In 1872, New Westminster was struggling to recover from both the loss of the capital status to Victoria in 1868 and, like many other communities, the decline in the economic benefits of the Fraser River gold rush.
There was still prospecting in the canyon, but the major areas were now north and east of where it had been.
The steamboat trade was beginning to show more influence with both cargo and passengers connecting Vancouver Island to the mainland, the Burrard Inlet area, and via the Fraser to the rich lands of the delta and the Fraser Valley. The Royal City continued to be a mercantile centre of the region with shipped goods arriving from around the area and around the world.
The previous year, the combined colonies of British Columbia and Vancouver Island had become a province in the confederation that was Canada.
The town had a hospital, albeit small and in need of help; a library that was finding its way as it served the citizens; a school that was already too small; and many other businesses and amenities that were aiming to do great things. A formalized May Day celebration was destined to become even more popular than it already was.
The Irving family occupied a large home on the hillside. Captain William Irving was a major proponent of the area's river trade, and he was a renowned riverboat captain. He had maritime connections including the east and west coasts of North America, the Sacramento River of California, and the Columbia and Willamette Rivers of Oregon.
After the family acquired the property from William Clarkson, their home was soon constructed and they moved to it from Victoria in the summer of 1865, travelling to the Fraser on one of their own vessels, the highly regarded Onward. The family took an active part in the affairs of their city apart from the business. They were involved with the school, the hospital, the library, local politics and the discussions that led to B.C. becoming a part of Canada.
In August of 1872, William had been ill, but then the unthinkable happened. As noted in the paper, "This sad event occurred on Wednesday morning last, the 28th inst., and although Capt. Irving had been very ill for some days, the disease appeared to be giving way before the medical treatment, and the most hopeful anticipa-tions were indulged in. It was therefore a great shock to the entire community, when the end came."
Captain William Irving had died.
Every year we mark this anniversary with a visit to the captain's grave in the Masonic section of Fraser Cemetery.
He was an interesting man with strong river connections and he and his family were important members of this community. As the paper also noted: "His pure heart has ceased to beat; the remembrance of his good actions will live forever."