Chapter 3: Municipal Troubles  


Photo courtesy of Fort Langley National Historic Site, Fort Langley, B.C.
William Willison Gibbs
(     - 1885)
Langley's most corrupt Politician. Reeve of Langley in 1877
(page 79)




Photo courtesy of Constance L. Johnston, Aldergrove, B.C.
Mr. and Mrs. William Henry Vanetta
Vanetta served for the north in the American Civil War before coming to settle in Langley in 1874.
(page 83)






Photo courtesy of Philip Y. Porter of Murrayville, B.C.
Paul Murray
Founder of Murray's Corners
(page 85)


Photo courtesy of Philip Y. Porter of Murrayville B.C.
Mr. and Mrs. Christian Isaacson on the homestead.
(page 86)





Map courtesy of the Provincial Archives, Victoria B.C.
Map of the Langley Farm. Surveyed and subdivided for the Hudson's Bay Co December 1877.
(page 90)


Photos courtesy of Lloyd Michaud, Vancouver, B.C.
Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Michaud
First French settlers in Langley
(page 91)


Photo courtesy of Fort Langley Centennial Museum, Fort Langley B.C.
The Reverend Joseph Michaud
Frequently preached in the home of Joseph Michaud, Langley settler
(page 92)
     By the end of 1875 the municipality was having difficulty getting new blood on council.  Many of the original members had retired in frustration.  It became so bad that the New Westminster Mainland Guardian wrote:

  -"LANGLEY. -GONE WHERE THE WOODBINE TWINETH.  The Langley Council, the first rural Municipality on the Mainland, and the one that has broken more of the commandments than any other, living or dead, has at last given up the ghost, and lapsed into the limbo of nothingness.  After a painful and chequered career, embroiled in troubles from within and troubles from without, this notorious 'Cabinet of absurdities' has wrapped its fossil shell around it and laid down to pleasant dreams.  Cause of death, failure to fill (77) up vacancies caused by absence of members as required by the Act of Incorporation. Requiesat in pace."

     And in a later paper:

" absence of a public cremator the bones of the defunct body will be decently interred by the rate-payers at an early date in the new cemetery."

     It was little wonder that councillors got frustrated at meetings.  On June 4, 1874, James Houston and Alexander Williams presented bills claiming for damages to their property as the result of road construction.  The total claims had amounted to $250.  The council, which included Houston, after due consideration, "resolved to consign the Bills to the waste paper basket."  At the next meeting Houston tendered his resignation.

     As the result of all this frustration Mackie lost the Wardenship to William Willison Gibbs in the January, 1876, election.  Gibbs was destined to become Langley's most colourful, and yet most corrupt pioneer.  Neither Municipal nor Provincial Archives reveal where he came from or whom he married.  His first public service had been school trustee.  At the first municipal council meeting in 1873, he had been appointed to the dual role of Clerk to the Council and Municipal Treasurer.  In June of that year he was granted a retail liquor license for the Fort Langley Hotel, located just to the west of the old fort.  He had earlier gone into partnership with James Taylor.  Their hotel faced difficulties in June, 1875, when council voted in favour of prohibition within the township.  This did not stop Gibbs and as a result Mackie, who was justice of the Peace as well as Warden, convicted him of selling liquor.

     The conviction for selling liquor prompted Gibbs to run for Warden.  He won the election.  Upon attaining the height of his ambition his vanity got the better of him.  Dressed in a black suit and white shirt, and with a cane in hand, he paraded about the Steamer Landing at the fort.  He was brought down to earth--in more ways than one--just as a steamer was landing one morning.  A lithe young half-breed, whose sister he had insulted and terrified a few evenings earlier, approached the newly appointed Warden and punched him several times in the face.  Upon regaining his feet Gibbs made a boastful remark so his antagonist gave him a second pounding.  This time he stayed (78) down for the count, much to the amusement and satisfaction of the electorate.

     The popularity of Gibbs declined rapidly after his election win for the Wardenship.  At one of the first meetings in which he officiated, he granted himself a liquor license despite opposition from his council.  This caused him to lock horns with Councillor Maxwell.  The Councillor directed some improper language at the Warden and Gibbs instructed Clerk George Towle to take the words down.

     Maxwell also directed some improper language at a road builder at the same meeting, who was giving a cost estimate for a bridge across the Salmon River.  Maxwell reckoned the estimate was much too high.


     "Why I could p-- halfway across that creek," remarked the Councillor.

     "Councillor Maxwell, you're out of order" shouted Warden Gibbs as he pounded the gavel on the desk.

