Peter Baker, born Pierre Ferdinand Boulanger in 1826, left his home in Alsace, Quebec, for California in 1849. His journey took him to Panama, where he jumped ship and changed his surname to Baker, the English translation of Boulanger, before reaching the West Coast for the California Gold Rush.
From California, Peter worked his way up to Kamloops, B.C. With either a stroke of good luck, good timing, or gold panner’s intuition, he was among the first to discover gold in the vicinity. This discovery escalated into the Fraser River Gold Rush of 1858. Peter taught native people of Shuswap how to pan for gold which he then took in trade for chewing tobacco. This trade continued until the Hudson’s Bay Company intervened and began purchasing the gold themselves.
In 1858, Peter left Kamloops and the interior for the coast. At Derby, he and Samuel Robertson built a hotel on the Fraser River. Later, the two men crossed the Fraser and were among the first non-native settlers of what would become Maple Ridge.
Peter settled here, marrying Mary Lafleur Brousseau, and they raised a family. They had seven children; August, Alonzo, Joseph, Basil, Mary, Florence and Alexander.
August Ferdinand Boulanger, the eldest of Peter’s children, was born in 1863 in Fort Langley and lived most of his life in Maple Ridge. He was a farmer by occupation and owned a successful farm which extended from Kanaka Creek to Albion. He was a prominent figure in the community and played an important role in the development of the municipality.
Alonzo Baker was born in Maple Ridge the year after August and was also a well-known figure in the community. Alonzo was a master mariner for 45 years and commanded the paddle wheeler boat, “The Ramona”, which transported cargo and passengers. Alonzo was also musically inclined, and played the fiddle with August in the 1893 Maple Ridge Christmas Concert. He married Ellen Lacroix in 1884 and had four children: Catherine Eleanor Webster, Adella Baker, Mrs. L. Walsey, and Clarence “Bud” Baker. Alonzo retired in 1930 and died in 1945 at the age of 79.
Both Clarence “Bud” Baker and Adella Baker were drawn to water. Clarence commanded a fishing boat called “Le Roi” and Adella joined a travelling circus diving group called the “Diving Venuses.” Adella was an adventurous woman who was involved in many activities in her community which led to her being named the “May Queen” in Albion in 1913.
Alexander “Sandy” Baker, the youngest son of Peter, was born in 1883. In his early twenties he met Sennie Custison, a young woman from Finland who grew up in a Finnish community in Nanaimo. Sandy and Sennie married in 1908 and produced three children: Leslie Charles Baker, Gerald Gordon Baker, and Elvie Baker.
Leslie Charles Baker, the eldest of Sandy and Sennie’s children, first started working at the age of thirteen. He was a nature lover which was indicated by his employment choices. He worked at the Haney Brick Yard, on the tug boats on the Fraser River, the Harrison Lake Logging Camp, and did gillnet fishing on the Fraser River and at River’s Inlet. Leslie’s favourite pastimes were fishing and hunting which led him to travel British Columbia extensively. Leslie and his wife Phillis produced a family of four children named Alan, Betty, Jo-Anne and Judy.
Alan continued Peter’s fishing heritage. A commercial gillnetter his entire life, Alan was the driving force behind the introduction of ‘test drifts’ on the Fraser River. Test drifts had two primary functions: to ensure that sufficient numbers of salmon were making it through to the spawning grounds; yet permitting enough commercial fishing ‘openings’ on the Fraser for it to remain a financially viable life for those who loved it. In addition, data is provided to the Department of Fisheries regarding river conditions and the health of the fish. When Alan finally retired, it was the last known chapter of the ‘book’ of Peter’s commercial fishing lineage.
The Baker family are a prominent family in Maple Ridge’s history, not only because Peter Baker was one of the first settlers, but because his descendants largely stayed in the community and contributed to its development.