YOUR HISTORY:Pioneer family’s tale of railroads, rivers, roots
Port Coquitlam has had a strong sense of community throughout its history. And the strength of any community, similar to a mighty oak tree, is found in solid roots.
The pioneers and early settlers who came to this area many years ago to start a new life endured tough times and hardship along the way. Many were unable to make a go of it and left this untamed land behind. Others who stuck it out persevered in spite of the odds.
The following story tells of an early pioneering family that did just that.
On Queen Victoria’s birthday — May 24, 1889 — George Mouldey, his wife Emily and newborn son arrived at the Canadian Pacific Railway station at Westminster Junction in a haze of smoke and billowing steam from their westbound train. They had just travelled from Toronto across the vast prairies and through the towering Rockies, the new trans-continental railway service having only just been introduced to the west coast three years before. This small, rural farming and logging community was soon to be part of the District of Coquitlam, which was incorporated in 1891.
George Mouldey had emigrated from England in 1887 and it was in Toronto that he met and married Emily Rosina Joy, whose family had left England as well, back in 1881, to start a new life in Canada.
At the invitation of George Black, a local land owner who sponsored many new homesteaders to the area, the young family came west.
When they alighted from the train, the few buildings that surrounded the train station west of the Coquitlam River included Bob Kelly’s Saloon and the Junction Hotel, owned by Kelly’s father-in-law Colonel J.T. Scott. There was no road connection across the river, so their luggage was piled on a railway hand car and they were taken back across the wooden train trestle east to Schoolhouse Road (now Mary Hill Road). There, a team of oxen and wagon from the Black Ranch were waiting to take them up the hill to the 160-acre ranch, which was located a mile to the south along Pitt River Road. Mr. Black was building a new house on his property that still stands today on Mary Hill Road as the city’s oldest residence.
Mary Hill was still heavily forested, although timber crews of Chinese workers hacked away at the woods continuously to supply firewood for CP Rail’s ravenous wood-burning trains. Along the route, they would have passed by present-day Rowland Park, where the land for the district’s first school, named Junction School, was being cleared. The one-room schoolhouse would open in 1890 and serve the community until James Park and Central Schools were built in 1913 and 1914 respectively.
Building a life wasn’t easy for the Mouldeys. George had to carry the boards on his back for two and a half miles for the construction of his first house on Victoria Drive, on property he bought from Joshua Pickering. In later years, the locals knew it as the Grimshaw place.
Emily often walked the paths and dirt roads in her bare feet to save wear on her shoes. She would travel these same paths, sometimes in the dead of night, on errands of mercy to help deliver the newborn babies of her neighbours.
Bears were as plentiful as blackberries in those days and, often, Emily would have to share the same patch with the four-legged critters while picking berries — and those same bruins would also nose around their house during the night.
George tended cattle for a year or two and tried commercial fishing before running the hand-operated ferry that crossed the Pitt River before there were any road bridges spanning the waterway. During this time, the family lived on a scow that was moored on the river close by, no doubt saving time for George commuting to work.
In 1910, the Mouldeys built a fine, solid house on Flint Street across from Aggie Park that stood for many years. It was quite a common occurrence for the Pioneer Ladies of Coquitlam to get together for a visit, such as in 1934, when 22 other ladies joined Emily for a group photo on the steps of their house.
After working for years at the steam plant at Essondale and retiring in 1935, George Mouldey passed away at age 85 in June 1951; Emily was in her 92nd year when she died in October 1955, one of the last of Coquitlam’s early settlers.
It was the railroad that brought the Mouldeys and others to the area, and the rivers that sustained them and brought employment. They also put down their roots, so to speak, roots that would eventually take hold and help a small rural settlement grow into the modern city we know today as Port Coquitlam.
Your History is a column in which, once a month, representatives of the Tri-Cities’ three heritage groups writes about local history. Bryan Ness is a member of the Port Coquitlam Heritage and Cultural Society.