     "I know I'm out of order," came back Maxwell's quick reply, "If I was in order I could p- all the way across that creek."

     Following these heated remarks Gibbs expelled Maxwell from the meeting.  When Gibbs did this Councillors Mackie, Jolly, and McAdam walked out followed by Maxwell.  Gibbs, smarting from having his meeting broken up had the four "severely charged with contravening a Municipal By-law in so far as they did unlawfully leave the council, and by words and deeds disturb the municipal lawful proceedings of the same."  It was a chance for Gibbs to get back at Justice of the Peace Mackie.  The charges split council right down center.  Gibbs' supporters testified against the four accused.  Upon hearing the evidence Justice of the Peace William M. Campbell of Sumas found them guilty and imposed $5 fines which were paid.

     The split in council extended beyond the town hall.  The entire population of the municipality divided into two parties.  One side followed Gibbs, expecting favours, and the other side followed "the advocates of fair, clean, municipal government."  Feelings ran high.  Leaders of both parties would pass by each other on the public road without so much as a word of recognition.

     Reverend Dunn, in his memoirs 'Experiences in Langley', recalled the situation.  He wrote,

"But notwithstanding this there were times when the settlers depended upon each other for assistance, as in spring time, when cattle, not housed but fed outside, were thin and weak, and mired in the sloughs.  A man with an animal in a mudhole was compelled to call to his aid neighbours belonging to both parties.  No one dared to refuse, not knowing how soon he himself might have one in a like predicament."

"It would have been amusing, but had it not been wrong, to watch these men as they struggled together to rescue an animal, without speaking a word, and parting as they had met in silence.  The story is told that one day when two men belonging to the (80) respective parties, one an Englishman and the other a Scotsman, were both pulling on the same rope, and so intent upon their work that the Englishman, in an unthinking moment, made some remark to the Scotsman.  But no sooner had the words passed his lips than he hastened to correct himself, saying, 'I beg your pardon, Sir, Scotsmen are said to be slow in perceiving the humorous point in a situation.'  On this occasion at all events he saw the point at once, and even smiled, no doubt reluctantly."

     Henry Wark took over the care of the Hudson's Bay Company's Fort Langley in January, 1875, following the death of Ovid Allard.  Wark's position was postmaster.  As well as caring for the old fort, Wark bought a farm of his own.  Wark was a nephew of the John Work who had assisted McMillan search out a location for Fort Langley in 1824.  Wark kept his position with the company until 1886.

     As the new warden Gibbs became so arrogant that even his hotel partner Taylor turned against him.  Apparently Gibbs had found a Hudson's Bay Company pig on the steps leading into the hotel.  He fetched a pitch fork and stuck it into the pig exclaiming, "I'm the boy to kill pigs."

     Taylor saw this and told Henry Wark, who was in charge of the fort.  Wark, Taylor, and William Emptage went out to the shed and examined the dying pig.  Wark did not hesitate to charge Gibbs.  The trial, known as the 'Langley Pig War' was held in New Westminster before Magistrate Henry V. Edmonds.  Gibbs tried to convince the magistrate that the pig died of starvation.  Edmonds did not accept his story.

     Shortly after this incident members of council, headed by Maxwell, discovered that Gibbs had juggled the minutes of several of the municipal meetings.  A group of men gathered around Gibbs' residence one evening demanding that the minute book for the municipality be produced for their inspection.  Examination revealed that whole leaves had been cut out.  The council ran Gibbs unceremoniously out of Langley.

     Shortly after incorporation Langley council requested $2,000 from the Provincial Government to be used toward road development.  They also passed a bill to collect a road tax from (81) the residents.  As early as 1861 the government had let a contract to Joseph Girard to build the Langley Trail along the river from a spot opposite New Westminster to Langley.  The council now wanted to widen the New Westminster to Yale Wagon Road, commonly called the Yale Road, to make it passable for buggy traffic.  This road had originally been put through in 1865.

     The lowest bidder for the job was William Henry Vanetta and his father-in-law Alexander Murchison.  Vanetta is believed to have been Pennsylvania Dutch.  His parents Samantha and Moses Vanetta were nomadic farming folk.  William had been born in Warren, New Jersey.  At the age of 17, in Dakota, he enlisted in the Wisconsin Infantry Volunteers as a private under Captain Henry Fox.  He served for three years on the side of the north before being discharged at Brownsville, Texas.  He then rejoined his family who were now farming in Sioux City, Iowa.

