Family dynasty rooted in Sumas soil

Fred Fooks was a man of vision. He first arrived in Canada as a merchant sailor ...

William Fooks

William Fooks

On the Other Hand by Mark Rushton

Fred Fooks was a man of vision. He first arrived in Canada as a merchant sailor, but when it was discovered he was only 14 years old, on the ship’s return to England he was summarily dismissed.

He was of the opinion, however, that England was no place for an entrepreneurial spirit and finally, after marrying and with children, he arrived in B.C. to stay in late 1885.

At that time he was a surveyor, engaged to help survey the new “city” of Vancouver. Within months, he also built and owned the first theatre/music hall –where the attractions in the “theatre” were more equivalent to today’s strip bars. Interestingly, under the bylaws of the day, the greater the state of undress of the entertainer, the less she was allowed to move . . . becoming an immobile statue, much, I assume, in the vein of Venus di Milo.

Unfortunately, after only a week’s operation, the theatre went up in flames along with much of the rest of Vancouver in the Great Fire of June 13, 1886.

Fred soon opened another bar, but by 1897 dropped his interest in catering to prurient desires in favour of employment by the federal government, surveying the mineral potential of Sumas Mountain.

It was, it seems, love at first sight, and he immediately homesteaded 640 acres that stretched from the slopes of what is now McKee Peak to the Sumas River, bounded on the east by the Indian reserve, on the west by Whatcom Road.

There he settled with his wife and two children, eventually acquiring even more land over the saddle that now contains the Whatcom Road connector and the wide powerline right-of-way.

On the lands they grew grain, planting in the early spring, then leaving for homes in New Westminster during the mosquito season, since what is now Sumas Prairie was a vast shallow lake that made summer living intolerable due to the biting bugs.

Fred, on acquiring his land, was quick to get into local politics, and within a few months of arriving here, became the reeve of Sumas (1897-1901) followed by a second term 16 years later.

It was his son William (Bill) who was the farmer in the family, and in 1926 he expanded operations by acquiring land in Clayburn Village. On that land still lives Fred’s great-great-great-grandchildren.

On the Sumas farm, great-grandson Bill (I’ve always known him, as does the family, as Willy) lives on the heritage homestead. And in September, in a house adjacent to that land, a seventh generation is expected.

In 1971, at the suggestion of the Fooks family, I acquired a small farm adjacent to their large holdings in Clayburn. My kids went to school with their kids in the community’s one-room schoolhouse, and though I sold the Clayburn property in 1981, I’ve continued to buy hay from them over a span of 40 years.

I’m not sure how much longer I will need hay, but I’m certain the legacy of family farming Fred Fooks and his son Bill left will continue on those same lands, first acquired more than 128 years ago, for many more generations to come.

PHOTO ABOVE: John Fooks, great-grandson of Fred, holds his great aunt’s teacup that she acquired in 1903.