To find out about the history of Turner House and its builder, George Turner, the reader must take a step back in time to the mid-1850s. At the beginning of that decade, what we now know as British Columbia was still not under formal colonial authority, but on August 2, 1858, the Colonial Office finally established the Colony of British Columbia as a Crown Colony. The Colonial Office, under Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, wanted to establish British rule and order in the new colony, and sent Richard Clement Moody, the head of the Royal Engineers, Columbia Detachment, to accomplish this goal. When Moody arrived in BC, in December of 1858, he was sworn in as the first Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia and appointed Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works for British Columbia.
George Turner was born in London on September 17th, 1836. At 19 years of age, Turner had enlisted in the Royal Engineers and was trained as a surveyor attached to the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain. It was as part of Moody’s Royal Engineers Columbia Detachment that Turner came to British Columbia in 1859. The Columbia Detachment was the third and largest group of Royal Engineers to come to British Columbia. The vast majority of these men decided to stay in BC when the detachment disbanded in 1863, and George Turner was one of them. On March 5, 1861 he had received a Crown Grant for Section 1, Block 5, North, Range 2 West, and, later on, he also purchased land.
Turner surveyed the new colony extensively for the Royal Engineers, and continued surveying after discharge, as well. E.g. immediately after the Royal Engineers disbanded, Turner worked together with his ex-Royal Engineer friend and colleague, William McColl, until McColl died in 1865.
He married Mrs. Ann McColl, his friend’s widow, in July of 1869. The new Mrs. Turner had six children from her previous marriage, and George and Ann Turner went on to have three more children of their own. The arduous and dangerous work of a frontier surveyor was not a good match for a family man’s lifestyle, and, likely as a result, Turner took over the operation of the London Arms Hotel in New Westminster for two years (1869-1871). Turner, however, also surveyed much of the Matsqui area between 1869 and 1877. In April of 1870 sappers Alben Hawkins, and John Maclure, sergeant Lewis Francis Bonson, along with then Lance Corporal George Turner each received their 150-acre military “Crown Grants” in what fell under the New Westminster District; Hawkins’ and Maclure’s took lots numbers 45 and 44 respectively, Bonson lot 47, while Turner took lot 48.
In April of the same year, Turner purchased lots 201 and 202. Ann McColl had inherited her first husband’s 150-acre military grant, lot 38, when he passed away. All three men, along with sapper John Musselwhite, brought here to serve the Royal Engineers, would eventually become Abbotsford pioneers.
The Turner family moved to the 150 acre land grant at what is now the corner of Highway 11 and Downes Road in 1872. This is the same area that John Maclure would later name Hazelbrae. It was a carefully selected spot, as it was one of the highest spot on the Matsqui Prairie, free of flooding and with a fine view of the surrounding landscape. Ever the surveyor, Turner surveyed the “Matsqui Sleigh Road” with his neighbours Lewis Bonson and John Maclure in 1873. This road ran from the Riverside landing on the Fraser River to the properties of its surveyors and constructors on its way to Yale Road, i.e. the future site of the Village of Abbotsford.
Alben Hawkin’s diary, now held by the BC Archives, details much of the construction of the home George Turner built in Hazelbrae. Hawkin mentions how he works on constructing a window frame on May 6th, 1875, and on the roof, “shingeling” (sic), boxing and painting the gables, etc. Hawkin also details how he receives $100 from Mrs. Turner on June 27th, and on $27 on August 10th. For that reason, we can pinpoint the exact time of construction of the home that Hawkin and (presumably) Turner built on lot 202.
In 1874, Turner located the Yale Road from New Westminster to Hope. At the time he also located a road on Vancouver Island from Cowichan to Nanaimo River, and in the early 1880’s, Turner formed a partnership with C. E. Woods. Their company, Woods and Turner, did much of the early subdivision work at Port Moody, Vancouver, New Westminster and throughout the New Westminster district in general. In the meantime, he was also appointed chairman/director or the Vancouver Street Railways Co. In 1889, Turner entered Dominion Government service as a surveyor, his work being mostly the charting and improving of the Fraser River, and a year later he founded the Public Land Surveyor’s Association. He was also a member of the Seymour Artillery Co., the New Westminster city council, a charter member IOOF, and member of the Ancient Order of United Workmen.
Maple Grove Dairy Co.
George Turner sold his interest in lots 201 and 202 to a group of eight English businessmen who established the Maple Grove Dairy Co. there in 1886. They were Warberton Pyke, the Appelby brothers, Thomas Llewellyn Downes, Charles John Sims, Mr. Baiss, Mr. Maher and P. O’Farrell, and they ran the farm as a dairy until 1888 or 89, when the Canadian Pacific Railway bought a right of way through the property for its branch line to Sumas, Washington. While Downes and Sim stayed in Matsqui, and have roads named for them here, the other partners moved on.
During the years when the Maple Grove Dairy Co. operated, the land was owned by the Canada Permanent Loan and Savings co. They in turn sold the property to Alex Cruikshank in 1903, who built another house overlooking the prairie. Alex Cruikshank arrived to Matsqui around 1898, when he was put in charge of the Matsqui Land Company. His primary duty had been to attract new settlers to the area, which is no small task, considering the annual flooding and the forever failing dyking efforts. He solved this problem by advertising the land and available jobs in Scandinavian language newspapers in Illinois, North Dakota and Minnesota, and from the applicants, he handpicked 18 Swedish and Norwegian families to settle on Matsqui Prairie. These new immigrants founded Matsqui Village at the turn of the century. One settler named his firstborn son, Alex Hougen, for Mr. Cruikshank.
The Cruikshanks themselves had four children, two girls and two boys, and when the newly constructed home on the Cruikshank farm burned down in the early 1930s, the family moved back into the original house that John Turner had built, many years ago. The Cruikshank boys both served in the First World War, and when George Cruikshank returned to Matsqui after the war, he was soon elected reeve of Matsqui. He eventually went on to serve as the local Liberal Member of Parliament for several years. In the meantime, Robert Davies leased Maple Grove, as it was known then, for dairying in the 1940s until the 1970. Since then, the property has changed hands many times, and the home had been rented out to various tenants until approximately 2015. With the building of a new packing facility on the property, the house had to be moved to Clayburn Road for the sake of preservation.
“Farming the Matsqui Flats at the turn of the century wasn’t always easy, as the flats had to be cleared, and flooded annually. A surveyor, George Turner built his home on the highest spot to avoid the flooding, and planned a road from it to the Fraser River landing at Matsqui. That road became River Street, and is now the main thoroughfare through Matsqui Village.”
Cope, M. C. L., 1940. Colonel Moody and the Royal Engineers in British Columbia. University of British Columbia Accessed 03/07-18.
Hawkins, A, 1875. Diary entries from the Alben Hawkins fonds, BC Archives. Accessed 03/07-18
Hill, B., 1987. Sappers. The Royal Engineers in British Columbia. Horsdal and Shubert
Holbrow, Cyril, 2012. Personal correspondence and extensive follow up conversations with author re. Turner House and its history.
Reid, C, 2015. Building on Tradition. A Study of Matsqui Village. Dissertation submitted to School of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Leicester, June 2015
Ward, A, 2015. Draft copy of Statement of Significance for Turner House, personal correspondence with author.
Woodward, F. M. 1974. The Influence of the Royal Engineers on the Development of British Columbia. In BC Studies #24 (Winter 1974-74):3-51. University of British Columbia