FOCUS: Exploring Surrey’s nautical heritage

PART TWO IN A SERIES: The mighty Fraser River's shoreline in Surrey is a short stretch, but is long on interesting nautical history

Brown’s Landing

Brown’s Landing

PART TWO IN A SERIES: Between the two points where Fraser Surrey Docks and Port Kells are located, plenty of history has happened along the Fraser –and it helped shape Surrey into the city it is today.


Surrey’s entire shoreline along the mighty Fraser is only 22 kilometres. It’s a short stretch, really, on a river that flows for 1,375.

Still, while short on frontage, Surrey’s relationship with the Fraser River is long on interesting nautical history.

At the city’s furthermost boundary downstream is the imposing Fraser Surrey Docks.

You can’t miss it. It handles roughly 400 deep-sea vessels each year. In 2012, Fraser Surrey Docks celebrated its 50th anniversary.

(Fraser Surrey docks, the largest multipurpose terminal on North America’s west coast, has been in operation 55 years. File photo)

At Surrey’s furthermost boundary upstream is Port Kells, where in 1886 two unrelated Irish settlers named Henry Kells bought land and divided it into city lots, hoping to see a grand freshwater port established there though fate was not with them.

In between these two points, separated by 22 kilometres, plenty has happened.

Let’s begin with the Kwantlen Empire.

As late as the beginning of the 19th century a small Kwantlen village called Kikait was situated where Brownsville is today, just a short stroll downstream from the Pattullo Bridge which was opened by Liberal Premier Thomas Dufferin Pattullo on Nov. 15, 1937 and cost $4 million to build.

Local historians John Pearson and J.M. Reitz recorded the adventures of Punnis, a Kikait chief who launched an unsuccessful attack on the Hudson’s Bay Company schooner the Cadboro in 1827 as it made its way up the Fraser.

Within several decades white settlers overwhelmed the little village and most of the Kwantlen migrated to Fort Langley. Its last chief met his maker in 1908.

Brownsville is across the Fraser from New Westminster. It’s named after Ebenezer Brown, a New Westminster liquor merchant who pre-empted land near Kikait in 1864, and built a hotel. In later years, Brown’s Landing marked the junction of Scott Road, Kennedy Trail and the Old Yale wagon road, which connected the Royal City with B.C.’s Interior.

Surrey farmers needed to find a better way to transport their produce to market in New Westminster than by rowing skiffs across the Fraser, and so a ferry landing was built in Brownsville in 1882.

Surrey Reeve John Armstrong set about establishing ferry service in 1883 and the Kate de Knivett, or K de K, a steam-powered ferry built by Captain Angus Grant and named after Grant’s niece, made its maiden voyage across the Fraser on March 17, 1884.

(The ‘K de K’ ferry, built by Captain Angus Grant. Photo: Surrey Archives)

The ferry cost $2,000 to build. Foot passengers paid five cents to cross the river and passengers with a horse or wagon, 25 cents. Its skipper was Grant’s son, Williiam Philpot Grant.

The K de K was replaced by another steam-powered ferry, the Surrey, in 1889 until it too fell victim to progress with the opening of the New Westminster railway bridge on July 23, 1904.

The bridge’s lower deck was for trains and the upper deck was for wagons and cars, and it remained a toll bridge until the Great War.

(The steamer ‘Surrey’ ferried people and supplies between New Westminster and Brownsville from 1889 until 1904. Photo: Surrey Archives)

Stern-wheel steamers that ran up, down and across Surrey’s stretch of the Fraser were the Courser, skippered by Captain George Cooper, the Telephone, a series of snag boats steaming under the name Samson, the S.S. Paystreak, the Gladys, and the Bon Accord. The Samson V was a snag-puller that worked these waters from 1937 to 1980.

The last original Fraser River paddle wheeler remaining, it was converted into a maritime museum and can be visited at New Westminster Quay.

Upstream from the Fraser Surrey Docks and downstream from Port Kells was Bon Accord, a minor steamboat stop on Surrey Bend that later came to be known as Port Mann.

The Ottawa Citizen newspaper on Feb. 8, 1911, heralded the establishment of the Port Mann townsite, which was to feature a steel mill, grain elevator and flour mill, a large dock and yards for shipbuilding. But as in the case of Port Kells, this dream didn’t pan out either.

Another ship of note that worked the Fraser River was the Surrey Guardian, Surrey’s first fire boat.

Bought in 1968, it had three skippers, John Menunzio, Rudy Brieter and Bob McNabb, before the fire department sold it four years later to raise money to buy a ladder truck.

The Fraser River Discovery Centre, located in New Westminster, aims to unveil a special exhibit this coming September to celebrate this world-class “Working River.” According to the FRDC, almost every car coming into Canada from Asia is shipped in through the Fraser River. In 1998, the Fraser was designated a Canadian Heritage River.

Click here to read part one in this series.



Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Eternity Medical Equipment’s ECAN95 masks have received Health Canada approval and CSA certification. (Eternity Medical Equipment photo)
South Surrey N-95 equivalent manufacturer launches mask recycling program

Eternity Medical Equipment partners with Ontario-based LifeCycle Revive

Surrey Fire Service at a garage fire in the 14400-block of 82A Ave on March 22, 2021. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
‘Perfect storm’ of variants, increasing COVID cases are concerning for Surrey fire chief

Between police and fire, Larry Thomas said there are 8 confirmed cases, 18 others isolating

Surrey Fire Service is on scene of a fire in the 12300-block of 72A Avenue Saturday morning (April 10). (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Surrey crews on scene of house fire

It happened in the 12300-block of 72A Avenue

Emergency crews on scene after a small plane crashed in a grassy area on the northeast side of Boundary Bay Airport Saturday morning (April 10). A freelancer said the plane caught fire and one person was transported to hospital by BC Emergency Health Services. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Small plane crashes at Delta’s Boundary Bay Airport

Plane appears to have suffered ‘significant’ damage, says freelancer

Signage on a South Surrey sidewalk reminds pedestrians to respect social-distancing guidelines. (Photo: Tracy Holmes)
Surrey records 4,400 COVID-19 cases in March

New cases almost doubled between February, March

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

FILE - An arena worker removes the net from the ice after the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames NHL hockey game was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo. As vaccinations ramp up past a pace of 3 million a day in the U.S, the NHL is in a tougher spot than the other three major North American professional sports leagues because seven of 31 teams are based on Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Vancouver Canucks scheduled to practice Sunday, resume games April 16 after COVID outbreak

Canucks outbreak delayed the team’s season by eight games

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

A vehicle that was driven through the wall of a parkade at Uptown Shopping Centre and into the nearby Walmart on April 9 was removed through another hole in the wall later that night. (Photo via Saanich Police Department and Ayush Kakkar)
Vehicle launched into B.C. Walmart removed following rescue of trapped workers

Crews cut new hole in parkade wall to remove vehicle safely

Four members with Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans were out at Cultus Lake on March 28 and 29 hauling trash out of the waters. (Henry Wang)
PHOTOS: Out-of-town divers remove 100s of pounds of trash from Cultus Lake

Members of Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans hauled out 470 pounds of trash over two days

As of Saturday, April 10, people born in 1961 are the latest to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. (Black Press files)
B.C. residents age 60+ can now register to get their COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccine registration is now open to people born in 1961 or earlier

A new saline gargle test, made in B.C., will soon be replacing COVID-19 nasal swab tests for kids. (PHSA screenshot)
Take-home COVID-19 tests available for some B.C. students who fall ill at school

BC Children’s Hospital plans to provide 1,200 kits to Vancouver district schools this April

Most Read