Finnish Picnic in the 1910's.
Finnish Picnic in the 1910’s.

Settlers in this region faced an unyielding mountain of work — first to clear the land and then to make it productive. Despite that, no one can work all the time. No matter what their circumstances, people need to take time off to visit with friends, enjoy themselves, and relax. Women on isolated homesteads with only their own children for company longed for the companionship of other adult women.

It is no wonder then that from the very earliest days of settlement, we hear of picnics, water-borne excursions, and dances. Maple Ridge Park has been a destination for picnic groups since early days, as was the mouth of Kanaka Creek. The school was usually the first community structure built and so would house a variety of gatherings for performances and parties after hours. Any skill with a musical instrument made you a musician and you’d be pressed into service to provide music for dancing.

Early brass band at Webster's Corners.
Early brass band at Webster’s Corners.

Memoirs of the day report dances at the Maple Ridge School where there were four fiddlers present but they all had to play one at a time. With no experience playing with other musicians, any group effort produced a cacophony that was hard to dance to.

The first dedicated hall was built in 1892 in Port Haney. It was privately built — raising money by subscription — so that there would be a place to host dances and stage performances. It was nearly a decade later that it was sold to the municipality as its first municipal hall and even then, Council had to be sure to move their chairs from the stage where they met so they were out of the way for the weekend dance.

Methodist church picnic at MR Park with ice cream - 1915c
Methodist church picnic at MR Park with ice cream – 1915c

Nothing shows the importance of recreation to our early settlers more than this delightful quote from Hector Ferguson:

Methodist church picnic at MR Park with ice cream – 1915c

“Soon after [Hector Ferguson] landed [in Victoria] he went to have his photograph taken to send home to his parents, and while this was being done he asked the photographer for information about the mainland and was told that his place of settlement depended a great deal upon what his inclinations were. If he were religiously inclined, he should go to Chilliwack, and if he wished to mingle in municipal politics, Langley offered the best opportunities, and, if he was fond of dancing, Maple Ridge should be his destination.”

[Weekly Gazette, Nov 19, 1931.]