River plays integral role in city's history

This weekend is FraserFest, when thousands of people will gather on the New Westminster waterfront at Westminster Quay to celebrate the great river that flows past the town's site. Many of the events and activities will be related to the river and our maritime heritage. We will be there, very pleased once again to be part of the harbour cruises on behalf of Port Metro Vancouver and also pleased to be working with our friends on the MV Native.

A local company has been closely tied to the river since it began 100 years ago and even has the river in its name: Fraser River Pile and Dredge.

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Those local people who live near the river or who have walked the esplanade over the past couple of weeks will have noticed company equipment working on the dam-aged Queensborough rail bridge. Fraser River Pile and Dredge is Canada's largest marine construction and dredging contractor, and their pile driving and dredging equipment includes some absolutely enormous cranes - cranes that many have watched at work recently.

Pile driving and dredging have been part of local river history since the early 1860s with the arrival of the Royal Engineers.

We know that there was a local pile driver from 1863 city council minutes, which stated that "a resolution was passed request-ing the president (mayor) to apply to the government for the purpose of obtaining possession of the pile-driver at the Royal Engineers' Camp." From further comments it is clear that the city got this driver and was using it along the river.

An intriguing Royal Engineer pile driving story from this period includes driving piles upstream at Harrison River. The 1859 to 1860 project concerned building a diversion and control in the channel of that tributary of the Fraser, and one particular sapper was noted for his role in the work. It was reported that Sapper Sturtridge's task was to stand chestdeep in the icy river, holding the piling in place while it was driven into the river bed. Sturtridge developed rheumatism from this work as he was frequently so numb he had to be pulled from the river.

Heavy industry will always attract attention and some pile driving activity in the city's downtown certainly drew a crowd in 1911. A newspaper article reported "Piling Begins - Work was commenced today on the piling for the foundation of the new BCER depot block corner of Columbia and Eighth streets. The methods of a pile driver crew are always interesting and attracted the attention of a small crowd."

When you're at FraserFest this weekend, remember the importance of the Fraser River to the people of this province, from the First Nations who trace their connections back thousands of years to the river activities of today, including examples like Fraser River Pile and Dredge who have been on this river for the past 100 years.

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