Emily Patterson’s midnight canoe journey

Emily Patterson’s midnight canoe journey

Vancouver author Lisa Anne Smith suggested we ask the Transcribimus community to take on this four-page letter about Vancouver pioneer Emily Patterson. Emily set out during a dangerous gale in the autumn 1883 to save the life of Mrs. Erwin, wife of the Point Atkinson lighthouse keeper. Lisa Anne discovered this letter while doing research for her latest book, Emily Patterson: the Heroic Life of a Milltown Nurse. The letter was written in 1935 by Emily’s granddaughter, Mrs. Crackanthorpe, to Major Matthews, Vancouver’s first archivist.

Lisa Anne will be presenting her book to the Vancouver Historical Society on Thursday May 24th at 7:30 pm at the Museum of Vancouver.

original handwritten letter here

Transcription made in March of 2018 by Transcribimus volunteer Mary Ann Capistrano
and Cathy Harmer

Nov. 23rd 1935
Dear Major Matthews,
We received your letter this morning and will try to give you as much information as possible regarding my grandmother’s trip to Point Atkinson.
Mother does not remember the names of the Indians who took her down, but they were from the Indian Ranch at Moodyville then located where the elevator is now. I will tell you the story exactly as Mother and my uncle know it and you can condense it to suit yourself. They are both here now prompting me.
Shortly after five o’clock on a stormy day in the late Fall of 1883, two Indians came to the door with a note from Mr. Walter
Erwin asking my Grandmother to come as soon as possible as Mrs. Erwin was dangerously ill and in great need of help. Grandmother rushed upstairs and got her things together and went down to the Indian ranch, (the Masters of Etta White and Leonora having refused to put out) and the Indians put her in a canoe with blankets and put out. Two Indians went with her. Some begged her not to go as by this time a regular gale was blowing but she knew nothing of fear. They made it as far as “Skunk Cove” now Caulfields, but couldn’t reach Pt. Atkinson as the gale was now terrible just there so they had to tromp from there, the distance being about a mile, to the lighthouse, through thick forest and rough hills. There was a very small path but all this took place after dark and it was very black. One Indian went ahead of her and one behind
her and they made it to Pt Atkinson lighthouse after four hours from the time they left Moodyville now the worse for their trip. When she arrived, Mr. Erwin shouted, “I knew you’d come, I knee you’d come. Mrs. Erwin scarcely knew her.
That is the story, Major Matthews absolutely correct. We think that the Indians who brought the note must have been coming in point Atkinson and Mr. Erwin hailed them. You see it would be much easier and the storm would not have been so hard or probably may not have even started. Another thing too, all of this took place after dark which made the trip more dangerous. Some did not believe that Mr. Erwin had sent the note and that it was just a trial with the intention of foul play. But the Indians loved her far too much for that. They said she went off laughing and knew that she would be taken care of.
Mother would like me to say a few words about Mr. & Mrs. Erwin and the true friends they were. One can imagine the relief to him as he was quite alone with his wife and he never forgot. He proved his loyal friendship in many many ways both to Grandma and her family and when she was in her last illness he was here with anything and everything she wanted.
I hope this hasn’t been too long but it is hard for me to condense my thoughts very much. We have had a slight touch of flu but are better now.
Hoping you are well and with kindest regards from us both.
Muriel Crackanthorpe
PS. I forgot to mention that Mr. Erwin also rewarded the Indians who braved that trip handsomely. — MC

Vancouver Chinese Merchants’ Exchange letter to Thomas Tracy – 1896

Vancouver Chinese Merchants’ Exchange letter to Thomas Tracy – 1896

On September 14, 1896, Imperial Statesman Li Hung Chung visited Vancouver. The Vancouver Chinese Merchants’ Exchange asked the City Engineer, Col. Thomas Tracy to design a triumphal arch for the occasion, and sent him this letter of thanks for his design [Vancouver City Archives Reference Code: AM960].

One page of the letter was in Chinese, one page was in English.  You can read our volunteers’ transcriptions of these letters (and comments on the Chinese writing) below the original images.


