Every year, the third Monday of February is designated Heritage Day in Canada. It also marks the start of Heritage Week in B.C. and communities throughout the province celebrate, with Heritage BC setting the theme.
This year's theme is "Energy in B.C.: A Powerful Past, a Sustainable Future."
This got us wondering: When did the lights first turn on in Coquitlam?
Perhaps not surprisingly when it comes to historical matters, a simple question often doesn't have a simple answer. In the context of Coquitlam's historic Mackin House, built in 1909, the simple question was whether there was water and electric power supplied to the house when it was built. Visitors to the Mackin House Museum have often asked the question but museum staff members have been unable to provide a definitive answer as there are no known records in existence.
The prevailing thought has been that, when built, Mackin House did not have power or running water. Lacking a sufficiently detailed history of the house, "informed inference" has been our best tool.
The March 26, 1913 issue of the Coquitlam Star newspaper provides a tantalizing clue. On that date, the paper published the following: "After long delay, the electric lights are now installed and in use in 'Frenchtown,' or Maillardville. The Western Canada Power Company having now completed operation on the Pitt River Road [now Brunette] and Church Street."
It might make sense, then, to assume that Mackin House, sitting at the cusp of Maillardville and Fraser Mills, would naturally take advantage of this development.
But it turns out this would not be so for Mackin House. Mackin House likely did have electricity and water supplies when built several years earlier. How do we know? A careful reading of Early Days at Fraser Mills, B.C. from 1889-1912 by John Stewart suggests the answer.
Originally, the house was the residence for the Fraser Mills sales manager, Henry James Mackin. It was a company-built home, certainly of superior design and construction to most workers' mill houses and, while built on the edge of the town site, it was still part of the Fraser Mills town site. The town of Fraser Mills was perfectly self-contained - a purpose-built world.
In 1908, the mill had its own 150-kilowatt generator supplying electric power to operate some mill machinery, light the mill buildings and the surrounding village of mill houses. It was the company's responsibility to supply light and water for its staff and their families in the mill housing. A 12-inch main pipeline from Como Lake supplied water by gravity to the town site. Burning wood waste would probably have powered the electricity generator.
While the lights may have been coming on in 1909 in the town site and in Mackin House, electricity's availability and reliability might have been a question. Certainly, mill operations would have been the priority and the extension of the electrical services to all points in town would have taken some time. It is interesting and perhaps indicative that the company store sold "coal oil" for lighting purposes by a metered pump.
The concept of an autonomous, clearly delineated industry town is fascinating historically; it has shaped the development of many B.C. communities. Fraser Mills reflected the model and took it a step further when it incorporated in 1913.
Specific references to the electrical services provided to Mackin House are missing but the "informed inference" approach seems to have pointed us to some plausible conclusions. And if anyone has the definitive answer, the Coquitlam Heritage Society would like to be the first to know.
Your History is a column in which, once a month, representatives of the Tri-Cities' three heritage groups writes about local history. Jill Cook is executive director of the Coquitlam Heritage Society.