A highly detailed scale-model of Clayburn when it was a company town is on display at the village’s local museum. (Patrick Penner photo.)

A highly detailed scale-model of Clayburn when it was a company town is on display at the village’s local museum. (Patrick Penner photo.)

Abbotsford’s Clayburn Village: A short history on B.C.’s first company town

Clayburn Brick Company laid the foundation for industry in the Fraser Valley

A century ago, the labourers digging earth out of the clay mines of Sumas Mountain to make bricks at the local plant probably didn’t know they were laying the foundation for today’s city.

Abbotsford had yet to even exist. There was only a tiny town called Clayburn – B.C.’s first company town.

One of those labourers was Cyril Holbrow’s father.

Holbow, a 98-year-old decorated veteran of the Second World War, grew up in Clayburn in the 1920s. He is known as the walking encyclopedia for the history of the entire village.

“I’ve been collecting things all my life,” he said.

Most of the historical documents and artifacts on display at Clayburn’s local museum were personally recovered by him.

Holbrow is eager to share the history he’s had a passion for preserving his entire life.

That history begins with the first European family in the area, the pioneering Maclures.

The Maclure family made the discovery of a specialized fire-resistant clay hidden in Sumas Mountain in 1904. The find sparked a flow of financial capital and workers which would lead to the creation of the Clayburn Brick Company.

The engineering feats achieved by that early company were beyond impressive, says Gerry Lane of Clayburn Village Community Society.

“When you go through and you see the history of it, it’s amazing what they did for that time,” he said. “They were building 90-foot trestles going from one mountain hill over to another one.”

The completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in eyesight of the mountain saw the sought-after product transported to eager buyers across the country and exported as far away as Russian and China.

The future of industry in the Fraser Valley was set in stone – or rather, clay.

When the economic depression of the 1930s hit, the plant closed and many of the families moved away but some stayed, like the Holbrows.

But the visual layout of the remaining heritage buildings still serve as a reminder of the class divisions of early 20th century history.

Stark contrasts can be seen between the properties of the managers and labourers for the company. The manager’s houses all have double-size lots, are two stories high, and have cement foundations and indoor plumbing. The workers all lived in single-storey bungalows made with simple foundations of clay and brick.

The local museum has a highly detailed scale model of the village at its height, which took over two years to complete.

Holbrow has been on the front lines of safeguarding Abbotsford’s early history. His efforts helped set up the heritage committee which succeeded in getting Clayburn Village protected as a heritage site in 1996.

But the fight is far from over. Local residents have been concerned recently over the real-estate development endangering the village’s heritage buildings.

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