Gravel and Road-Building

Gravel has always played a prominent role in Maple Ridge in general and in Webster’s Corners in particular. The expansion of settlement in the region was dependent on the construction of roads into the lands north of the river and it wasn’t much use to have dirt roads that were only passable during the dry weather of mid-summer.

P09059. 1925.  Plank road in unknown location [Blaney Bog?].  Roads like this were commonly the first improvements to access over dirt trails throughout the district, where clay soil, rainfall, and thick woods made travel difficult.  Planks covered wet spots and made use of the trees that would be cut down to give a new road its path, but they required regular maintenance.
P04966.  ND [1920].  Men with horse teams mined gravel in Kanaka Creek.  The rear team has been identified as that of Frank Galbraith.

The combination of high rainfall and clay-rich soils have confounded residents since the first settlers arrived.  It was the need to cooperate on the construction of roads between settlements that necessitated the formation of the district in 1874.  All road work in the earliest days was done by hand and using horse-drawn wagons.  A wagon could only support the weight of a limited amount of gravel each trip, so it was a long slow process to transport all the needed material. 

Many hands made lighter work and there were incentives for settlers to apply themselves to road building.  A man with a wagon and a good team could live decently hauling gravel for the district.  He could also get a tax break if he had contributed two days labour with a wagon team released him from the road tax that was $3 in 1898.  George Hinch lived where Valley Fair Mall is today, but he completed road work to the east out to Webster’s Corners and later married one of James Murray Webster’s daughters [Annie Webster].

In 1915, Leonard Humphries, who had a farm on Martin Road [256th Street] with his brother, described the Dewdney Trunk between Haney and Webster’s Corners as “just earth and cut up by buggy tyres until river gravel or shingle was placed on it”.  Martin Road itself “came past giant firs to a sharp rise, which was clayey and had to be corduroyed with planks – quite a pull up if loaded”.  It would get so bad during the spring and winter rainy seasons that even horses could no longer negotiate the road as great clods of clay built up on their hooves, disabling them.

P00168.  1909.  Finlay Webster and his wagon team posed on Dewdney Trunk Road.  Webster was part of the road crew hired to grade and gravel the Trunk Road in 1909.

Perhaps the worst piece of road in town was the hill at the bottom of 224th Street, then Ontario Street, where wagons had to be re-hitched to the front of the horses who then lowered them slowly down the slope, sometimes turning into sleds with their brakes full on and the horses struggling along behind them.

P00172.  ND [1929]. Aerial view of Port Haney and hinterland, looking northeast toward Alouette Lake prior to construction of Lougheed Highway.  Improved (gravel) roads were required to bring people into the neighbourhood villages for business and social activities.  They also improved the delivery of the mail and farm equipment to outlying communities away from the railway and river.

By 1922, there were 110 miles of gravel road in the district.  Road building contracts were considered lucrative and so there were inevitable controversies.  Tom Davison submitted a tender to gravel the Blackstock Road for 200 yards east and west of the Townline Road [216th Street] for the grand sum of $1.85.  This was challenged because he was a school trustee at the time.  

Because of its importance as a construction material and its heavy bulk weight, it has long been important for municipalities to secure gravel mines nearby.  Often the earliest road-building contracts would involve the district paying private land owners for the privilege of extracting rock from their properties nearby a project.  As the need for gravel increased with population growth, larger, centralized quarries began to make sense to operate as businesses.  These quarries were instead subject to royalties, paid to the district for the use of a public resource. The Kirkpatrick family of Webster’s Corners was the proprietors of the district’s major gravel mine, located near the north end of 256th Street.  The district of Maple Ridge also had its own quarry on Thornhill’s Industrial Avenue (now Jackson Road).  Both these facilities were nearing exhaustion in 1995.  

ND [1920-29].  Formal portrait of Fanny Johnson, Webster’s Corners resident and neighbour to Kirkpatrick’s gravel mining operation in the 13600 block of 256th Street.

Although more gravel was located near the Kirkpatrick facility, the municipality had included “policy 17” in its official plan, which stated that new gravel mining would not occur in Webster’s Corners until an alternate trucking route to 256th Street and Dewdney Trunk Road was constructed.  Residents of Webster’s Corners were opposed to truck traffic on Dewdney Trunk Road because they disliked the idea of more heavy vehicles moving through their community.  In the early 2000s, with no local source, gravel for construction projects was being introduced from Mission and Pitt Meadows (Sheridan Hill), and the district was foregoing royalties on gravel extraction which – pending some proposals – could total in the millions of dollars.  Rezoning in 2008 allowed a municipal gravel pit in the area to move forwards, so long as annual hauls down 256th Street were limited to 300,000 cubic metres and the municipality developed its concept for Abernethy Way as an alternative trucking route. Proposals by the Katzie Nation and private concessionaires for new quarries in the area were made in 2012.