Chapter 2: Mainland's First Church


Photo courtesy of City Archives, Vancouver, B.C.
An 1859 sketch by the Reverend William Burton Crickmer of the St. John the Divine Anglican church and manse, Derby, B.C. (with note and arrow in upper right-hand corner of the picture pointing to Mount Crickmer)
(page 47)


Reverend William Burton Crickmer (1839-1905)  Minister of the first and second churches on the mainland of British Columbia.
Reverend William Burton Crickmer
Minister of the first and second churches on the mainland of British Columbia.
(pages 48 and 49)
Derby, British Columbia. Reverend W.B. Crickmer preaching from a barrel on Main Street, 1859.


Photo courtesy of Mrs. Percy Armstrong, Aldergrove, B.C.
Kenneth Morrison
Samuel Robertson

Obviously aware of the historical importance of being the first pre-empters on the north and south sides of the Fraser River the two men posed together for a photograph.
(page 51)



Provincial Archives, Victoria, B.C.
Ovid Allard
Builder of the third Fort Langley, Fort Yale, and Fort Hope.
(page 53)


Photo courtesy of Fort Langley National Historic Site, Fort Langley, B.C.
William Henry Emptage
Gardener at Fort Langley and early Langley settler.
(page 54)
     It was not until the middle of February, 1859, that the Reverend William Burton Crickmer, his wife, and daughter arrived at Derby.  The Crickmer family had arrived in Victoria on Christmas Day, 1858, on the same boat as Colonel Moody.  The first thing Crickmer did at Derby was arrange the barracks of the Royal Engineers for temporary church services.

     His first church service was February 20.  Of the service Crickmer wrote to the Colonial Church Society in England:

"Your missionary preached the very first regular sermon in the Colony of British Columbia and as far as I can make out the first sermon in this vast territory except perhaps a fugitive address to a few French-Canadian voyageurs.  My church was a half-furnished barrack, my congregation soldiers and civilians, my pulpit a Union Jack over a box, and my text Genesis 1, 26, "The new Creation".  Every garb and costume imaginable was there.  In one respect only were they uniform, that they all carried Bowie knives and revolvers.  There was one gentleman connected with the Hudson's Bay Company for whom that was the first sermon heard in forty years.  Many present had not heard the Gospel for periods ranging from twenty years down to twenty months."

     The contract to construct these first public buildings at Derby was let to Edward L. Fell.  The Reverend Crickmer did not (46) approve of the plan for his parsonage and told Fell.  The contractor wrote Douglas advising that he wished to make the minister's living quarters more spacious.  He added that the cost would be substantially more than the original contract.  Douglas approved the changes.  Fell went ahead and built the church, courthouse, and gaol.  These buildings were made from California redwood, floated up from the coast, since there were no saw mills in the Colony capable of supplying the required amount of lumber.

     The new church was completed and ready for service on May 1, 1859.  In the absence of a higher official being present Reverend Crickmer consecrated the new building.  He called the parish Derby and the church St. John the Divine after his first charge in England.  On June 20 the minister's wife gave birth to a son.  He was named William St. John Pepin Crickmer.  The boy was named for his father, his father's church, and his father's best friend during his Oxford days.


     An elaborately drawn sketch of Derby, 1859, by Reverend Crickmer, bears the inscription: "Derby, British Columbia. Reverend W.B. Crickmer preaching from a barrel on Main Street, 1859."  It depicts the stern or bow of a boat and an anchor on the south bank of the Fraser River; a sow and her litter; a group of Indians, one wearing the cast-off tunic of a Royal Engineer; a yoke of oxen drawing a cart with wooden wheels; empty whiskey bottles lying about; three Royal Engineer Officers; a dog sleeping; chickens pecking the earth; Chinese with pigtails at Hi Sing's door; a man whittling a piece of wood; and the Samuel Robertson and Peter Baker What Cheer House.


     Two enterprising individuals who opened a business at Derby were Peter Baker and Samuel Robertson.  Upset with the Hudson's Bay Company's policy regarding gold buying from Indians around Fort Kamloops, Baker came to Fort Langley where he persuaded Robertson to leave Yale's employ and go into partnership with him.  Their "What Cheer House" at Derby (visible in Reverend Crickmer's drawing of the townsite) did a roaring business.  The pair soon realized; however, that the center of activity was beginning to gravitate from Derby back to Fort Langley.  As a result they abandoned the "What Cheer House" and opened the British Columbia Saloon Company just west of the fort palisades.

     The first man to pre-empt on the north side of the river was Samuel Robertson.  In 1860 he had sold his interest in the saloon and with his Indian wife Julie and young son Donald became the first white settler on the north bank of the river.  Baker followed suit.  By 1863 Robertson had bought out his neighbours, which included Baker, and his 700 acres, known as Robertson Village, was the largest farm and landing on the river.  Cherry trees and grape vines planted in the 1860s are still standing and producing on the original farm site.

