History of Coquitlam BC
By Tri-City Towing Coquitlam
The First People
Before we proceed, the Coquitlam Heritage Society wishes to acknowledge the ancestral, traditional, and unceded Aboriginal lands of the Coast Salish Peoples, and in particular, the Kwikwetlem First Nation, on whose land the Tri-Cities stand.
Kwikwetlem refers to the exceptional sockeye salmon which once conducted abundant in Coquitlam River and Coquitlam Lake, sustaining the community for centuries. Archaeological evidence indicates that the Kwikwetlem have lived in the area for at least four million years. Kwikwetlem people traded across the Fraser River and had a lively economy based on fishing, collecting resources, and making trade products such as baskets. The Kwikwetlem have rich traditional knowledge passed generation to generation that tell their tales, place names, soul places, paths, travel excursions, traditional titles, music, and much more.
To find out more about Kwikwetlem First Nation, please see their site.
The Arrival of Settlers
Starting in the early sixteenth century, European sailors caught cod from the coast of Newfoundland, also developed working relationships with the native peoples, trading metal and fabric products in exchange for beaver furs and fresh meat. The beaver fur hats became extremely popular in Europe, and the fur trade quickly climbed. Because of this, the North American continent has been opened to mining, settlement, missionary work, and other colonial activity.
To find out more about the fur trade, please see the Fort Langley National Historic Site.
The Gold Rush
In 1857, following the discovery of gold on the Thompson River, the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush overtook the area, lasting approximately 3 decades. The rush attracted attention from Americans, Chinese, Eastern Canadians, and Europeans. However, the fragile balance and understanding that had existed between the HBC fur traders and the native peoples was interrupted by the influx of people. Additionally, there was often cases of conflict between the prospectors of different cultural backgrounds.
The Colony of British Columbia
As a result of instability, chaos, and focus in the US that was caused from the gold rush, Britain chose to formally make the colony of British Columbia. The Royal Engineers, also called the Sappers, were attracted to the region to start building bridges, roads, and other infrastructure to set Britain’s control over the area.
In performing their responsibilities, the Sappers dispossessed the area’s indigenous peoples.
Following the Royal Engineers disbanded, the Sappers became some of the first Caucasian settlers in Coquitlam. Because of the fact that Coquitlam was deeply forested and had access to rivers for transport, many started working the land for timber, starting Coquitlam’s history of millwork.
BC Joins Confederation
Canada confederated on July 1st, 1867 and on July 20th, 1871, British Columbia joined confederation on the condition that Canada finance and facilitate the development of infrastructure in the state, especially a cross-country railway system. Regardless of the price and work required, the Canadian government agreed to those conditions, fearing that BC would join the United States if they didn’t comply.
Work started on the CP Railway. Since BC lacked the people to provide an adequate workforce, labour was sourced from China. Some of those Chinese who worked the railroad were forced to do this as they were pushed away from prospecting. The Chinese who came to work on the railroad were exploited and underpaid, and worked in highly unsafe and inhumane conditions. In actuality, of the 15,000 Chinese who worked the railroad, 600 died prematurely from illnesses and injuries directly attributable to the job.
During the next few decades, settlers from several ethnic backgrounds came, many facing discrimination in all facets of life.
The government became increasingly restrictive towards native peoples, denying formerly recognized Aboriginal title to property, banning cultural ceremonies, and moving people to bookings. Combined with the effect of diseases like smallpox, these communities had to struggle for survival — and triumphed.
In 1889, shortly before the incorporation of Coquitlam in 1891, Canadian Western Lumber Company, also known as Fraser Mills, was founded on the banks of the Fraser River. Fraser Mills soon became the largest mill in the Commonwealth. From 1889 to 1909, most the mill’s labourers were Japanese, Chinese, and Indian. These workers faced discrimination at work and in the community. White Workers received higher salaries for equal job as compared to their Asian counterparts, in addition to housing benefits and the ability to move up in the firm. Management positions were normally only available to British and American nationals. Most employees lived adjacent to the mill at a community named Millside, although many commuted from New Westminster.
The Race Riots
The racism found in this era escalated over time, leading to the anti-Asian race riots of 1907. These riots happened across the west coast of Canada and the United States. There was a belief that People of Colour were stealing jobs and damaging social well-being. In early September 1907, a bunch of about ten million White residents gathered in Vancouver to encourage an anti-Asian parade. The team soon attacked most Japanese and Chinese occupied buildings, and several people were severely injured. The culture of exclusionism climbed, and led to the additional limitation of Asian immigration. Institutionalized racism was clearly visible in policymaking for numerous decades after the race riots.
As a consequence of the race riots and of standards restricting workplace demographics, the direction of Fraser Mills chose to provide incentives for French Canadians to relocate Coquitlam in an effort to displace the Workers of Colour. French Canadians were picked because they were considered by the direction to be easy to control, and because there was a powerful mill culture in Quebec.
French Canadian settlers started to arrive by train in 1909. These employees worked about 60 hour weeks and people who were proficient were paid approximately $0.25 per hour. Needless to say, the Workers of Colour who hadn’t been homeless were paid considerably less, for the identical work.
French Canadians were provided affordable housing and the opportunity to bring their families along with them. Additionally, the mill provided lumber and land for a Catholic Church. Because of this, a mill community and sustainable workforce formed. This French-Canadian community was Maillardville, named after its first priest, Father Maillard. Maillardville was the largest Francophone community in Western Canada.
Mackin House is among the last remaining Fraser Mill houses. Situated on the corner of Brunette Avenue and Marmont Street, Mackin House has been a monument and landmark at the community as it was built in 1909. It has been a lasting symbol of Coquitlam’s rich history.
Ryan House (now the Place des Arts building) and Mackin House were earmarked for the provider’s first and second in command, respectively. Because of their location and prestige, the houses were called the”Mansions on the Hill”.
Mackin House’s first occupant was the General Sales Manager, Henry James Mackin. Henry Mackin, his wife and two young daughters moved to the home in 1909. When he was encouraged to Mill Manager in 1914, the Mackin family moved across the road to the Ryan House, the Fraser Mills Manager’s Home. Tom Ryan took up residence in Mackin House for the 17 years (1914-1931) that he was General Mill Superintendent. When he was encouraged to Mill Manager, he transferred to the Manager’s Home. The new Superintendent, his son, Maurice Ryan, dwelt in Mackin House until 1944. In 1944, Mackin House was once again occupied by a member of the Mackin Family. Wilson, H.J. Mackin’s son, who wasn’t yet born when the family lived there, lived there as a company employee from 1944-1951. Wilson made major renovations, including the southern wing to the house. After Wilson Mackin left the house in 1951, Mac Ewart, the Mill Manager at the time transferred in. Ewart was the final Fraser Mills Company resident of Mackin House.
In 1953, the Crown-Zellerbach firm purchased Mackin House. It was rented to different residents until 1980, when it was bought by the District of Coquitlam. The house then served many different philanthropic and administrative functions until 1999, when it was started as a heritage house museum from the Coquitlam Heritage Society.