140-year-old house set for move and preservation

Turner House was built in Abbotsford in 1875 and is in ‘near-original’ condition

One of the oldest remaining settler houses in Abbotsford will be preserved at Clayburn Park if city staff’s plans to move the building are approved by council.

The old home of royal engineer surveyor George Turner has sat on a slight rise above Matsqui Prairie for more than 140 years, since its construction by another prominent local engineer and settler, Alben Hawkins.

Recently, the sale of the property and subsequent construction of a berry processing facility has put the home’s future in question, with the small house now sitting in the shadow of a large water tower. But now, parks staff have requested $500,000 to build a foundation for the house in Clayburn Park, move the structure, and begin work to improve the site.

The Reach Gallery’s historical collections curator Kris Foulds was ecstatic to hear that the city had a plan to save the structure.

“I’m so happy,” she said, after being informed by The News. “It’s one of the oldest houses in Abbotsford that’s in such near-original condition.”

The city had previously applied for a grant to pay for the house’s move, but that proposal was turned down this spring.

Foulds had previously sat on a committee examining the city’s historical assets. And “right at the top of the list” was Turner House, which is unique for its age, condition, builder and resident, and the plethora of documents surrounding its construction.

“It’s just a real important building,” she said.

The man who built the home, Alben Hawkins – the first settler to live on Mt. Lehman – wrote about the house’s construction in his daily journal in 1875.

Hawkins and Turner were among many early Abbotsford settlers who were Royal Engineers brought to B.C. to help survey the U.S./Canada border and plan for the development of the Lower Mainland. Many engineers settled in the area and have given names to prominent landmarks around town. Turner himself is known for producing the original survey of Stanley Park, mapping the Dewdney Trail and helping plan roads and townsites around the Lower Mainland, including Yale Road from New Westminster to Hope.

“I’m very excited that the city is going to move that house,” Foulds said.

Moving the house is expected to cost between $100,000 and $150,000, parks services director James Arden told council.

The rest of the money will go toward laying a foundation for the building, enhancing the park’s trail and connectivity, and improving the historic brickwork on site. This year’s work would be the first of a several-phase project, Arden suggested. The city’s rejected grant application envisioned the establishment of Clayburn Park as an interpretive centre.

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