COLUMN: A life tied to the mighty Fraser River

If ever there is a man inextricably tied to the Fraser River it must be Albert Gibson.

Albert Gibson on the bridge of his former ship

Faces, Places and Traces by Mark Rushton

If ever there is a man inextricably tied to the Fraser River it must be Albert Gibson. He was born above its banks, lived his whole life beside it, and spent his entire working career on it.

Albert’s grandfather moved his family to what is now North Bradner/Mount Lehman in 1907, coming from Red Deer in the newly minted Province of Alberta that, until 1905 was part of the North West Territories.

They settled on land “just across the road” from where Albert lives today; grandfather being employed as the “clerk” of the municipality of Matsqui. One of his roles was to collect, on foot, door-to-door, municipal taxes each year. So trusted by the council, tax payment cheques were actually made out to J.A. Gibson rather than to “Matsqui,” grandfather then transferring the collected funds to municipal coffers.

Albert was born on the family homestead next door to his current home 85 years ago and is one of very few residents to have “Mount Lehman” listed on his birth certificate.

However, while Albert has lived on virtually the same land above the Fraser for all of his eight and a half decades, his career on the river has been the remarkable part of his life. From deckhand to captain, Albert has done it all. From steam tugs to captain of the last sternwheeler to ply the river, ending his marine days in the 1990s as captain of the Fort Langley ferries that concluded their service with construction of Golden Ears Bridge.

In fact, on one of the last runs of the ferries on July 28, 2009 (the bridge opened on June 16 of that year) MLA Michael de Jong and I accompanied Albert for a final ride on the M.V. Kulleet, one of the five ferries he had captained over the years.

A vessel that played a huge part in Albert’s life was the steam-powered Samson V paddle wheeler that currently rests in New Westminster, serving as a floating museum to the Fraser’s history.

Another of Albert’s memorable ships was the King Edward, operated by the Dominion of Canada and used originally as a floating dredge in the conversion of Sumas Lake into what we now know as Sumas Prairie.

Captain Gibson piloted this mighty ship for a number of years, its paddles driving him and his crew throughout the Fraser estuary and Gulf of Georgia, even as farup the coast as Ocean Falls, checking on government docks and supplying construction materials for government projects.

Even Albert’s home, filled with historical memorabilia (mostly associated with ancient vessels on the river, along with archives of the Mt. Lehman community) has a maritime story to tell.

Albert bought his current home site in 1953, but it wasn’t until 1975 that he bought a house in Burnaby and had it barged up the Fraser to Fort Langley and thence via truck and road to its present site.

Albert lost his wife Elaine a few years ago, but their two daughters visit often with their families. In fact, last weekend they and some or all of Albert’s seven great-grandchildren were partying on his lawns, splashing in his pool and reliving a family life that has been attached to that land, and the mighty Fraser, for almost 110 years.

markrushton@shaw.ca

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