church, which I again relinquished many years ago, my conscience has not permitted me to speak a faith I can no longer even rationalize. Preacher Harder’s insistence on his interpretation of scripture requiring such MB Church rites as baptism by immersion strikes me as picayune and unreasonable rather than a reason for him to wish that he was young enough to start his own church after he failed to persuade senior conference councils to accept his urging in the matter as mentioned on page 193 of the book.

Generally speaking, I found the Harder story sad. In the end the preacher turned out to be more adaptable than his wife to the integration of his church and his people into the mainstream Canadian culture. Preacher Harder died too young and I cannot help but think that the emotional effect of his failure to stop the Canadianization of his church and his children had something to do with his deteriorating health. The absence of any contribution to his parents' story from my one-time elementary school classmate, Siegfried Harder, called Fred in the book, is especially noticeable. Of the older boys when I knew them so long ago, I thought him the most like, and the most likely to emulate his father in his evangelical zeal.


Derksen—Wiens Family

In 1928, Mennonite settlers arrived to purchase parcels of land Chauncy Eckert subdivided from his Knox Farm purchase. Many of these settlers came from farms on the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

William Siddall and Chauncy Eckert
William Siddall and Chauncy Eckert
Siddall Residence Garden — 1920's
Photograph Courtesy of Ray Parker — Son of Vivian (Siddall) Parker

As the availability of lots from Eckert's Yarrow subdivision diminished, settlers spilled onto the Vedder River Flats and up Majuba Hill, acquiring existing farms or subdivided acreage.

Elmer Wiens writes, "In 1929, four of my Grandfather Julius Derksen's brothers, Johann, Henry, Gerhard, and Peter, lived in Yarrow.  Meanwhile, my grandparents and their children worked their wheat farm in Blumenhof, Saskatchewan, south of Swift Current."

Julius Derksen Harvesting Wheat, Saskatchewan - 1932
Julius Derksen Harvesting Wheat, Saskatchewan — 1932

"In 1936, the Derksen family relocated to Yarrow, acquiring property on the west side of Ford Road (Giesbrecht Road) contiguous to the Vedder River."

Julius and Katarina Derksen family: Julius Jr., Katharina, Julius, Katharina, George Siemens, Sara, Jake
Julius and Katharina Derksen family — 1936
Julius Jr., Katharina, Julius, Katie, George Siemens, Sara, Jake

The Derksens raised chickens, milked dairy cows, and grew potatoes, corn, and berries on their Vedder River farm. The family income was supplemented with work in the hop yards and tobacco fields on Sumas Prairie. During the 1930's and 40's, many young women of Yarrow lived and worked in Vancouver as care givers and domestics, commuting home to Yarrow by way of the BC Electric Interurban trains. For a while, Katie Derksen worked as a nanny for a "wealthy Eaton family."

Katie Derksen and her chickens - 1937
Katie Derksen and her chickens — 1937

Elmer Wiens continues, "My Aunt Sara married George Siemens on March 28, 1937 in the Yarrow, MB Church. After farming in Saskatchewan for a few years, Uncle George and Aunt Sally bought the farm east of Browne Road adjacent to the Vedder River, and west of the Derksen farm on Ford Road. My Uncle Jake died on December 30, 1938, and was buried in the Yarrow Cemetery at the end of Alder Road (Hare Road)."

"On March 16, 1939 my parents, Katie Derksen and George Wiens, married in the Yarrow MB Church."

Katie and George Wiens
Katie and George Wiens — 1939

George and Katie purchased and operated the twenty-acre farm at the northeast corner of Browne Road and Vedder Mountain Road, formerly owned by Mr Robert Brown. Along with dairy cows, chickens, and hogs, they harvested strawberries, raspberries, potatoes, and corn."

Elmer Wiens, Raymond Wiens, and Blacky - 1945
Elmer Wiens, Raymond Wiens, and Blacky
Browne Road Farm — 1945

George and Katie's children, Raymond, Elmer, Luetta, and Alfred, enjoyed playing in the barns and fields, and fishing for trout in the salmon stream (Street Creek) flowing through the farm.   Chester Brown fondly recalls fishing this same stream during the 1920's and 30's, when the Browns owned the property.