English page: transcribed by Gent Ng, L. Ellema, and Chris Stepehenson
Col. Tracy,
Dear Sir:
Will you be pleased to
accept the accompanying pair of
flower vases as an expression of our
gratitude to you for the excellent
manner in which you so kindly
designed our arch on the occasion
of the visit of His Excellency Li
Hung Chang.
Very respectfully presented
By The Chinese Merchants Exchange

Chinese page: transcribed, translated, and with commentary by Anonymous

Translator’s note: The original Chinese text is written by one that was equivalent to a
semi-literate individual, lacking formal education as reflected by the
socio-economic conditions of the Chinese migrants of the times.

The use of certain Chinese words and/or grammar of the times was incorrect.


迎李中堂大人衆蒙Col. Tracy地利仕大人繪龍門一座畫得十分流麗故聊贈與花蹲一對仰祈笑納



–English direct transliteration to follow–

(To) welcome (His Excellency) Chung-tong Li, Official, our request to (Col.) Tracy, Official, to draft a Dragon’s Gate was very fluently received; and (which we) would like to gift a pair of flower vases in hopes of (Col. Tracy’s) satisfaction.


(For) Official Tracy’s joyful satisfaction

Chinese Hall (present day Chinese Benevolent Association)
respectfully sends

The finished arch was built on the CPR wharf to welcome His Excellency Li Hung Chung.
Here is a picture of the finished arch (Vancouver Archives reference code AM54-S4-: SGN 1081)

A Vancouver child’s letter to grandma – October 18, 1909

A Vancouver child’s letter to grandma – October 18, 1909

This anonymous Vancouver child of 1909’s letter is in the Vancouver City Archives, [Reference AM336-S2] and indexed as “letter from unidentified child”. Assigned to write a letter during school hours, the child apparently took a break mid-sentence from writing to grandma and turned over the page to draw “robers and cowboys.”

This letter was transcribed by Transcribimus volunteers Leesa and L. Ellema.  Their transcription is below the original handwriting and drawing.


Dear Grandma :-
I received your welcome letter. Glad to hear that you are well, I am going to school and in the third Reader, we are all well, I am writing this letter in school.

This is a fine city I only wish you were here we have street cars running all over the city. It is all lit up at night there is a bit light on every corner, some of the biggest ships come here from all parts of the world, we have a building here 16 stories high, we got a lot of chicken’s and we get 5 eggs a day. I am working at a grocery store.

Rev. H.G. Fiennes-Clinton’s letter home – April 3, 1886

Rev. H.G. Fiennes-Clinton’s letter home – April 3, 1886

Rev. H.G. Fiennes-Clinton was one of the first clergy of St. James’ Church in the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster.  On April 3, 1886, he wrote a letter to his sister-in-law “Lucilla”, Mrs. Clement Fiennes-Clinton, Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire, England, telling her about his life in “Vancouver,” as it was soon to be called.

Vancouver author Lisa Anne Smith first suggested we ask the Transcribimus community to transcribe Father Clinton’s letter. Lisa Anne discovered it while doing research for her latest book, Emily Patterson: the Heroic Life of a Milltown Nurse. Transcribimus volunteers Anonymous and Brenda Chapman have transcribed this letter below.


Add. MSS. No. 192


Vancouver City
British Columbia
April 3, 1886

My dear Lucilla

I got your letter all right yesterday, thank you for it. I left New Westminster about the middle of December to take up my abode among the people of Granville, whom I have been working all along, but used to come over for the Sundays. Lately we have changed our name from the pleasing one of Granville, for the bombastic swaggering title of Vancouver_ It is called this because it is to be the terminus of the great Canadian Pacific Railway and the C.P.R. are so fond of high sounding names, that Granville did not suit them & so they changed it to another which will create much confusion as there is besides Vancouver Island, two other places in the States, one quite near, also called Vancouver.
However all the swagger in the world will


