After 140 years, this is Maple Ridge

District approaching a big anniversary, milestone next week

Solomon Mussallem

Solomon Mussallem

Still think Maple Ridge is beautiful? Or do you hardly notice any more its rivers, mountains and breath-taking vistas?

Maybe these words can re-awaken a love of your beloved’s attributes.

“The scenery from any point is magnificent with the great Fraser River in the foreground and the majestic, snow-crowned mountains in the background.

“Beautiful little lakes … with streams descending from the falls to the Fraser, add to the beauty of this nature-favoured locality.”

You won’t find such a description on the local tourism bureau’s website. You have to travel back in time, to 1922, when former mayor John A. McIver was promoting Maple Ridge to local business types.

McIver was profiling Maple Ridge and looked back 48 years before, when his dad was at the first council meeting following the formation of the Township of Maple Ridge, in Sept. 12, 1874. He mentions Hammond, Haney, Albion, Whonnock and Ruskin and farther north, Webster’s Corners and Yennadon.

By John A. McIver’s time (Maple Ridge mayor from 1921-24), two trunk roads ran the length of oblong-shaped Maple Ridge, allowing the transport of food to Vancouver, when no 100-mile diet was needed.

Names from the old minutes from the first meeting are now on street signs and buildings – Harris, Howison, Bell, McKenney and Hammond.

Many of the old issues are still relevant today, said Maple Ridge Museum director Val Patenaude, who’s been poring through dusty records to help mark Maple Ridge’s 140th anniversary celebrations Sept. 12 and 13 in Memorial Peace Park.

One clipping she dug up, from an April 1933 issue the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Gazette, told of former mayor Solomon Mussallem’s trip to Victoria to lobby for provincial money.

He didn’t go alone, accompanied by several of his counterparts from other cities in what’s now Metro Vancouver.

Mussallem was pressing the province to help Maple Ridge with the costs of feeding and housing the victims of the Depression of the 1930s.

“Couldn’t that be done today?” Patenaude said. “It’s amazing how relevant that still is.”

Children were going barefoot and couldn’t go to school on empty stomachs, Mussallem told politicians.

With markets depressed, farmers could pay their property taxes and shouldn’t have to go into more debt to take care of a situation that arose from an “industrial crisis in which they were not even concerned.”

According to The Gazette from April 20, 1933, Mussallem told a later meeting of Maple Ridge council he pressed “pretty hard” for reimbursement from the province for all the costs of incurred by the district in helping people in the Depression years.

Revenue from slot machines was a topic back in 1933.

Mussallem favoured a $1,000 yearly fee for each slot machine in town, following New Westminster’s example.

The machines could be a source of revenue, commented another councillor, foreshadowing to the present day, when Maple Ridge makes a million dollars a year from its electronic slot machines.

Even in the old days, education was controversial.

Mussallem wrote on the topic in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Gazette after the opening of Maple Ridge High School in April 1941, during the depths of the Second World War.

Some people question whether spending money on education is worth it, Mussallem wrote, saying some could argue that “reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic were considered good enough as the education of the ordinary person.”

But “democracy demanded that all should have an equal chance in this forward movement [of civilization], said Mussallem, a Lebanese immigrant.

A high school education “assists in breaking down all class distinctions and disagreements … and is a big step towards an ideal state of educated and understanding people, the backbone of democracy.”

With such an education, “people are taught to reason for themselves … and fit themselves … a higher order of humanity.

“They are taught to be free …”

Former mayor Nelson Lougheed, (1914-16) used the stage of municipal politics to springboard into the provincial legislature.

Lougheed, along with George Abernethy, ran the Abernethy and Lougheed Lumber Co. and won a seat with the B.C. Conservatives in 1928. He served as minister of public works and one of his prime projects was pressing for a highway on the north side of the Fraser River. He succeeded and the Lougheed Highway was built through Maple Ridge in 1931.

By the next election, however, the B.C. Conservatives were in disarray and because of infighting couldn’t even field a candidate.

“It was the only successful Conservative party in B.C.,” Patenaude points out.

Maple Ridge’s communities always have played a major role in the district’s identity.

 

People were born, lived and died in Port Hammond, or Whonnock or Webster’s Corners when it wasn’t easy to get around. When railway stops and postal addresses took on those names, identities became even stronger, a factor worsened by the ward system in place until the 1947.

The divisions became apparent in the 1950s, when Port Hammond was trying to get door-to-door mail delivery.

But Canada Post said for that to happen, Port Hammond residents had to use Haney as a mailing address.

“That’s when all hell broke loose,” said Patenaude.

Instead, Canada Post agreed to the more neutral name of Maple Ridge as the postal address.

Even the name of Maple Ridge is a triumph of self determination and pride, a small strike against the colonialism of the time.

The name countered the trend of the time of naming cities and places after nostalgic memories from the old country, as was the case for Surrey or Langley.

Instead, Maple Ridge referred to a line of maples on a high ridge on John McIver’s farm, now the Maple Ridge Golf Course.

Patenaude has another anecdote, recounted by another former mayor, Hector Ferguson in the 1800s, that distinguishes Maple Ridge from other Metro municipalities.

Ferguson had just arrived from Victoria and on his way to the Vancouver area, but didn’t know where to settle.

His barber told him if he was a pious person, Abbotsford was the place to move. And if he wanted to focus on business, go to Ladner.

“But if you love to dance, go to Maple Ridge.”

That trait has continued with festivals and events that go throughout the year, says Patenaude.

“Still, we have a massive community event calendar. There’s just always been a great enthusiasm for community gatherings.”

That, and appreciation for the beautiful setting.