The Wiens children also liked to visit their Siemens cousins at the end of Browne Road, and their Wiens(z) cousins in Yarrow.

Raymond and Elmer Wiens, Betty, Hilda, and Alvin Siemens - 1945
Raymond and Elmer Wiens,   Betty, Hilda, and Alvin Siemens
Siemen's Browne Road, Vedder River Farm — 1945

Each fall, the family picked hops on Sumas Prairie, getting up before dawn, returning home in the evening to finish farm chores. Weigh-up-time determined the essence of a day picking hops. The picked hops accumulated in one's basket were dumped into sacks and weighed. This measure of the day's labour was punched onto a ticket, redeemable for money at the end of hop-picking season at the hop-company office.

Canadian Hop Yards
Canadian Hop Yards
George Wiens (Dad) at the right

Elmer Wiens continues, "In 1944 my Uncle Julius joined the Canadian Armed Forces. The next two pictures show Uncle Julius in his military uniform visiting my grandparents, and my grandfather preparing to visit someone on his bicycle on Sunday afternoon. The Vedder River can be seen in the background."

Julius Derksen Jr. Julius Derksen Sr.
Julius Derksen Jr. — 1944Julius Derksen Sr. — 1944

"Following the 1946 spring flood, my grandparents moved to Yarrow onto a few acres, just west of the Yarrow MB Church; my Siemens cousins moved to a 100-acre farm on Sumas Prairie.

Katharina and Julius Derksen - Derksen Vedder River Farm
Katharina (Martens) and Julius Derksen — Derksen Vedder River Farm

Today, the Derksen Vedder River farm is the Vedder River Campground, operated by the Cultus Lake Parks Board."

Vedder River Campground, Giesbrecht Road
Vedder River Campground, Giesbrecht Road looking west down river

Yarrow pioneers suffered brutal hardships from the flooding of the Vedder and Fraser Rivers ensuing from the annual, spring snow melts on British Columbia's massive mountains. The severe flood in May and June of 1948 was the outcome of a number of concurrent circumstances. Cool weather during the spring delayed the thawing of the substantial accumulation of snow in the mountains until late May. Over the Victoria Day weekend, temperatures spiked, rapidly melting the mountains' snow pack, substantially raising the water levels of the Fraser and Vedder Rivers. At the same time, the moon's position in relation to the earth and the sun (lunar perigee on May 15; full moon on May 22; solar summer solstice on June 21) caused unusually high tides that slowed the flow of the Fraser River, backing up the Vedder River. Consequently between May 28 and June 3, a number of dykes were breached, flooding large tracts of land in the region of the confluence of the Fraser and Vedder Rivers (Lenzmann).

In the early 1950's, the snowmelt along with heavy rains caused slides on Vedder Mountain that plunged onto Vedder Mountain Road, one slide at its junction with Ford Road and another about one-half mile east.

1948 Flood: Browne Road & Vedder River: Raymond Wiens, Elmer Wiens
1948 Flood: Browne Road & Vedder River:
Raymond Wiens & Elmer Wiens with Katie and Luetta Wiens in the Ford car

Elmer Wiens writes, "My father built a dam on our creek to irrigate the berry patches, corn fields, and hay pastures. Street Creek was fed by the runoff from Vedder Mountain, and a yearlong spring on the Dyck farm east of us on Vedder Mountain Road. Each fall, various species of salmon spawned in our creek. The coho and steelhead fry remained in the creek for almost a year, while the pink and chum fry left for the ocean soon after hatching."

The next aerial photograph reveals the Vedder River Flats north of Vedder Mountain Road and east of Browne Road. One can see the Wiens farm in the lower left, north and east of the Browne Road junction with Vedder Mountain Road. The Bunse family lived on the mountainside south of this junction. Street Creek, edged by trees and blackberry bushes, rambles north of the highway crossing Browne Road between George Rowtasche's farmyard to the southwest and the Wiens farmyard to the northeast. Farther to the north, one can see the original Brown homestead, occupied in 1949 by the Dueck family. East along Duncan Road, one sees the site of the Hudson homestead south of Duncan Road, just before its sharp "S" curve. Here, the Giesbrecht farm was sited north of Duncan Road.

