Centres of Government – Richmond’s Town Halls – Part One

Part 1 – The First Town Hall

On November 10, 1879, when Letters Patent were issued to incorporate the Corporation of the Township of Richmond at the request of 25 early settlers, the first order of business was to hold an election and form a council to run the fledgling municipality.  The election was held at the home of Hugh Boyd and Alexander Kilgour and, as required in the Letters Patent, a “Warden” and seven Councillors were elected. Hugh Boyd was the first Warden of Richmond, a title later replaced by Reeve and then Mayor.

Hugh Boyd

Hugh Boyd, the first Warden of the Corporation of the township of Richmond. The first Council meetings were held in the dining room of his house on Sea Island. City of Richmond Archives,  Oil Painting by T. B. Walker, 1911.

Council meetings were held in the dining room of the Boyd house on Sea Island until a better venue could be provided. In October 1880, Council approved the purchase of a five-acre field from Sam Brighouse. The property was located on the Middle Arm of the Fraser River near the present day intersection of River Road and Cambie Road. Land not occupied by the Municipal buildings was to be rented out to a farmer to produce crops. The contract for building the new hall was awarded to James Turnbull who built it for $434. The building was completed on January 4, 1881 and a few weeks later the outhouse and woodshed were also finished.

The first function to take place at the brand new hall was a party to celebrate its completion. Guests were transported from New Westminster to the party on the steamboat Adelaide, there being too few men and even fewer women in Richmond at the time to make a proper observance.

1984 17 77

A group of school children play baseball outside of the first Richmond Town Hall which also served as an early school. In this photo, ca. 1888, are William Garratt, Leo Carscallen, Peter Carscallen, James Sexsmith, Mr. McKinney, Jack Smith, George Sexsmith, William Mellis, Frances Sexsmith, Anna Sexsmith, Pearl Robinson, Kate Smith, Grace Sweet, Mae Vermilyea and Anna Noble. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1984 17 77.

The purchase of  property in that location was made based on an important fact about Richmond in those days. There was no infrastucture, –  no roads, minimal dyking done by private landowners and few trails. The location of the hall on the Middle Arm made arrival by boat convenient for many. In order to attend council meetings Councillor Walter Lee, who lived on the South Arm, would travel to Steveston by boat and then hike to the hall along the Crabapple Ridge. Travel overland was impossible in many areas due to the bog and gum boots were recommended even in the “dry” spots. Most Councillors carried slippers with them so they would have footwear during council meetings.

The new hall and the property it was built on became a centre of cultural activity for the community. Before long members of the Richmond Agricultural Society built an Agricultural Hall on the Municipal land near the Town Hall and many agricultural fairs were held there, starting in 1894. The Steveston Brass Band held concerts at the Town Hall, fraternal organizations booked the space to hold their meetings and it became a polling station for elections. Church services were held there and in 1881 permission was granted to the North Arm School Board to use the Hall as a school. Fourteen boys and twelve girls attended classes there with Miss Sweet as their teacher.

1984 17 78

Richmond residents enter the gates to attend the agricultural fair, ca. 1910. The board at the gate shows the fees, Admittance – 25 cents, Children – 10 cents, Horse and Buggy (with driver) – 50 cents. Lunch was available on the grounds for 25 cents. On the right in this photo is the Agricultural/Community Hall and on the left is the Richmond Methodist Church, now Minoru Chapel. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1984 17 78.

In 1891 a new schoolhouse was built by the North Arm School District and the Methodist Church was built nearby, freeing the Town Hall from those duties. In 1905 the hall got its first telephone and in 1911 the heat from the wood stove was supplemented with the addition of an oil stove. By 1912 Council started discussing the need for a new hall in a location more suited to the Municipality, which by now had built many roads and was serviced by the BC Electric Railway’s Interurban Tram.

1977 9 18

Horses and buggies and a crowd of people fill Richmond’s Municipal lands for an agricultural fair, ca. 1907. This image looks toward the present intersection of Cambie Road and River Road and shows the Town Hall (L), Agricultural Hall (M) and Richmond Methodist Church (R). The building in front of the church is the present location of the Richmond Rod and Gun Club. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1977 9 18.

The need for a new hall became more imperative in January 1913 when two auditors were going over documents in the hall. One of them, Mr. J.H. Lancaster, threw some gasoline into the wood stove thinking it was coal oil. The ensuing explosion caused the Town Hall to go up in flames. Mr. Lancaster was seriously burned and passed away some time later. The other auditor, Mr. J. Glanville  received less serious burns. Quick work by Reverend M. Wright and other bystanders resulted in most of the town’s records being saved.

