An original walk back in time

Old Yale Road was instrumental in creation of the City of Abbotsford.

When I arrived in this community in 1968, South Fraser Way was a two-lane artery linking the shopping areas of Abbotsford and Clearbrook. The route had few businesses between the centres, save a gas station or two and the Dog n’ Suds drive-in which was a magnet for boys in cars. And occasionally when the lone night patrol officer of Matsqui 5-0 was in Bradner checking barking dog complaints, the roadway became an impromptu drag strip.

It wasn’t until 1975 that the route was ‘gentrified’ with the opening of Sevenoaks Shopping Centre followed shortly by the maze of businesses we now see lining the five-lane thoroughfare.

Busy as it is now, 100 years before Sevenoaks, when horsepower was measured by the number of legs in front of the wagon, what is now South Fraser Way was British Columbia’s major transportation corridor to the Fraser Canyon and Cariboo gold fields.

Except back then, it was known as the New Westminster to Yale Wagon Road, later shortened to Old Yale Road. It traversed the valley from near what is now the Patullo Bridge, through Cloverdale and Langley, wending its way along the path of today’s Fraser Highway into Abbotsford. The transition to South Fraser Way in our city’s heart occurs at Abbotsford’s City Hall, and resumes again at the end of Essendene Avenue. From there it rolls along the shoulder of Sumas Mountain foothills to Whatcom Road where it turned south to skirt Sumas Lake. In the Arnold area of Sumas Prairie, there are various sections of Old Yale Road leading to the edge of Vedder Mountain.

However, there remains only one short, original section of the wagon road throughout its entire length from New West to Yale in the Fraser Canyon.

That small piece of original trail, about a kilometer in length, extends from the junction of Majuba Hill Road (part of the original trail) and Wilson Road, immediately south of the railway tracks that once carried the historic Interurban.  It was there that Yarrow’s first post office was built at the turn of the 20th century, constructed at that location on the edge of Vedder Mountain because what is now Yarrow was beneath the waters of Sumas Lake. The tiny site is designated Majuba Heritage Park.

One can access the historic trail at that point, or at its eastern end on Vedder Road just east of the railway tracks. There is a roadside pull-out about 50 metres beyond the tracks, and a couple of little signs designating the trail.

This historic remnant is worth a walk back in time, on a route that was central the eventual creation of what we now know as the City of Abbotsford. It preceded even the first structure in Abbotsford by about a quarter of a century, and was the first step in creating the remarkable transportation system that spans and connects British Columbia and its resources with the rest of the world.