By Eric Andersen
Published: March. 3, 2012.
The Squamish Project of Sewell Moody was a game-changer for the development of our valley. But his story also involves a tantalizing ‘What if?’ – What if he had survived the 1875 SS Pacific disaster?
An interesting permanent exhibit at the Vancouver Maritime Museum concerns the fate of the man who first pre-empted the delta lands at the Head of Howe Sound, encompassing today’s Downtown Squamish and harbourfront. It is Fragment from Wreck of SS PACIFIC with notation by S.P. Moody:
“All lost, S.P. Moody.”
A Historic Site plaque on a bluff above the North Vancouver waterfront commemorates Sewell Prescott Moody (c.1837-1875): “In the 1860s and 1870s Sewell Moody became the first entrepreneur to engage in the export of British Columbia lumber on a successful and continuing basis. From his mill on the north shore of Burrard inlet, this shrewd businessman established new shipping routes to deliver British Columbia lumber around the world…”
Another ‘notation’ left by S.P. Moody – less famous, but more significant for Squamish – is a letter to the Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works in Victoria, preserved in the Provincial Archives:
“Moodyville, Burrard Inlet
May 28th, 1875
I am desirous of purchasing a tract of land at the mouth of the Squamisht River at the head of Howe Sound by about 640 acres for the purpose of making a Hay Ranch the principal part of the said land is tide land overflowed by Spring tides and the usual running freshets of the said river and it is entirely useless for any other purpose than that for which I wish to obtain it and prior to its being so utilised would require considerable outlay in the way of dyking and draining.
I am aware that it at present forms part of a Government Reserve made so by Proclamation in the Government Gazette dated 23rd February 1871 but thought that the Government might wish to dispose of it in the event of its being so used as to be of benefit to the Country.”
It could be said this letter is something like a “Birth Certificate” of modern Squamish.
The letter is signed by James Van Bramer, a business partner of S.P. Moody, who along with Moses Cross Ireland made up the original 1865 sawmilling venture investors at “Moodyville”, as theBurrard Inlet townsite came to be known by the early 1870s. Moody and Ireland came from the state of Maine, were still U.S. citizens, and thus could not pre-empt Crown land. Capt. Van Bramer, a New Yorker, had recently taken an “oath of allegiance to Her Majesty”. So it was under Van Bramer’s name the application would be submitted.
Was Squamish “entirely useless” for anything more than a hay ranch, as the letter claims?
Captain G.H. Richards of the British Navy, surveying our local waters back in 1860 (when he named our Mt. Garibaldi), Howe Sound was a “probably useless sheet of water”, and “the Squawmisht …leads by no useful or even practicable route into the interior of the country.”
By 1871, however, the year B.C. entered Confederation, the Head of Howe Sound was being reassessed as to strategic importance – in connection with promises and plans for a railway to the west coast, and also with growing interest in a trail or road from the Lillooet-Clinton area cattle raising country to coastal markets.
In the Provincial legislature in Victoria, a motion was passed on February 23, 1971 to undertake surveying for a potential “Howe Sound Trail” from Lillooet – the same day a Government Reserve was proclaimed over the Squamish River delta, identified as a possible transcontinental railway terminus site.
Sewell Moody and business partners lobbied to have the trail and railway completed to the coast so as to benefit their Burrard Inlet enterprise. In addition, every survey crew working in the region would set off or arrive at Moodyville. Moody and Co. intelligence regarding route plans was excellent.
There is no doubt that Moody and partners had a speculative interest in the potential of Squamish as future harbour site, in addition to its usefulness as a hay ranch and beef cattle pasture.
However, the Moodyville investors’ visits to Squamish (in the sidewheeler steamer Cariboo and Fly) were causing concerns among the Squamish people. These were spelled out for the Deputy Indian Commissioner in a Sept. 2, 1875 letter by R.H. Alexander, manager of the rival Hastings sawmill and friend of Chief Joseph (Mak-nah-til-tun) at Sta-mus village:
“Up there they have never been disturbed till now. There was a government reserve at the mouth of the river until lately but it has been taken off and parties have recently been up there surveying and staking off land, one Indian telling one that his garden is included in some one’s pre-emption. What they naturally want is to have their land given them before the new whites interfere with them up there and I must say I think they have justice on their side.”
The Indian Reserve Commission, led by joint commissioner G.M. Sproat, would arrive in Capt. Van Bramer’s steamer, the SS Leonora, in November 1876, to establish Squamish Valley reserves and settle the matter of the proposed boundaries of the Moodyville syndicate’s Squamish delta pre-emption application.
The obstacles were addressed, Chief Joseph was made happy, and the Moodyville businessmen were granted their application. The Squamish delta lands were divided between the Indian Reserve No.21 and Moody’s pre-emption (the future townsite) along today’s Pemberton Avenue.
The new Moodyville tugboat, the Etta White, would ferry supplies for establishing the ranch, and would return towing timber for the mill, from land clearing and upper Howe Sound handloggers.
It is likely the Squamish delta venture lost momentum after a few years. According to William Mashiter, who in the 1890s took over managing the ranch for new investor-owners, “Sue Moody went down in the Pacific, and after that the place went to pot. The 410 acres lay vacant.”
Moses Ireland, timber cruiser for the Moodyville sawmill, may have explored the Squamish Valley as early as the 1860s. By the 1870s, it is known that Sewell Moody had him look for timber supplies in Squamish and elsewhere, as the nearby Burrard Inlet supply was by then almost exhausted.
Ireland later claimed Moody had instructed him to locate a site for second sawmill, immediately before his death. Could Squamish have been a potential site ?
In the late 1880s, Ireland’s Squamish timber claims were given over by him to T.B. Merrill of Michigan’s Merrill & Ring lumber concern. Development of these claims waited until the late 1920s. By 1940, all of this timber, from the lower Stawamus to Brohm Lake, was harvested and shipped to American sawmills in Puget Sound.
What might have happened for the Squamish Project, had “the enterprising” Sewell P. Moody not gone down with the Pacific?