not build houses, and if they don’t mend soon they will have the place a city of shanties, without water, roads or drains_ Drains there are none whatever that does not matter as no one ever gets ill here, so the 4 poor M doctors say._ The roads are quite impassable from the mud holes till this week when a bit of glorious weather has improved matters, though still leaving some awful mudholes, so bad that even a short legged man on horseback can hardly keep his feet out of the mud._ Some new ways they have been making are worse as they cross boggy land and therefore there is no bottom at all to the ways, and if you can once get fairly stuck you might reckon on taking forthwith a journey to the centre of the earth._The water here that folk drink (when they do drink water) is all surface water, in other words drainage, but still the

doctors all four of them are in despair & in bitter disappointment cry out in chorus “no typhoid yet.” There are however 2 good wells in the place and I know where to find one of them: & make a daily pilgrimage with a bucket & rope._ I live in a little house all to myself, and generally get my meals out, though lately I have been boiling my own coffee for breakfast and am my own groom, boots & chambermaid. I will make coffee & beds against all comers_ My horse is one which was lent me for a short time last December, but the owner has never wanted it back yet; I look upon it almost as a gift horse and therefore have not looked into its mouth to see how old the old beast is_ From his pace which is truly dignified I should write him ‘aged’_ He get along with me however all I want_ I have an out-


lying district from 5 to 10 miles away for which I need a beast – I have also another on the water 3 miles away for which I need a boat. We had a concert over there to purchase a boat with a bit since and raised about £7. The boat will cost about £12 altogether. I have meanwhile got it + use it, and greatly enjoy a sail as a run when Duty calls me to undertake that pleasure. I think as it is a glorious afternoon & I feel a bit tired Duty will very likely call me today as duty does not seem to require my presence anywhere else especially.
We have got a nice little church here and don’t we have it full now of a Sunday_ It is the regular thing for some to have to go away_ We shall have to move it soon as it is in the way of a railway track which will be down here soon. All buildings

can be moved here, as they are all built of wood_ hitch on 3 or 4 teams of oxen or horses and off she goes on runners or rollers, exp face. You wd have laughed at one they moved the other day _ about 16 horses on_ they got up steam and moved the thing along_ ran against a telegraph pole & knocked the building all askew & landed it fast in a glorious large mudhole, where they left it. It has since been got out however & is all serene again.
I will shortly be godfather to your little chap – you must let him come and see me sometimes_ I don’t expect to spend all my life out here and hope I shall see you before long. I am so glad to hear that you are so happy together.


I hope all will be well with you. This will reach you about Easter tide_ I have no Easter cards to send, but send my best wishes for a holy and happy East for you both, and the fullness of all Easter blessings. I pray that God may grant you_ nor do I forget the babe with love to Clem and a kiss to the little one believe me
Yrs in affectn:
GH. FiennesClinton

Mrs. B.T. Rogers reminiscences – 1885-1886

Mrs. B.T. Rogers reminiscences – 1885-1886

In the City of Vancouver Archives we found these reminiscences, written by Mrs. B.T. Rogers (born Mary Isabelle Angus) at age 85. She shares her memories of Vancouver seventy years prior, when she visited as a sixteen year old girl.  She saw Vancouver not long before the Great Fire of June 1886, was a passenger on the first CPR train to arrive in Vancouver, and much more.

These pages were transcribed by Transcribimus volunteers Siobhan Devlin and Jenn Ashton in 2018.

original handwritten pages here


Reading about the early discoveries made me think of my first visit to Burrard Inlet, when in February 1886 we came from Victoria to see the site of the proposed Pacific Terminus for the Canadian Pacific Railway. There was no Vancouver then on the Inlet, only a little settlement round the Hastings Saw Mill, a few shacks, considerable clearing, and on the North Shore of the Inlet, the Moodyville Saw Mill.

