The First Peoples
Before we proceed, the Coquitlam Heritage Society wishes to acknowledge the ancestral, traditional, and unceded Aboriginal territories of the Coast Salish Peoples, and in particular, the Kwikwetlem First Nation, on whose territory the Tri-Cities stand.
Kwikwetlem refers to the unique sockeye salmon that once ran abundant in Coquitlam River and Coquitlam Lake, sustaining the community for thousands of years. Archaeological evidence shows that the Kwikwetlem have lived in the area for at least four thousand years. Kwikwetlem people traded along the Fraser River and had a lively economy based on fishing, gathering resources, and making trade goods such as baskets. The Kwikwetlem possess rich traditional knowledge passed generation to generation that tell their stories, place names, spirit places, trails, travel tours, traditional names, songs, and much more.
For more information about Kwikwetlem First Nation, please visit their website.
The Arrival of Settlers
Beginning in the early sixteenth century, European fishermen caught cod off of the coast of Newfoundland, and developed working relationships with the indigenous peoples, trading metal and cloth goods in exchange for beaver furs and fresh meat. The beaver fur hats soon became extremely popular in Europe, and the fur trade very quickly grew. As a result, the North American continent was opened to exploration, settlement, missionary work, and other colonial activity.
For more information about the fur trade, please visit the Fort Langley National Historic Site.
The Gold Rush
In 1857, following the discovery of gold on the Thompson River, the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush overtook the region, lasting approximately three years. The rush attracted attention from Americans, Chinese, Eastern Canadians, and Europeans. However, the delicate balance and understanding that had existed between the HBC fur traders and the indigenous peoples was disrupted by the influx of people. In addition, there was often instances of conflict between the prospectors of different ethnic backgrounds.
The Colony of British Columbia
Due to the instability, chaos, and attention from the US that was brought on by the gold rush, Britain decided to formally create the colony of British Columbia. The Royal Engineers, also known as the Sappers, were brought to the area to begin building roads, bridges, and other infrastructure to establish Britain’s control over the region.
In performing their duties, the Sappers dispossessed the region’s indigenous peoples.
After the Royal Engineers disbanded, the Sappers became some of the first Caucasian settlers in Coquitlam. Due to the fact that Coquitlam was deeply forested and had access to rivers for transportation, many began working the land for lumber, beginning Coquitlam’s history of millwork.
BC Joins Confederation
Canada confederated on July 1st, 1867 and on July 20th, 1871, British Columbia joined confederation on the condition that Canada fund and facilitate the development of infrastructure in the province, particularly a cross-country rail system. Despite the cost and work required, the Canadian government agreed to these conditions, fearing that BC would join the United States if they did not comply.
Work began on the CP Railway. Because BC lacked the population to supply an adequate workforce, labour was sourced from China. Some of the Chinese who worked the railway were forced to do so because they were pushed away from prospecting. The Chinese who came to work on the railroad were exploited and underpaid, and worked in highly unsafe and inhumane conditions. In fact, of the 15,000 Chinese who worked the railroad, 600 died prematurely from illnesses and injuries directly attributable to the job.
Over the next few decades, settlers from many ethnic backgrounds arrived, many of them facing discrimination in all aspects of life.
The government became increasingly restrictive towards indigenous peoples, denying previously recognized Aboriginal title to land, banning cultural ceremonies, and moving people to reservations. Combined with the impact of diseases such as smallpox, these communities had to fight for survival – and succeeded.
In 1889, shortly before the incorporation of Coquitlam in 1891, Canadian Western Lumber Company, also known as Fraser Mills, was founded on the banks of the Fraser River. Fraser Mills soon became the largest mill in the Commonwealth. From 1889 to 1909, the majority of the mill’s labourers were Chinese, Japanese, and Indian. These workers faced discrimination in the workplace and in the community. White Workers received higher wages for the same work as compared to their Asian counterparts, as well as housing benefits and the ability to move up in the company. Management positions were generally only accessible to American and British nationals. Most workers lived adjacent to the mill in a community called Millside, although many commuted from New Westminster.
The Race Riots
The racism seen in this era escalated over time, resulting in the anti-Asian race riots of 1907. These riots took place across the west coast of Canada and the US. There was a belief that People of Colour were stealing jobs and harming societal well-being. In early September 1907, a crowd of about ten thousand White residents gathered in Vancouver to support an anti-Asian parade. The group soon attacked most Chinese and Japanese occupied buildings, and many people were severely wounded. The culture of exclusionism grew, and resulted in the further restriction of Asian immigration. Institutionalized racism was plainly visible in policymaking for multiple decades following the race riots.
As a result of the race riots and of norms restricting workplace demographics, the management of Fraser Mills decided to provide incentives for French Canadians to relocate to Coquitlam in an attempt to displace the Workers of Colour. French Canadians were chosen because they were believed by the management to be easy to control, and because there was a strong mill culture in Quebec.
French Canadian settlers began to arrive by train in 1909. These workers worked roughly 60 hour weeks and those who were skilled were paid roughly $0.25 per hour. Of course, the Workers of Colour who had not been displaced were paid significantly less, for the same work.
French Canadians were offered affordable housing and the chance to bring their families along with them. In addition, the mill provided land and lumber for a Catholic Church. As a result, a mill community and sustainable workforce formed. This French-Canadian community was Maillardville, named after its first priest, Father Maillard. Maillardville was the largest Francophone community in Western Canada.
Mackin House is one of the last remaining Fraser Mill homes. Located on the corner of Brunette Avenue and Marmont Street, Mackin House has been a landmark and monument in the community since it was built in 1909. It continues to be an enduring symbol of Coquitlam’s rich history.
Ryan House (now the Place des Arts building) and Mackin House were reserved for the company’s first and second in command, respectively. Due to their location and prestige, the houses were known as the “Mansions on the Hill”.
Mackin House’s first occupant was the General Sales Manager, Henry James Mackin. Henry Mackin, his wife and two young daughters moved into the house in 1909. When he was promoted to Mill Manager in 1914, the Mackin family moved across the street to the Ryan House, the Fraser Mills Manager’s Residence. Tom Ryan took up residence in Mackin House for the 17 years (1914-1931) he was General Mill Superintendent. When he was promoted to Mill Manager, he moved into the Manager’s Residence. The new Superintendent, his son, Maurice Ryan, lived in Mackin House until 1944. In 1944, Mackin House was once again occupied by a member of the Mackin Family. Wilson, H.J. Mackin’s son, who was not yet born when the family originally resided there, lived there as a company employee from 1944-1951. Wilson made major renovations, adding the southern wing to the home. After Wilson Mackin left the home in 1951, Mac Ewart, the Mill Manager at the time moved in. Ewart was the last Fraser Mills Company resident of Mackin House.
In 1953, the Crown-Zellerbach company purchased Mackin House. It was rented to various residents until 1980, when it was purchased by the District of Coquitlam. The house then served a variety of philanthropic and administrative purposes until 1999, when it was opened as a heritage house museum by the Coquitlam Heritage Society.