Click on the photograph for a larger version!

Vedder River Flats, April 6, 1949, Click for Large Photo
Vedder River Flats, April 6, 1949
Browne, Duncan, and Vedder Mountain Roads
Photograph Courtesy of Chester Brown

If one proceeded north along Ford Road from its junction with Vedder Mountain Road in 1945 (see larger aerial photo), one immediately passed the Dyck farm on the left, and then another Dyck family's farm on the right across the road from the Jacob Janzen family, finally arriving at the Vedder River with Derksen's farm on the left. Proceeding west along Duncan Road, one arrived at the farm the Giesbrecht family purchased in 1948 at the "S-corner." In 1945, the Henry Brucks family lived directly south across Duncan Road on the old Hudson homestead. Farther west along Duncan Road, one passed Reimer's farm to the left, and arrived at the Dueck farm at Duncan Road's junction with Browne Road. The Kopps, Nikkels, Redekops, and Siemens' families clustered on farms near the Vedder River on Browne Road.

"There was always something happening on our farm. We could watch Dad milking the cows in the early evening, check out the new chicks in the chicken barn, help gather eggs, peer over the pen railing as the hogs gulped down their victuals, or look for snakes in the lumber pile."

"My friend, Abe Dyck from Ford Road, and I fished our stream, and he let me ride his bicycle up and down Browne Road after school. The Penner boys from up Lumsden Road—John, Bernie, and Martin—visited us on Sunday afternoons and evenings. Martin Dueck lived just north of us on the Brown family homestead. Our 2nd cousins, the Derksens and Peters, lived near the corner of Lumsden and Bergman(n) Road next to the Klaassens."

"Riding with my brother Ray to and from Yarrow School on the yellow School Bus driven by Andy, I also got to know Lenora Janzen, Elsie Bergmann, Annie Reimer, Rosella Nickel, Ted Schmidt, Bob Peters, Wilfred Derksen, Dennis and Gerry Klaassen, Ed, Veronica, and John Barkowsky, Bill Thiessen, and Eric and Fred Ewert. Having an older friend from 'The Bush' saved my butt in a number of differences of opinion on the schoolyard."

"School was a lot of fun, except for differences of opinion with our grade one teacher, Mrs Dyer. For example, our mail at home was delivered to a roadside mailbox from a central post office in Sardis.  Consequently, our postal address was—Brown Road, RR#2, Sardis B.C.  When Mrs Dyer asked me where I lived, I of course said—Sardis, B.C.  However, Mrs Dyer was confident that I lived in Yarrow, causing me to question her intellect."

"In the spring of 1953, my parents sold our farm to the Gross family, and we moved to a 3-acre hobby farm in Yarrow at 1012 Central Road, next to the G.G. Baerg family. My mother used the proceeds from the sale of the irrigation equipment from the Browne Road farm to buy each of us children a bicycle."

Luetta, Raymond, Alfred, and Elmer Wiens
Luetta, Raymond, Alfred, and Elmer Wiens, Fall 1953
Yarrow Central Road Looking East

"That fall, Yarrow School moved to the Pink School on Wilson Road with classes from grades one to nine. On the first day of school, we gathered at the old school in downtown Yarrow, and then we all marched along Central and Poplar Roads to our new school in the morning, Indian summer sunshine.  They had painted the doors to the classrooms red, yellow, or blue. My girlfriend, the cute Brown girl who sat beside me at our desk in grade one, and between Rob and me in grade two, didn't return to our school that year. Our grade three teacher until Christmas, Mrs. Sharples, assigned me to sit behind Rita, who always wore such neat belts that year.  My lost Roy Rogers lunchbox was replaced by a new Lone Ranger one.   It was a wonderful day!"

White Yarrow Flowers Edge a Vedder River Duckpond
White Yarrow Flowers Edge a Vedder River Duckpond

 

   

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