Walter Volovsek: Time Windows – The McCleary Survey

Sometime in 1890, Albert McCleary decided to sell out his Castlegar pre-emption

Sometime in 1890, Albert McCleary decided to sell out his Castlegar pre-emption and return to the family farm in Ontario.

To be able to claim ownership of the 320-acre property he had to complete a survey, and pay the government $1 per acre for the land.

The fact that the survey was done in the dead of winter suggests there was urgency in Albert’s decision.

The survey of Lot 181 by A. Fletcher commenced on January 9, 1891. A post was set on the bank of the river to mark the northeast corner of the property; this spot is now underwater due to river erosion over the years. The north boundary line was run due west along what would become Edward Mahon’s Cedar Street (1st Street today). The ground was rising through second growth vegetation until a flat bench was attained; here were remnants of a burnt mature forest, with a few surviving trees left standing (larch, fir, and pine).

At a distance of 2,500 links (1,650 feet), he set the northwest post and then turned due south. The west boundary ran along flat ground and then climbed to another higher ridge (Cenotaph Hill), and subsequently dropped to a low spot where it crossed Albert’s irrigation ditch that carried water to his homestead from what would later be called Bloomer Creek. He now followed flat terrain, with a new ridge on his left, and entered a healthy living forest, which here included cedar. The traverse ended in a very rocky location at a distance of 8,000 links (1 mile). A small part of this rugged spot would later be lost to the Columbia & Western Railway.

From the southwest corner, the line was run due east through smaller timber that occupied undulating ground. A steep slope, where burnt timber was encountered again, brought him to the banks of the Columbia River, where he set his final post for this leg of the survey, which he marked as Station A. As this was located well below the high water mark, downstream of Zuckerberg Island, I am inclined to think it was only a temporary post for the survey. The south border was 2,375 links (1,568 feet) long.

Curiously, the post indicating the southeast corner of Lot 181 is 33 feet in from the high water mark, with the pack trail to Trail Landing being in that space at this location. To complete the survey, Fletcher now returned to his starting point and set a course due east from his initial post. Ten feet brought him to the top of the steep bank, and another seventeen feet saw him at the bottom. Then he extended that line another 30 feet, where he established Station 1, possibly on the river ice. It appears he followed the ice for the rest of the survey, as at times his traverse line is as much as 73 feet away from the bank. His bearings were now variable as he followed the great curve of the river southward.

370 feet downriver from Station 1 he sketched in the McCleary homestead. It consisted of a sturdy cabin measuring 13 feet by 18 feet, which was located 112 feet from shore. An outbuilding that incorporated a shed with a root cellar below it was located to the north of the main dwelling. The dimensions noted along the traverse line put McCleary’s cabin a bit inland from the most likely location for his ferry landing, well upstream for his run across the fast-flowing river.

I call this spot Mercury Bay, as a fond reminder of Edward Mahon’s street of that name, which ran to the river at that point, and joined River Street. As I soon found out, that location for the buildings was incorrect, as Fletcher had neglected to write down his last measurement for the first traverse segment. That omitted distance I estimated to be about 400 feet, placing the buildings in the vicinity of Third Avenue. The survey continued, with features such as ‘Head of Kootenay Rapids’, and the upstream end of Zuckerberg Island indicated. The traverse followed the inner channel, closing the survey at previously located Station A.

Fletcher’s survey gives us an excellent idea of the terrain as it then was. The burnt-over timber is quite obvious in George Dawson’s photograph of Sproat’s Landing, taken on July 3, 1889. As McCleary had obtained his pre-emption a year earlier, he may have set the fire to clear the lower bench of brushwood for his agricultural enterprise, which included vegetable gardens and ship rearing. When he sold out to Edward Mahon in the summer of 1891, he had eight acres ploughed and fenced. Edward’s purchase set the stage for the eventual development of our city.

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