Map sale

Lost Sumas Lake reappears on 1889 map

The Federal Government map shows all sorts of historical oddities, including the route of the wagon road from New Westminster to Yale

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On October 1, 1889, the federal government’s Department of the Interior released a map of the district of New Westminster, which basically covered the Fraser Valley from Port Moody to Harrison Lake.

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Don Stewart of MacLeod’s Books recently found a copy in a closing antique store in Victoria. It is fascinating to the modern eye, as it shows the location of Sumas Lake, which was drained in the 1920s.

“See how Sumas is spelled, Sumass,” said Stewart, who has the card for sale for $200. “This lake was in the middle of the countryside, just east of Abbotsford.”

The lake was surprisingly large, 36 square kilometers, stretching from Sumas Mountain in the northwest to Vedder Mountain in the southeast.

Farms now occupy most of the old lake bed in the Sumas Grassland. But the lake more or less reclaimed its natural limits last November, when an “atmospheric river” of rain hit the Fraser Valley, flooding it with a record 540 millimeters of water.

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The modern view of the draining of the lake is that it was done to create more agricultural land. But Stewart did some research and discovered there was another factor: the lake was quite shallow and was a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

“Part of the reason it ended up being drained and filled was because the upper Fraser Valley was a center of malaria and fur traders were complaining about it,” Stewart said.

The Complete October 1, 1889 Map of the District of New Westminster by the Federal Department of the Interior showing Sumass Lake (i.e. Sumas or Semá:th Lake) in the Fraser Valley, which has been drained in the 1920s. The rare card is on sale at MacLeod's Books in Vancouver.
The Complete October 1, 1889 Map of the District of New Westminster by the Federal Department of the Interior showing Sumass Lake (i.e. Sumas or Semá:th Lake) in the Fraser Valley, which has been drained in the 1920s. The rare card is on sale at MacLeod’s Books in Vancouver. PNG

He took out a book called Fort Langley Journals, 1827-30, which UBC Press published in 1999.

An entry in July 1830 reads: “Another annoyance we have now, though to many it would seem very insignificant, are mosquitoes. They are beyond anything we have ever seen in Indian country.

“Our people are now literally unable to work. No relief from them day or night. The natives have mostly abandoned the surrounding area, either for the falls or the seaside.”

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At times, the mosquito problem looks like a biblical plague.

“The mosquitoes were just amazing,” farmer Glenn Toop told author K. Jane Watt in her 2006 book, High Water: Living With The Fraser Floods.

“I saw us go out and mow the hay with the horses. The mosquitoes would be so thick that they would lie down. And we had to unhook them, bring them back to the barn and cover them.

Of course, the mosquitoes weren’t so bad all the time – the Semá:th (Sumas) First Nation had long lived on the shores of Sumas Lake before Europeans arrived in British Columbia, living off their rich assortment of fish and wild animals. Following massive flooding last November, some have called for the lake to be restored.

The map has all sorts of historical quirks. The town of Chilliwack was so small that it is not even identified on the map, and Chilliwack Mountain is spelled Chilliwhack. Abbotsford isn’t there either.

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Parts of present-day Fort Langley are labeled HBC, for the Hudson’s Bay Company which founded the fort. A large piece of land south of Fort Langley is labeled “Hudson’s Bay Co. Claim”.

Just below the Hudson’s Bay Grant is a line labeled “Wagon Road from New Westminster to Yale”. Part of the route is today’s Fraser Highway. On the north side of the Fraser River is the line of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

South of the border is “Washington Territory” – it only became a state a month after the map was published. The mountain range on the south side of the Fraser Valley, meanwhile, is labeled “Rocky Mountains,” which are actually about 1,000 kilometers away.

Trust Ottawa to be this far on an official government map.

jmackie@postmedia.com

Detail from an October 1, 1889 map of the District of New Westminster by the Federal Department of the Interior showing Sumass Lake (i.e. Sumas or Semá:th Lake) in the Fraser Valley, which was drained in the 1920s. The rare map is on sale at MacLeod's Books in Vancouver.
Detail from an October 1, 1889 map of the District of New Westminster by the Federal Department of the Interior showing Sumass Lake (i.e. Sumas or Semá:th Lake) in the Fraser Valley, which was drained in the 1920s. The rare map is on sale at MacLeod’s Books in Vancouver. PNG
Sumas Lake before the area was reclaimed, circa 1913. Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-: LGN 1144
Sumas Lake before the area was reclaimed, circa 1913. Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-: LGN 1144
An October 1, 1889 map of the District of New Westminster by the Federal Department of the Interior showing Sumass Lake (i.e. Sumas Lake or Semá:th) in the Fraser Valley, which was drained in the 1920s. The rare map is on sale at MacLeod's Books in Vancouver.
An October 1, 1889 map of the District of New Westminster by the Federal Department of the Interior showing Sumass Lake (i.e. Sumas Lake or Semá:th) in the Fraser Valley, which was drained in the 1920s. The rare map is on sale at MacLeod’s Books in Vancouver. Photo by John Mackie /PNG

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