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Looking back 100 years: Sumas Lake dam cost $667K to build in 1923

Abbotsford’s newspaper archives add insight to the drainage of Sumas Lake
A clipping from the Nov. 29, 1923 edition of the Abbotsford, Sumas and Matsqui News.

Throughout the year, this newspaper has been diving into the archives as a way to mark 100 years of community journalism in Abbotsford.

One of the main local topics in 1923 was the active drainage of Sumas Lake, and we’ve followed week by week as it’s slowly become the some-12,000 acres of farmland it is today. And in the Nov. 29, 1923 edition of the Abbotsford, Sumas & Matsqui News, there is finally a tally of the financial cost of building the dam: $667,660. That’s nearly $11 million in today’s dollars, according to the Bank of Canada.

While the land was expected to be ready for cultivation by the spring of 1924, the province was doubtful that all that “new” land would sell by spring. Also, the government was apparently going back on earlier statements made in 1920 that property owners would not have to pay anything for five years from the date of signing a contract.

However, interest was going to start being collected a year in advance, starting in January 1924. Failure to pay would result in losing holdings.

But that wasn’t the only ongoing saga that was capturing the interest of the different small communities that made up what is now Abbotsford. The incorporation of Abbotsford as a town was imperative, and quite a fervor was being whipped up through the pages of The News, with the editor urging everyone to come together and vote toward “the cause.”

This week’s missive explained that time was running out to do it in 1923, and meetings were being held quite often to go over the implications for everyone, but mostly for white, male property owners.

Racism and a general distrust and disdain for people of Asian ancestry was also a theme through the year. But this week’s edition really underscored how deep this division was at the time. The top story detailed a two-hour meeting at a “Men’s Club” with an unidentified man who gave a “masterly address (on) a most serious problem to every white citizen of B.C. – the Oriental menace.”

The fears included that Asian customs would cause widespread paganism, that adult men were posing as school children and causing danger to “white children,” and that contract labour common among the local Chinese would have a negative economic effect.

The speaker’s solutions included head taxes, taking land away, and closing immigration for Asian people.

The editor wrote that “just as the Asiatics have encroached all through the valley on the north side to the Fraser, to the increasing exclusion of white settlers, so they are slowly but surely approaching this section.”

Meanwhile, basketball games were a big draw for the community but a group of teenagers got too wild in the rafters of the Harrop hall and caused some damage. The editor cautioned them to do their part to keep the hall open for the games.

READ MORE: 100 Years Ago: Abbotsford prepares for Armistice Day with local veterans

Jessica Peters

About the Author: Jessica Peters

I began my career in 1999, covering communities across the Fraser Valley ever since.
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