On the River: About

This is the fifth community history project the group has done. These projects help participants learn about and share new and deeper understanding about the Maple Ridge area, its residents and neighbours, and historical events that have impacted past decisions and actions.

By harnessing a wide range of skills and contacts, research and reporting work challenges experienced members and supports members in expanding their skills. As well, we engage with partners in other disciplines and institutions, and sometimes discover extended family contacts.

The story of the fishing industry in Maple Ridge is also told through four display boards. These displays travel to family and local history events, and members of Maple Ridge Family History Group are available to speak on project methodology and the various topics explored by the projects. 

Previous projects have focused on individual families that are no longer represented by living community members. This examination of a no longer dominant industry has taken longer than usual because of its larger scope, and COVID restrictions, but grew from examining historic census records since British Columbia joined the Canadian confederation.

Project Members

Sandra Ayres; Rhonda Cairns; Lynne Currie; Gina Leigh, Secretary; Andrea Lister, Project Coordinator; Alberta McNamara, Digital File Wrangler; Joanne Montgomery; Gunter Rebele; Brenda Smith; Debbie Spouler; Erica Williams; Merlot the Tortoiseshell

Scope of the Project

The project is designed to discover the nature of the Fraser River fishery from the 1890s to 1929, examining principally the part of the river described by the eastern and western boundaries of the District of Maple Ridge.


We started by transcribing and analyzing the 1891 Census of Canada. After studying the nature of federal census records, participants first selected record types to find fisher families, using vital records, directories, and newspapers. From the early work we developed topics to include in the project: for example, boat building and fish processing. Zoom meetings gave us opportunities to evaluate and re-balance our contextual and local findings. Latter stages of the project involved fact checking, refining source information, choosing images, and preparing reports to the community.
COVID constraints have constrained and stimulated access to records that support the scope of this project. We are grateful to the repositories that have digitized historic materials, and to individuals who have dug deeply to find the information and expertise that benefit the project.


Census records are collections of information about the number of people living in a geographic area. Each census asks a range of questions to inform government policy and the distribution of resources. Library and Archives Canada holds census records from 1640. British Columbia joined Confederation in 1871 just a short while after that year’s Census of Canada was taken. When the District of Maple Ridge incorporated in 1874, its western boundary was Coast Meridian and the first federal census to include the province was taken in 1881, and every ten years after, until the mid-20th century when counts were taken more often. This project reviewed British Columbia counts from 1881 to 1921.


Trade, postal, and community directories are records assembled by private publishing companies. In British Columbia historic directories are available from 1860 to the mid-1990s. In this project, directories fill in the chronological spaces between and extend forward in time beyond historic census records.

Government Reports

The terms of Confederation give the Government of Canada control and responsibility for the water, and the Province of British Columbia control of the fishery on land. The Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada published from 1867 to 1925 are annual reports regarding the management and harvesting of fish stocks, including structures and transportation on and in the water. The British Columbia Sessional Papers 1872 to 1982 report licencing, hatcheries, and canneries. The Canada Gazette is the official newspaper of the Government of Canada. The Canada Year Book is an annual summary of statistics regarding many social, political and economic aspects


Daily, weekly, and monthly press reports of happenings in the fishing industry are a rich source of contemporary views. Advertising, letters to the editor, family and community news, as well as official reports are found in the prominent media of the day. In British Columbia available newspapers include: the Columbian (New Westminster) from 1861 and the Victoria Colonist from 1858 in their various iterations, Fraser Valley Record (Mission) from 1908, the Chilliwack Progress from 1891, and others fill the gap until the Haney Gazette began publishing from 1922.

Vital Events

Records of births, christenings, marriages, and deaths are key to family history. Team members and family members have contributed vital registration records that help shape knowledge of individuals involved in the Maple Ridge fishery.

Family History Research

The work of family historians informs the mapping of families who have supported the fishing industry. The Maple Ridge families who participated represent a wide range of ancestral origins and occupational skills from boat and tool building to fish harvesting and processing.


Understanding the geography of the Fraser River watershed and Maple Ridge is central to appreciation of the way that families and industry relate to the fish and neighbouring communities. Maps facilitate information analysis, and support reporting research findings.


Photographs and sketches are a rich source of information documenting the topic in action. The same images are often held by multiple institutions with different, and sometimes contradictory, descriptive information.

Contextual Material

The project’s understanding of the time and place are informed by from local histories and personal memoirs to academic literature, the secondary and analytical sources related to the history of the Fraser River fishing industry.

Advisors and Supporters

Fred Braches, Historian
Doug Brigham, Research Data Management Librarian
Kobi Christian, Township of Langley, Arts and Heritage Curator
Lisa Davidson, Stó:lō Service Agency Genealogist
Lindsay Foreman, Township of Langley, Curator of Indigenous Arts and Culture
Shea Henry, Maple Ridge Museum and Community Archives, Director
Marilyn Marshall, Family Historian
Val Patenaude, Maple Ridge Museum and Community Archives, Director (retired)
Heidi Rampfl, Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society, Collections Manager
Barrie Sanford, Railway Historian
Joanne Peterson, Children of Fort Langley

Maple Ridge Family History Group logo
MR Family History Group

We acknowledge that the land on which we live, work, and play is the traditional and unceded territory of the Katzie First Nation and the Kwantlen First Nation Peoples. We respectfully honour their traditions and culture.