On This Day In New West History: K de K

Thanks to Mario Bartel for the photo work above.

The photo of the K de K was a very old, low resolution photo, and was tricky to incorporate into a modern day photo. We’ve taken a creative liberty here – we don’t know if this was exactly the position the K de K was in when the photo was taken, but it is a decent guess based on the crossing route and the opposite shore. 

Archival photo is courtesy of New Westminster Public Library, accession number 252. 

And thanks to Dale Miller from A Sense of History Research Services for the historical notes below. 

The first commercial vessel to regularly connect New Westminster and Surrey, the K de K ferry, made its first trip 132 years ago, on March 15, 1884. A joint charter “to ply a Ferry from shore to shore on the Fraser River, between points designated, in the vicinity of New Westminster City” was granted by the provincial government to New Westminster and Surrey in 1883.

The wharf for the new ferry was located in the area between the foot of Church St. and the foot of Clement St. (now 4th St.) in New Westminster, while the wharf on the Surrey side was at the foot of Yale Road. Twenty years earlier, Ebenezer Brown had built a wharf and a hotel in that location and the area became known as Brownsville, a name it still carries. Brown, who died in 1883 and never saw the ferry in action, was a member of New Westminster City Council for 9 years as well as being the founding president of the New Westminster Board of Trade, now called Chamber of Commerce.

The contract to build and operate the first ferry was awarded to Capt. Angus Grant. While the contract called only for a scow to be towed by a tug boat, Capt. Grant and his two sons had bigger plans. They started with a flat scow and installed a steam engine and boiler in the centre. Then they added paddlewheels on one side, and a wheelhouse with a small cabin for the watchman and a few passengers. The vessel could accommodate up to five teams of horses and wagons and could dock at either end. Dubbed a “paddle ferry” by the Steamboat Inspector, she was allowed to carry up to 20 passengers.

The ferry was named the K de K after Joseph Sexton Knyvett de Knyvett, a friend of Capt. Grant and Ebenezer Brown’s son-in-law. William Philpot Grant, son of Capt. Angus Grant was put in charge as operating Captain.

The K de K may have been a small vessel, but its presence marked an enormous step in linking New Westminster to the world to the east. While there were times that the ferry could not sail because of ice in the river and mechanical problems, she provided a reliable link between the Royal City and Brownsville for 6 years until she was replaced by the larger ferry, the Surrey. As the Mainland Guardian newspaper said in reporting the first sailings said, “A person residing in the city next summer, can saddle his horse, cross the river, and ride to Yale or New York”.

Editor’s Note: there are lots of photos of the Surrey in existence – check out the Public Library’s photographic archive and search for “Surrey” or “ferries” to find a few.