     Samuel Robertson's brother George also came out to Langley from Scotland with his wife.  Nicknamed 'Black' Robertson, he owned property south of the H.B.C. farm.  After a short time he sold this land and returned to Scotland.

James Houston was no doubt the earliest Fraser and Thompson River miner turned farmed in Langley.  In 1858 when everyone else was off to the gold rush which he had help start, he was farming on the east side of the Salmon River near the Hudson's Bay Company's farm.  Here he built himself a house and began to make a farm out of the virgin forest.  Once sufficient land was cleared he went off alone to Oregon.  Riding on a pony, he drove back single-handed to his farm, a dozen head of Hereford and Holstein cattle, including a bull.

     Once home he met Mary Cusheon,an Indian girl from Nanaimo, who had been once married to Chief Casimir of Kwantlen.  Mary and her sister had been among the first (50) converts of Christianity under Thomas Crosby, a pioneer Methodist missionary, then carrying on his work at Nanaimo.  Crosby had introduced the girls to the whiteman's customs.  Houston married Chief Casimir's former wife and adopted his two children.

     In 1864 Chief Trader Roderick Finlayson, the inspecting officer of the Hudson's Bay Company, paid a visit to Fort Langley.  Alarmed at the deteriorating conditions, he asked Clerk Ovid Allard to come down from Fort Yale and take charge of Fort Langley and the Great Langley Prairie Farm.  Allard's task was to clean up the mess left by two English adventurers, one of whom was Charles John R. Bedford, who had leased the farm in 1859.  The pair milked the farm for all its worth during the three year period and then mysteriously disappeared.  This came to be a sore point with the company for years.  Bedford managed to have the channel separating McMillan Island from the south shore of the Fraser named in his honour.  In no time Allard had the farm back to full productivity and was supplying hay, grain, bacon, and butter to the miners who had discovered the mother lode of gold in the Cariboo in the early 1860s.

     Allard rehired William Henry Emptage and gave him the job of caring for the cows and horses about the fort and weeding the neglected garden.  Emptage had worked for the company on the farm before it was leased to the English adventurers.

     Emptage had been born in Margate, Kent, England.  His father had been a captain on the life saving boats in the Straits of Dover.  When he grew to manhood he joined the East India Company and was an Able Bodied Seaman on their ships, making trips between England and India.  On a return to England he decided to sign on with a Hudson's Bay Company vessel bound for the West Coast of America.  After a long sea voyage his ship reached Victoria where it was reported to the crew that gold had been discovered by Indians on the Queen Charlotte Islands.  Emptage was one of a party sent to investigate.  It was while blasting a rock on the Queen Charlotte that a premature blast injured his left hand.  He was brought back to Victoria for treatment.  There was no chloroform so the doctor gave him (52) whiskey, put a rock in his mouth to clamp down on to endure the pain, and proceeded to amputate the hand above the wrist.  After the original amputation the doctor peeled the skin back from the bone and then cut the bone a second time an inch shorter.  When the injury healed Emptage could carry a milk pail in the crook of his arm.

     Emptage, despite the loss of one arm, proved to be the right man in the right place at the right time.  In no time Allard had the Hudson's Bay Company farm behind the fort under cultivation.  He hired Indian women at 25 a day to do the hoeing.

     Sometime before 1864 Ralph James Elkins appeared at Fort Langley and obtained work on the company farm.  He was born in Missouri.  By the age of 17 he had already travelled 3 times across the American Plains escorting wagon trains.  He accompanied an uncle on these trips.  Later in San Francisco he worked as a carpenter until a beam fell across his chest, putting him out of commission.  Upon his recovery he came to Victoria where the (54) first news he heard upon disembarking was the outbreak of the American Civil War.  The war prevented him from ever hearing from his parents again.  All the letters he wrote home were intercepted by the northern armies and destroyed.  He never returned to the United States after coming to British Columbia.

     Another man that worked on the Langley Prairie farm was Basil Brousseau.  He ran the dairy making butter, and he, along with 3-4 assistants, one of whom was his son Basil Jr., milked the long-horned Spanish cattle which the company kept.  During the winter these cattle would be kept in barns on the Big Farm.

     Emptage, Elkins, and Brousseau all married Indian women.  Emptage was married to the daughter of a Musqueam Chief by Catholic priests who gave the Indian lass the English name of Louisa.

     The company built a 140 foot long barn of split cedar boards on the Langley Prairie Farm.  The timbers for the building were hand-hewed, drilled, and held together with wooden pegs.  It had two driveways for taking in hay.  The company also later built a house of sawn lumber.  The barn was not torn down until the 1940s.

If you see something that is incorrect or can provide addition information, please, drop us a line or contact Donald Waite.
Thank you.

Copyright Donald E. Waite / Lisa M. Peppan