River Stories: Terry Hughes

In preparing for the print edition of Tenth focused on Rivers (now at our distributors!), we heard a lot of river stories. Some false, some exaggerated, and some completely true. One such story is about Terry Hughes (b.Dec.17, 1940, d. Nov.8, 1959).

The name may be familiar to you – this is the sports field and playground park on the corner of McBride and 8th Avenue, beside École Glenbrook Middle School. But who is Terry? And why was this part of New West named after him? And why am I calling this a “river story” when it’s easily a kilometre away from the riverfront?

Horizontal and vertical lines- pilings in the water. Photo by Kevin McConnell
Horizontal and vertical lines- pilings in the water.
Photo by Kevin McConnell

The City of New Westminster has a great little info sheet about Terry Hughes Park, that is factual and solidly written. It’s buried in a PDF so needed some lightweight sleuthing to find it. Thanks to Dale Miller at A Sense of History Research Services for pointing me this way and to the City for giving me permission to reproduce portions of the text here:

Hughes was a New Westminster boy who attended Lord Kelvin Elementary and had just graduated from New Westminster High School. While playing with some friends on log booms along the shore line near the Queensborough Bridge, a young girl fell into the Fraser River. Hughes died trying to save her.

In reporting the tragedy, the British Columbian newspaper wrote: “Young Hughes had dove into the water to help nine-year-old Carol St. Pierre who had fallen into the river from a boom of logs… Hughes was sitting on the shore with Michael Lamb and another companion. Without hesitation he dashed for the river and plunged in, trying to swim upstream to reach the girl. Robert Thomas, 28, also heard the cry and plunged into the water to help. Terry was holding the girl’s head above the water when Thomas neared them. Suddenly the youth and the girl vanished beneath the water. When they reappeared, Thomas grabbed the girl and started back for shore. Witnesses said Terry was having trouble staying afloat. Thomas told officers the youth grabbed his leg when he started for shore with the girl. ‘We all went under. I broke free when we came up, but I thought I had really had it,’ related Thomas. ‘The little girl climbed on my back and had her arms wrapped around my throat. I couldn’t breathe. … I was taking a lot of water and nearly blacked out.’ Then Kenneth Heron dove into the water, swam to the struggling pair and grabbed the girl. Thomas, who said he was not a strong swimmer, ‘just made it’ to a log boom where his wife and two men pulled him to safety. Witnesses said Terry sank beneath the surface right after Thomas took the girl. They said the youth broke water once more then vanished.”

Terry’s body was recovered the next day. He was buried in Fraser Cemetery with a police guard of honour and mourned by a community shocked by the tragedy. Terry’s mother, Mabel Hughes, accepted the presentation of the Royal Canadian Humane Association’s Medal of Bravery in his memory.


How the park came to be named Terry Hughes Park is another story from the City’s Info Sheet:

This site was part of a large civic property purchased by the federal government in 1947. It became the location of a new Westminster Regiment armoury which replaced the historic 1896 structure at Sixth Street and Queens Avenue. The new building was planned for construction after World War II, but funding was not available; eventually the project was abandoned and the federal government turned part of the site into the rented apartments of the Glenview Veterans Housing project. The lower, swampy portion of the site occupied by a section of the Glenbrook Ravine had been partially filled as part of the Glenbrook Sewer project of 1912. Eventually, the ravine was completely filled, and the City leased the site from the federal government. It was partially developed at that time and called Jackson Park, after Mayor Toby Jackson.

In 1959, a local boy named Terry Hughes lost his life while attempting to save a young girl who had fallen into the Fraser River. Councillor Jack Allison suggested re-naming the park in Hughes’ memory. The leased park site was developed in 1961 with a playground and softball diamond. In 1992, the federal government announced the redevelopment of the Veterans Housing site. The city negotiated a significant portion of the land to form the site of the new Glenbrook Middle School as well as a new civic-owned Terry Hughes Park. The new, improved, and rebuilt park was dedicated on September 30, 2000 with members of the Hughes family in attendance at the ceremony.

Terry’s grave is in the Upper Fraser section of the Fraser Cemetery, and is often included in walking tours of the cemetery.