My father, mother, and I had reached Victoria only a few weeks earlier. We had left England in July, 1885 crossed the Atlantic in the Allan liner Peruvian, stayed in Montreal with Uncle Richard’s family while my father visited several places before deciding where to settle. He finally crossed the continent, part of the trip being on horse back, riding in company with Mr. A. W. Ross M.P. of Winnipeg, through the Kicking Horse Pass, over the uncompleted railway track through the Rockies. He decided on Victoria


for our future home, & returned to Montreal for my mother & me. Then we set out by C.P.R. as far as Winnipeg, from where we went to the States to spend Christmas with the Rennys on their Minnesota farm, & to visit Uncle Sandy & family in Fergus Falls. Then on to Chicago, & by Union Pacific to San Fransisco, where we boarded the Steamer Umatilla for Victoria; we stayed first at the Driard Hotel, then took a small house off Menzies Street, on Simcoe St.

We lost no time in making the journey to the mainland to see the proposed townsite. It was an overnight trip to Burrard Inlet, so we slept comfortably on the S.S. “Princess Louise”. Spent the day exploring the site which was covered with huge felled trees; there was no means of transport, so all this fine timber was burned where it lay on the ground, & the air was thick with its smoke. We clambered over fallen logs, in company with JW. Thos. Sorby, the architect, to the where the C.P.R. was planning to build their hotel.


After a tiring smoky day, we returned to Victoria again, sleeping all night on the boat.

I remember well the fight in the Legislature over the change of name, when Sir Wm van Horne insisted on Granville becoming Vancouver, against the strenuous objections of Vancouver Island. That was in April 1886, & on June 13th 1886 came the fire.

On July 4th, 1886, we again visited the Inlet, this time landing at Port Moody, to meet the first trans. continental train. It was a Sunday, & a great crowd had come over on the steamer Yosemite, which was dangerously overcrowded. Before leaving Victoria at midnight on Saturday, a spectacular fire destroyed a warehouse & store at the N.W. corner of Fort & Government Streets. Many of the Yosemite passengers, who with the Captain – John Irving – had been celebrating the Fourth of July, on Beacon Hill, rushed ashore to the fire, & it was a very excited crowd, (Incidentally Capt. Irving in kilt) that boarded


the boat, where conditions were chaotic, no place to sleep & no food to be had for the majority of the passengers. However, we arrived safely at Port Moody, & when the train rolled in, it was welcomed in turn to the terminus by the Reeve of Port Moody, to the real terminus by Mayor McLean of Vancouver, to the fresh water terminus by the Mayor of New Westminster & finally by the stout Mayor Fell to the Pacific terminus of Victoria. The Premier Alec Davie had come over on the Yosemite, & Col. Wolfenden, the Queen’s printer, to welcome his brother arriving direct from England.

In Vancouver, everywhere there was excitement & real estate speculation. My father bought some lots on Richards Street, opposite where the Holy Rosary Cathedral now stands, & some on Powell Street. On Richards Street, he built two houses which were still in existence until very recently. We stayed at the Sunny Side Hotel, most of which was built on piles over the water. Sanitation was simple,


in the bedroom, you opened the window and dumped the slops into the harbour.

Altogether, the twelve months from July 1885 to July 1886 were an adventurous year for a 16/17 year old schoolgirl. Crossing the Atlantic, & seeing a huge iceberg in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, a smallpox epidemic in Montreal, with the militia called out to quell anti vaccination riots in the French quarter, part of our train wrecked by a spread rail north of Lake Superior in mid winter; forty below for Xmas on the prairies, the sudden change to blossoming spring in California, and attack of rheumatic fever in the Palace Hotel San Francisco, arriving in Victoria limping with a couple of sticks. Then seeing a new city emerging from the forest, sewing & knitting for the refugees from the fire, finally, the arrival of the first Through train. Truly a wonderful year for me.

Videos about early Vancouver

Videos about early Vancouver

A ride through Victoria and Vancouver 1907
(Vancouver begins at about 3.14)
released by the Canadian archives in Ottawa, and enhanced by youtube user guy jones.

Sam Sullivan has made several Kumtuks videos about Vancouver in the early days:

Sam Sullivan’s video about the Chinook Wawa trading language

and more videos from Sam about early British Columbia:

The ward system in Vancouver, 1886

The ward system in Vancouver, 1886

One of the first things the Mayor and Aldermen did when forming a government was to divide Vancouver into five Wards. This was done through Vancouver By-Law No. 3

Wards in Vancouver 1886
Here are the ward boundaries established in 1886, superimposed onto an old map of Vancouver. If you want a closer look, click here for a downloadable PDF of this map.