     It was here he met the Alexander Murchison family.  Murchison and his wife, the former Isabel Beaton, had been married in Cape Breton Island.  They moved from there to Lucknow, Ontario, and from there down across the line.  Vanetta married their daughter Elizabeth in Sioux City, on May 20, 1873.  After the marriage they left immediately for British Columbia on the Union Pacific and Central Railway accompanied by the bride's parents.

     Both the Vanetta and Murchison families lived in New Westminster upon their arrival in British Columbia.  They came out to Langley together in the spring of 1874.  Vanetta leased a portion of the Hudson's Bay Company farm while Murchison took up land at Murray's Corners.  Two months after their arrival Mrs. Vanetta gave birth to a son in the Hudson's Bay Company house on the Langley Prairie Farm.  Alexander Moses Vanetta, named for his two grandfathers, was the first white child born in the newly created municipality.

     The Yale Road as it existed through the Lower Fraser Valley prior to 1875 had been little more than a quagmire.  It was Vanetta's task to make it a usable wagon road within the municipality.  Once completed it would be used to freight (82) produce from the south side of the Fraser Valley into New Westminster and Vancouver markets.  By the fall of 1875 a widened Yale Road passed through the tell green timbers of Surrey to the riverbank opposite New Westminster.  Here a cryptic ferry service, called the K de K, floated the wagons and teams across the river to New Westminster.

     One of the many settlers into the Langley district in 1874 was Paul Murray.  He was 63 years of age and should have been retiring instead of looking for a new home.  Born in the north of Ireland, Murray as a young man of 18, emigrated from Sutherland, Scotland, with his family to Oxford County, Ontario. (83)  At the age of 28 he married Lucy Bruce and soon afterwards bought 160 acres of bushland at Zorra, Ontario.  It was here they raised a family of three boys and four girls.  The family was grown up when he decided to pull up stakes and come out west with the three sons.  His sons were William, John, and Alexander.

     Being the head of the household in the accepted fashion of the early Presbyterians, he met with no opposition from his wife or children.  His two married daughters remained in Zorra with their husbands.  In May, 1874, the Murray family bade farewell to their friends and travelled by boat from New York to Panama, then across the isthmus, then to San Francisco and eventually to Victoria.  They remained at Victoria for six weeks while Murray and his sons purchased essential household equipment.  Upon their arrival on the mainland they made their home in a shack by the Fraser River in New Westminster.

    At Langley, after staying with the Kenneth Morrison family a couple of weeks, Murray finally chose a heavily wooded spot on the summit of a hill some miles south of Fort Langley.  Here he and his sons felled a mighty fir tree and erected a crude shelter on the butt end.  It offered little protection from the elements.  In this leanto they made bunks one above the other to use as beds.  It was to this primitive dwelling that Mrs. Murray and her girls came.  Despite its short-comings it was still better than the shack in New Westminster.  The women immediately set to work to make it as liveable as possible.  Once settled Mrs. Murray bought two milk cows and some heifers from the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Langley.  She also purchased chickens and a few turkeys from the Indians.  In this way their supply of milk, butter, and eggs was secured.  Game was plentiful and venison supplemented their food supply.  The Murray family lived in this primitive manner for three years while the men cleared and built a house.  It was during this time that they were joined by two daughters and their husbands.  Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Black and Mr. and Mrs. Christian Isaacson, homesteaded near the girl's parents and brother's farms.

      Once Vanetta had completed the Old Yale Road through the municipality William Murray built a hotel along it to cater to the travellers going to the interior.


     The Murray Hotel was the first building in what came to be known as Murray's Corners. Murray was the best carpenter in the district and later built many of the barns in the area.  He also built the first bridge in Port Coquitlam.  The three Murray brothers had all worked on the widening of the Yale Road.

     In 1875 William Edge bought the river front farm belonging to Alfred Freeman situated just upriver from the Derby Townsite.  Originally from Dublin, Ireland, Edge as a young man had come to Ontario and settled in Owen Sound.  It is known that he lived there for a short time with a brother and sister and it is probable that he came there with his parents.  It was here he married Harriet Mighton.  She was originally from North Yorkshire, England.  She had come with her family to Ohio and it is likely (86) that she moved to Owen Sound with them.  In any event the pair married in Owen Sound and had four children before coming to British Columbia.

     Once Edge got his own family settled he was joined by his brother Samuel and sister Sarah and their spouses.  Samuel Edge had the distinction of being the first white man to climb the Golden Ears.  He made the climb in 1876 in three days. Edge Peak is named in his honour.  Sarah was married to John Hinch.  Both Samuel Edge and Hinch chose to settle on the north side of the river in Maple Ridge.

