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Looking Back: Many ways to cross the Mighty Fraser River

Early Maple Ridge residents found a way to get to other side

By Shea Henry

Looking Back

Last week, we marked the 10-year anniversary of the last Albion ferry run across the Fraser River to Fort Langley. But that ferry only began operating in 1957, so what did people do for the hundred years during the settler era in Maple Ridge before the ferry?

Well the answer, like many things in the past, is however they could manage.

Depending on the season there was a multitude of ways to get across the river, and for most of our history here, the communities of Hammond, Haney, Albion, and Whonnock had a much closer connection to Langley and Fort Langley than any other. I mean, there was just a little river in between them, right?

Well that little river, despite being a short distance, is quite an adversary to traverse.

Despite all logic, the easiest time to cross the river was the dead of winter, when it used to freeze over solid. We have stories of people crossing on foot, skating across, riding horses over, pulling wagons, and even driving early cars across the ice in the early 1900s. The last car crossing was in the terribly cold winter of 1952.

All of this winter travel across the river was not without its dangers.

There are several stories of people walking or driving across and going through the ice, and being lost.

An early general store owner, Alfred Charleton, went through the ice just on the other side of the bank while attempting to walk across.

In the summer, it came down to crossing the river via small boat – row boat, canoe, or other craft. The first teacher for the Maple Ridge school, as part of his teaching duties, was required to row a boat across the river to collect children living on the far bank. This was necessary to get more students to the school in order to justify the cost of a teacher.

By the early 1920s, it was obvious from the growing population that to maintain the cultural and economic connection between Maple Ridge and Langley, a more permanent means of crossing the river was necessary. The first request for a ferry came in 1924 as a letter from Langley residents to their council, with the moral support of the Maple Ridge city council behind them. After appealing to the provincial government in Victoria, the ferry was approved in 1924, but lack of proper signatures and infrastructure for a ferry port halted the project.

Residents of both Langley and Maple Ridge then spent the next 33 years petitioning councils, the provincial governments, and the highways department to start a ferry route.

In 1936 and 1941, the ferry was again assured but never completed. Finally, in 1957, all of the infrastructure was in place to begin the ferry.

The final argument was made to the transportation department to make the ferry a part of the public transportation system and thus the Albion to Fort Langley ferry was born!

The ferry made runs for the next 52 years. Shortly after a large 50th anniversary celebration, the announcement came that the ferry would close.

Citing raising costs and the opening of the new Golden Ears Bridge, TransLink could not continue running the ferry.

The last run of the ferry was made on July 31, 2009, but the Albion ferry lives in the hearts of all Maple Ridge residents as it is dearly missed.

Shea Henry is museums curator with the Maple Ridge Museum.