Speaking of boundaries, you might be interested to see that Nanaimo Street* was the eastern boundary of Vancouver, and Alma Street* was the western boundary. The southern boundary went west along Sixteenth Avenue to Fraser Street, then jogged through the Kingsway and Fraser intersection, and continued along Fifteenth Avenue to Nanaimo Street. That was Vancouver in those days.

The ward boundaries were changed in 1891 through Vancouver By-law No 118 and again in 1895 through Vancouver By-Law No 233.

Later By-laws continued to change the ward boundaries, and increase the number of wards to six (in 1904) , then to eight (in 1911, when Cedar Cottage, Kensington and Riley Park became part of Vancouver).

Then when Point Grey and South Vancouver amalgamated with Vancouver in 1929, the number of wards increased to twelve. Six years later, Vancouverites voted 62% in favour of abolishing the ward system.

* though neither of them were called that then. Nanaimo was called Boundary Road, and Alma was sometimes called Campbell Road and sometimes also Boundary Road. Confused yet?

Vancouver By-law No. 3 dividing the City into Wards

This transcript was made in March of 2018 by Transcribimus volunteer Mary Ann Capistrano

original handwritten by-law here

By Law dividing the City of Vancouver into Wards

Whereas the Act of Incorporation the Council of the City of Vancouver is empowered to divide the City into Wards
Therefore the Mayor and Council of the City of Vancouver in Council Assembled enact as follows
That the City be and is hereby divided into five wards the name to be known and styled as Wards numbers One, Two, Three, Four and Five composed as follows:-

Ward No. 1 Shall be comprised of the Government Military Reserve forming part of the Coal Harbor Peninsula Lot Number 185 Group One, New Westminster District, that part of Lot 541 and False Creek lying West of a line drawn along the centre of Richards Street from the shore of Burrard Inlet to False Creek and North of a line drawn midway between the Banks of False Creek from the Centre of Richards Street produced southwesterly to a point midway between the Banks of False Creek to the mouth of False Creek

Ward No. 2 That part of Lot 541 lying east of the Eastern Boundary of Ward No. 1 and that part of False Creek lying North

Page 2:

of a line drawn midway between the Banks of False Creek from the Centre of Richards Street produced southwesterly to the Centre of the present Traffic Bridge over said False Creek,

Ward No. 3. That part of Lots 196 and 181 Group One New Westminster District lying North of the Centre of Hastings Street

Ward No 4. Lots 182, 183, 184, 264a, those parts of Lots 196 and 181 lying South of the Centre of Hastings Street, that part of False Creek lying East of the present Traffic Bridge and that part of Lot _(torn -196?)___ lying within the City Limits,

Ward No 5. That part of the City of Vancouver bounded on the East by the Western Boundary of Lot 264a, the shore of False Creek to the present Traffic Bridge and along said Traffic Bridge to a point midway between the Banks of False Creek, on the North by a line drawn midway between the Banks of False Creek from the Centre of said Traffic Bridge to the mouth of said Creek, thence by a line drawn Southwest across the mouth of False Creek to the point __(torn – off)__ English Bay west of the Indian Reserve, thence along the shore of English Bay to the Western Boundary of the City, on the West by the Western boundary of the City and on the South by the Southern Boundary of the City.

M. A. MacLean
Thos F McGuigan
City Clerk

Reading the handwritten minutes

Reading the handwritten minutes

Reading the original handwriting from the early Vancouver City Council minutes can be a challenge. The nineteenth-century script is a spiky form of cursive, written with pen and ink; not always easy for twenty-first century eyes to decipher.

Some of the terms common in the minutes are no longer in use.  Some words can be figured out in in the context of the sentence. Others, such as names, are far more difficult.

Here are some articles and resources to help volunteer transcribers and the public read and understand the original handwritten minutes of early Vancouver.