COLUMN: From powerhouse to home

Proud remnant of the valley’s first transit system

Mark Rushton

Mark Rushton

In an age when steam ruled the rails, B.C. innovators took electricity to power transit systems, thanks primarily to the B.C. Electric Company’s 1903 development of the Buntzen power generation facility on Indian Arm.

The original decommissioned power station on the arm is still there, and can be explored by boaters, as I have done years ago.

While entrepreneurs began using electricity for urban transit start-ups in Vancouver and New Westminster, most of the ventures were a quick trip to bankruptcy.

Finally, B.C. Electric took up the challenge, creating the B.C. Electric Railway Company, and by 1906 it recognized the agricultural potential of Chilliwack, which at the time was serviced mainly by riverboat.

Thus, the BCER began construction of an electrified rail line in that year, building powerhouse substations along the way, to create the Interurban that linked all the little communities from Chilliwack through to New Westminster and Vancouver.

From its eastern terminus the route ran over mainly flat farmlands until it crossed the Vedder River near what is now Yarrow, when the railbed was raised much of the way to be above the vast shallow lake that is now Sumas Prairie.

However, along part of the right-of-way on the shoulder of Vedder Mountain, the BCER built its first substation, with another located on Clayburn Road just west of what is now the Mission Highway. Though time and space does not permit more detail, these very large concrete substations were constructed at various intervals along the line.

The Interurban was opened in 1910 and served the Fraser Valley’s rapidly growing agricultural industry for more than 40 years, providing rapid access to growing markets for produce, milk and all other related products, along with passenger service to “the city.”

By about 1925, Sumas Lake had been drained following construction of the Vedder Canal, and the lands of Sumas Prairie became yet another source of commodity for the BCER’s success.

However, the development of modern roadways, trucks and cars spelled an end to the electric rail line. Its service still exists as Surrey Rail Link reduced to freight only, pulled by diesels.

The powerhouse substations were stripped of their internal components, and either sold off or left as derelict. I remember the one on Clayburn Road, which stood until the late 1970s or early ’80s when it was demolished, replaced by a modern home.

Another apparently exists, in decrepit state in the Langley/Surrey area, though its continued presence I haven’t confirmed.

However, likely the first (or last) substation constructed in 1906 remains, nestled against Vedder Mountain at the very eastern end of Vye Road on Sumas Prairie. Its location is on the aptly named Powerhouse Road, though that is actually a vestige of the original and much older Old Yale (wagon) Road.

Today, the 1906 powerhouse is anything but ancient, other than its main structure.

What stands there today, thanks to someone who has turned history into a private home, is a veritable mansion, its preserved exterior painted in subtle shades of grey and beige, the original lettering – British Columbia Electric Railway Company – highlighted across the upper balustrade.

Photos of the transformation (interior and exterior) from a formerly humming and long since abandoned power centre is truly remarkable, and can be viewed online at

And it can be yours for pocket change shy of $5 million.




Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kao Macaulay has been charged in relation to a home break-in on March 30 in Abbotsford in which five kittens were stolen. (Facebook photo)
Former Chilliwack man charged with theft of 5 newborn kittens in Abbotsford

Prolific offender Kao Macaulay, 23, accused of breaking into home on March 30

Workers were on scene to clean up the oil spill in Abbotsford at Trans Mountain Pipeline’s Sumas pump station in June 2020. (File photo by Shane MacKichan)
TSB releases final report on June 2020 oil spill in Abbotsford

Transportation Safety Board says pipeline fitting to blame for spill of up to 190K litres

About 80 demonstrators walked through Hope with signs in support of saving the Station House on March 23, 2021. (Photo/Christian Ward)
Public hearing now planned for Hope’s Station House decision

Council has now taken steps to remove heritage status from historic building

Cemetery staff installed the wrong headstone on the grave of Jima Kiir, even though the headstone’s photo did not match with the photo placed on the grave. (Submitted photo)
Abbotsford mother upset city placed wrong headstone on son’s grave

Cemetery staff mix up graves of 2 recently deceased men from South Sudanese community

Williams Lake RCMP arrested a man Saturday, March 13 near Wildwood in vehicle stolen in Quesnel. (RCMP logo)
UPDATE: Chilliwack woman missing since March 17 found safe and sound

RCMP thanks the media and public for assistance

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

Protesters occupied a road leading to Fairy Creek Watershed near Port Renfrew. (Submitted photo)
B.C. First Nation says logging activist interference not welcome at Fairy Creek

Vancouver Island’s Pacheedaht concerned about increasing polarization over forestry activities

Flow Academy is not accepting membership applications from anybody who has received a dose of the vaccine, according to a password-protected membership application form. (Submitted image)
B.C. martial arts gym refusing patrons who have been vaccinated, wear masks

Interior Health has already issued a ticket to Flow Academy for non-compliance with public health orders

Of 46 arrests made between March 16 and 19 at Metrotown mall in Burnaby, 27 suspected shoplifters are now facing charges. (Twitter/Burnaby RCMP)
RCMP arrest 46 people in 4 days during Metrotown shoplifting crackdown

A total of $4,800 of stolen property was recovered and returned to businesses inside the mall

Maple Ridge's Doug Ubell caught some photographs recently that he was anxious to share, one taken while on the Trans-Canada Trail looking southwest towards the Pitt River Bridge, and another from on Golden Ears Bridge. (Special to The News)
Traffic on Golden Ears Bridge returning to pre-pandemic levels

Commuters from Greater Vancouver still driving more, taking transit less

Sheila Malcolmson, B.C.’s minister of mental health and addictions (Screen shot)
Minister of mental health tells Surrey audience COVID-19 ‘has made everything worse’

More than 23,000 people in B.C. are receiving medication to treat opioid addiction

Facebook screenshot of the sea lion on Holberg Road. (Greg Clarke Facebook video)
VIDEO: Sea lion randomly spotted on remote B.C. logging road

Greg Clarke was driving home on the Holberg Road April 12, when he saw a large sea lion.

Defence counsel for the accused entered two not guilty pleas by phone to Grand Forks Provincial Court Tuesday, Jan. 12. File photo
B.C. seafood company owner fined $25K for eating receipt, obstructing DFO inspection

Richmond company Tenshi Seafood is facing $75,000 in fines as decided March 4 by a provincial court judge

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read