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Most of the historical documents and artifacts on display at Clayburn’s local museum were personally recovered by him.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

RELATED: Can a lot have heritage value?

RELATED: Large Sumas Mountain quarry up for sale

Just Posted

Trudeau has won the most seats — but not a majority. What happens next?

Trudeau will have to deal with some of the implications of Monday’s result

LIVE MAP: Results in Canada’s 2019 federal election

Polls are now closed across the country

ELECTION 2019: Here are the results from our 12 B.C. races to watch

Incumbents mostly won our 12 key races, but there were a few upsets too

MAP: Abbotsford’s five biggest new building projects of 2019

New apartment buildings dominate the list of 2019’s most valuable building permits

Alleged RCMP secret leaker must live with parents in Abbotsford while on bail

Cameron Ortis, 47, is charged with violating the Security of Information Act

In the news: Liberals eke out a win, but will need NDP, Green support to pass bills

Conservatives say they are ready if Trudeau should falter

Owner of seafood company pleads guilty to illegally importing fish into U.S.

‘We would not put customer health and safety at risk’: Seven Seas Fish

Vancouver artist casts bronze ‘replacement’ egg for defaced Dali sculpture

Artist Richard Forbes installed the new egg after the original was stolen

Federal election saw 66% of registered voters hit the polls across Canada

Roughly 18 million people cast their ballots, voting in a Liberal minority government

‘Inconsistent’ message on climate change hurt Liberals at the polls: SFU prof

Trudeau government will have to make concessions to hold onto power

Opposition to Trans Mountain won’t change, B.C. minister says

Pipeline projects proceed under minority Trudeau government

Remains found under Kamloops street belong to woman who lived five centuries ago

Woman was between ages of 50 and 59, gave birth at least once, was right-handed

Greta Thunberg to attend post-election climate strike in Vancouver

Sustainabiliteens Vancouver strike expected to emphasize need for cross-party collaboration

Security guard bitten, punched by patient at Terrace hospital

Violent incident is one of many in northwest B.C., nurses’ union says

Most Read