     There seems to have been difficulty in the valley in the early days for teachers to obtain the number of students to satisfy government regulations.  In 1875, James Murray Sinclair, a 17 year old youth who had passed his teacher's certificate in Victoria, arrived in Maple Ridge, across the river from West Langley.  In order to keep his job at $50 a month, he rowed across the river morning and evening to obtain West Langley children for his classroom.  He was thus able to keep the required number of students to keep his school open.  His river crossing was the first regular ferry service on the Fraser.  His pupils from the south side of the river included the Muench and Edge children.

     Mill owner Henry West got a new neighbour in 1876 when Murdock McIver took up 160 acres in East Langley.  McIver had been born in Tolsta, Isle of Lewis, Scotland, in 1848.  At an early age he joined the British Navy.  At New York he jumped ship and from the shore shook a fist of defiance at his captain.  He spent the first years in the Western New England States along the Atlantic Coast.  From the American East Coast he ventured into Quebec.  At Tolsta, Quebec, he ran into a McIver family to whom he was not related.  McIver left them bound for British Columbia with the intention of some day returning to marry their eldest daughter.  Besides clearing stumps on his homestead the young Scotsman worked out logging and fishing.

     For the first several years the pioneers would sow grain around these stumps and harvest their meagre crops in the fall.  The farmers would have bees to help each other take off the crops.  They would use scythes.  This mowing and reaping (87) implement with a long slightly curved blade was swung over the ground by the farmer hanging on to a five foot snath with two short handles projecting at right angles from it.  The users of this implement were called cradlers.

     Following each cradler was a tier.  This man gathered the cut grain and with its own straw tied it into bundles called sheaves.  The sheaves were bunched together, heads up, into stooks, which in turn were picked up by horse or oxen and wagons and taken into the barns.  At a later date a threshing machine would arrive and separate the grain from the straw.  This grain in turn would be ground into flour to be then made into bread.

     At the bees, which were generally consummated with a crock of whisky, the craddlers would go around a field making their 8-10 foot swathes one behind the other.  The best man was placed at either the head or end of the line.  If up front he would set a fast pace and the others were expected to keep up.  If at the rear he would bulldog the others. George Medd, William Medd's son, as a teenager well remembered being second from the rear behind William Plaxton, a school teacher and lay minister from Fort Langley.  Plaxton told him to move it or would clip him on the heels with his scythe.  Medd believed him and worked like the devil.

     William Edge was considered a pretty good cradler.  On one occasion he challenged the other men at a bee as to who could cut the most grain in a day.  Any takers to the bet were required to leave an agreed amount of money with a judge which would be picked up by the winner in the evening.  Story goes that around mid-day Edge visited the crock of whisky which was shaded from the sun in a stook of grain in the center of the field.  Edge took a healthy swig before adding a laxative.  That evening he picked up the winnings from the judge.

     In 1877 Murdock McIver acquired a new neighbour.  Gilbert McKay, and his wife, had come out to Langley with his wife's married sister and brother-in-law John McIver.  This McIver was also from the Isle of Lewis, Scotland, however was not related to Murdock McIver.  This McIver was the former cooper at Fort Langley and a pioneer settler of Maple Ridge.  He had gone back to Scotland in 1877 to fulfill a promise made to the parents of (88) Kenneth Morrison before he had left Scotland.  He had gone back with the intentions of marrying Morrison's baby sister.  He married the girl and returned to his Maple Ridge Farms, also accompanied by his bride's sister and her husband Gilbert McKay.  They chose to settle along the Fraser upriver from the fort.  McKay named the spot Glen Valley.  McKay built a house from lumber from the West Mill which is (1977) still standing.  The lumber used in its construction was absolutely knotless.

     In 1877 the Hudson's Bay Company officials decided to sell their farm at Langley Prairie.  The farm was subdivided into 100 acre lots and offered for sale by auction in Victoria for roughly $25 an acre.  There were no buyers.  The first two lots to be sold went to land speculator Reverend Alexander Dunn.

     Another bachelor that came to Langley in 1876 was Samuel McClughan.  He had been born near Belfast, Ireland, in 1841.  McClughan homesteaded 160 acres and worked it alone for three years before being joined by his intended bride, Eliza Frances Shaw.  The pair were married in Victoria in 1879.  His wife had been born in Curawan, County Leitrim, Ireland, in 1854.

