Grant Hill, rising prominently above the surrounding land northeast of Albion, is generally known as Thorn Hill, or Thornhill, after James Thorne, who took out a Crown Grant for 160 acres east of 240th Street (Baker Road) and north of 108th Avenue.
The slope of the hill stretches along the Fraser River from Albion to Whonnock. At both ends and along the Fraser the land rises steeply, offering spectacular views. The slope along the Fraser and behind the Whonnock post office quickly became a preferred residential area.
What attracted settlers to the lower parts of Grant Hill even more was access to the river (the highway of its day), the railroad, store and post office. The higher land further away from the river, the Thornhill area of today, was too far away from the amenities of civilization and only became inhabited after the arrival of the automobile.
Before that, Ashton W. Spilsbury’s 160 acres, above 98th Avenue on top of Spilsbury Road, was considered to be in Whonnock, though it included the core of today’s Thornhill. Even after the automobile opened the Thornhill area for settlement, it continued to be seen as part of the historical communities Whonnock or Albion.
In the years following the First World War, Japanese farmers started settling in the Thornhill area. Thirteen Japanese farming families owned acreage west of 256th Street, and another 15 lived east of 256th Street. They were among the first to open the land for agriculture. After the Japanese were evicted in 1942, their lands became available to a growing community of young white settlers and their families.
In the early 1960s, a door-to-door survey was held to establish the boundaries of Whonnock. This was done as part of a successful community effort to restore a second “n” to the name Whonnock that had been lost just before the war. Residents living in the Thornhill area east of 256th St. did not hesitate to identify themselves with Whonnock as their place of residence. But at the same time, they were aware that the Thornhill area was a neighbourhood by itself within Whonnock.
The 1950s and 1960s were the time of the birth of Thornhill as a community. This was when Thornhill got its own school. At first, the Thornhill youngsters attended Whonnock School. But in 1959, the number of children in the area justified the opening of an elementary school in the centre of Thornhill.
Margaret Norman taught at that school in the early years and recalls the energy and enthusiasm of the neighbourhood.
Before long the Thornhill Community Association came to life, and the members started fundraising for the construction of a community hall. The hall was a tiny affair, but as from 1965 the proud residents of Thornhill had a meeting place of their own. Even the Whonnock Women’s Institute preferred meeting at the new Thornhill hall rather than in the derelict Whonnock Memorial Hall, of which they were the custodians.
Before 1950, the Gazette and other newspapers never mention Thornhill as a distinct area or community.
In 1952, the Gazette reports about the first anniversary of the Thorn Hill Women’s Institute, carefully adding “(Whonnock)” behind the name to clarify the location for the readers.
It was only during the last decade or so that the location of the Thornhill area became generally known and started to be referred to as a distinct community.
An impetus came from the well-published and worthy action of Betty and Klaus von Hardenberg and their neighbours to protect what became known as the Thornhill aquifer, threatened by the advance of new development encroaching from Albion. However, the main publicity of the name came from the real estate profession, who prefer the name Thornhill over Albion or, even worse, Whonnock.
The Thornhill Community Association continues to thrive, and the Thornhill Hall, more spacious now than it was at first, is still well used by the community.
Thornhill may not be as old as the historical communities of Maple Ridge, but what it lacks in years, it makes up in energy and vibrancy.
Fred Braches is a local historian who lives in Whonnock.