On your way to Pitt Lake, you are likely to drive north on Harris, then right on McNeil roads.
As you do this, have you ever asked yourself how McNeil Rd. came to be named?
The name comes from Archbishop McNeil, who led the Archdiocese of Vancouver for two years between 1910 and 1912, and during that time he made quite an impact on the area that would become part of the district of Pitt Meadows in 1914.
Neil McNeil was born in Nova Scotia in 1851, was ordained in 1879, and was appointed as bishop of St. George’s in Newfoundland in 1895.
In 1909, the Vatican was considering the appointment of a new archbishop for Vancouver and McNeil, considered the leading contender, was appointed as such, beginning his term in May 1910.
Once installed, McNeil made many bold and innovative moves within his diocese, including the purchase of land on the east side of the Pitt River and to the north of the then Lillooet River (now Alouette) for the purpose of Catholic rural farming colonization that also included plans for a school and church.
From 1910 to 1912, Pitt Meadows, having separated from Maple Ridge in 1896, was unincorporated territory with governance over the land in this area directly from the province of B.C.
However, local farmers were already talking incorporation and were planning to petition Victoria for municipal status for the land west of Hammond and all the way to the Pitt River, including that now known as the archbishop’s subdivision.
Catholic settlement did happen, and many of the roads in that area were named after the families that took tracts of land (such as Fenton and McQuarrie).
A church was built at the corner of Harris and McNeil roads, as was a public school – Pitt Meadows No. 2, also known as the Richardson school.
The church eventually became a home, but is now gone.
The school also became a home and is still there, hidden behind a high hedge.
Vancouver promoter and investor Alvo von Alvensleben also acquired land in the area around the same time. The house he built, a craftsman beauty at the southeast corner of Harris and McNeil roads, stands today and is on the Pitt Meadows Heritage Register.
Archbishop McNeil left the Vancouver Diocese in 1912 at the time of an economic downturn that slowed his Pitt Meadows colonization plans.
The same downturn took a toll on von Alvensleben’s finances, leaving him nearly bankrupt in 1913.
His return to Germany for financial backing left him out of the country when the First World War broke out and, unable to return to Canada due to his enemy status, he settled in Seattle and never came north again.
In April 1914, Pitt Meadows incorporated and immediately took over governance of the area from the province.
The first council initially refused to put a provincially promised road into the subdivision, but the Catholic church fought and won in a court decision.
All that remains today to remind us of the archbishop’s plans is the name of the road.
– Leslie Norman is curator of Pitt Meadows Museum