     The Joseph Michaud family came to Langley in 1878 and were the municipality's first French settlers.  Warden Adam Innes happened to be at Fort Langley for supplies and offered to drive the French speaking family in his democrat to the Old Stopping Place on the Semiahmoo or Smuggler's Trail where it crossed the Nicomekl River.  This trail, originally used by the Indians, was much used in 1858 by American miners coming up by way of Bellingham to Langley.  By avoiding the custom officers at the mouth of the Fraser these men were able to avoid paying a head tax to prospect on the Fraser.  The Old Stopping House had been built to cater to this traffic.  It was to be the Michaud home for the next ten years.

     It was here that Maximilian Michaud, Joseph's older brother, had purchased over 600 acres.  Both these men came from St. Philippe de Kamouraska, Quebec.  Their ancestors had been in Quebec prior to the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.

     The older Michaud had arrived in British Columbia about 25 years earlier having worked his way across the United States on (89) foot.  His journey had taken him 18 months.  He had been among the first to pre-empt land in the vicinity of Hope.  He had first worked in the Colonial Hotel in New Westminster but in 1869 had purchased the New Brighton Hotel in Hastings (later Vancouver).  Shortly afterwards he became the first postmaster in Vancouver with the office in his saloon.  He changed the name of the saloon to the Hastings Hotel, which was nicknamed Maxie's, and enjoyed an ever increasing reputation for fine food and comfortable lodgings.

     The arrival of the Joseph Michaud family marked the beginning of Roman Catholic history in the Municipality of Langley.  The first mass was held in their home.  The Oblate Fathers from New Westminster said mass once a month in their (91) hospitable home for the first few years.  Later the Oblates from Mission City catered to the spiritual needs of the Catholic settlers.  One of the Oblates in their home was the Reverend Joseph Michaud, an uncle to Joseph Michaud the settler.  It was the small building formerly used as a school house at Innes' Corners which was used as the first Roman Catholic church at Langley Prairie.  It was named St. Joseph's upon being moved across the Yale Road into the Michaud hayfield.

     Soon after Michaud's arrival in Langley he purchased hogs and cattle which thrived on the pea vine and crab apples which grew in abundance on the Hudson's Bay Company farmlands at Langley Prairie.  The hogs were on occasion the cause of some excitement for their owner.  The numerous black bears would molest them, and Michaud, upon hearing the squeals, would arm himself with only a pitch fork and ride out on horse like Sir Galahad in pursuit of the culprit.  Once he found a black bear eating the back out of one of his pigs.  He charged at the bear (92) shouting at the top of his lungs and flailing the fork causing the bear to drop the dying animal.  The little Frenchman, slightly over five feet tall, feared nothing except the sting of a bee to which he was critically allergic.  Because he was such a lousy shot with a rifle he on another occasion asked his neighbour William Murray to conceal himself in the vicinity of the hogs and attempt to bag a troublesome bear.  Murray did so one night but only managed to wound the brute.  The following morning the two men headed out on foot following the blood and tracks.  Michaud, armed with his fork, carelessly got out ahead of Murray who had the rifle.  Climbing up onto a windfall Michaud met face to face with the charging bear.  He jumped clear of the attacking animal and Murray was quick enough to get a clear shot which dropped the bear just as it reached Michaud.

     If Joseph Michaud was useless with a rifle, his younger son, Maxie, made up for it by being one of the best crack-shots in the valley.  He took his rifle with him everywhere and used it from the time he was seven to put wild meat on the family table.  He developed a reputation for shooting deer only on the dead run and rarely missed a buck as it dodged in and out of the thickets.

     Michaud, who spoke only French, had difficulty communicating with his neighbours for the first few years after his arrival.  In his twilight years he used to delight in telling a joke on himself concerning an incident in which he outsmarted an Englishman by using his speech impediment to his advantage.  The English chap was looking for a good horse.  When he offered Michaud a sum of money for a horse he happened to have the Frenchman refused saying, "Dat animal, by gar, she no look so good."

     The horse looked good enough to the buyer who shoved the money into the Frenchman's palm and went off with the horse thinking he had gotten the better of the bargain.  He was soon back complaining that the horse was blind and had just run into a tree.  Michaud just smiled and in flawless English said, "I told you so."

     Each year the Fraser Valley was taking in more and more settlers.  The Fraser River gold excitement caused the first influx (93) of men.  The building of the Trans-Canada railway would cause the second.


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Copyright Donald E. Waite / Lisa M. Peppan