First Minutes right side colour

The first Council Minutes for the Corporation of Richmond were saved from the disastrous fire that destroyed the Town Hall and appear to be scorched around the edges. City of Richmond Archives photograph.

The loss of Richmond’s Town Hall meant that a new venue needed to be found for council meetings. The Mayor and Council used Bridgeport School as a temporary location until a new hall could be built in a more suitable location. The start of World War One dictated that the school would continue to be Richmond’s centre of government until 1919.

1978 1 18

Bridgeport School hosted Municipal Council meetings after the original Town Hall was burned in 1913. Shown here ca. 1940, the council met there until 1919.

Next – The Move to Brighouse.

Focus on the Record – Early Records of the Municipal Waterworks System

The importance of a municipal waterworks system to the daily lives of residents is often overlooked.  In Richmond, it wasn’t until 1910 that a system for piping drinking water was established.  Prior to this date, drinking water was normally available only through the use of rain barrels or by delivery, often in milk cans, by water wagon or train.

The development of Richmond’s waterworks system is well documented in records held at the City of Richmond Archives.  City bylaws, Council minutes and reports, and files relating to the building, regulation and taxation of the water system provide an accurate picture of its installation, maintenance, expansion and continual modernization.

First page of 1930 agreement whereby Richmond joined the Greater Vancouver Water District. City of Richmond Archives MR 66, File 548

First page of 1930 agreement whereby Richmond joined the Greater Vancouver Water District. City of Richmond Archives MR 66, File 548

Records at the Archives speak to the importance of the 1909 bylaw authorizing an agreement with the City of New Westminster to supply piped water to Richmond and the 1930 agreement to join the Greater Vancouver Water District and the implications of that to the present day.

Charles Jones, Waterworks Superintendent. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 1986 19 1

Charles Jones, Waterworks Superintendent. City of Richmond Archives Photograph 1986 19 1


In addition to City government records, the private papers at the City of Richmond Archives of Charles Jones, the waterworks superintendent for the municipality from 1913 to 1952, enable researchers to understand the complexity of the work performed and the challenges facing a municipality situated on islands at the mouth of the Fraser River.  The manner in which Jones laid the watermain on the river bed to supply water from Lulu Island to Sea Island in 1937 was celebrated as a technical feat never before seen in the province.

Laying of Watermain to Sea Island.

Diagram of the laying of the watermain to Sea Island, 1937. City of Richmond Archives Accession 2011 25

City records such as the 1936 Waterworks Atlas, which mapped all built structures in the municipality and their proximity to connections to watermains, are consulted on a regular basis today by environmental and property researchers studying land use and development in Richmond.

Waterworks atlas map for area near Alexandra Station, 1936. City of Richmond Archives Map 1991 40 75

Waterworks atlas map for area near Alexandra Station, 1936. City of Richmond Archives Map 1991 40 75

In total, the early records of waterworks tell the story of the growth of the municipality through the building of an infrastructure which many people now take for granted.

[Note – this is an updated version of an article first published in the Spring 2015 issue of the Archives News]

New at the Archives – Engineering Richmond

Part of an ongoing program to digitize historical images at the City of Richmond Archives are 980 slides taken by Richmond’s Engineering Department documenting a variety of major infrastructure projects in the municipality between 1969 and 1977. Highlighted here are just two projects from 1969: the construction of the Dinsmore Bridge and the Gilbert Trunk Sewer.

Dinsmore Bridge under Construction

Dinsmore Bridge under Construction, February 1969. (City of Richmond Archives Photograph 1988 123 461)

Before the opening of the bridge in 1969, the only connection between Sea Island and Lulu Island was the Moray Channel Bridge, built in 1957 to replace the old Middle Arm span of the Marpole Bridge. While the Dinsmore Bridge itself was built with funding from the Federal government, the approaches to the new bridge connecting Gilbert Road to Russ Baker Way were the responsibility of the municipal government. Part of the construction of the bridge approaches required the crossing of some of Richmond’s existing infrastructure, such as the Lansdowne Canal, as shown below.

Crossing for Lansdowne Canal

Construction of the Crossing for Lansdowne Canal from the Dinsmore Bridge. (City of Richmond Archives Photograph 1988 123 472)

Another major construction project in 1969 was the Gilbert Road Trunk sewer, designed to collect sewage from lateral feeder pipes extending east and west to transport raw sewage south to an outfall in the South Arm of the Fraser.

Gilbert Road Trunk Sewer - Laying  Pipe

Gilbert Road Trunk Sewer – Laying Pipe near Westminster Highway, March 1969. (City of Richmond Archives Photograph 1988 123 431)

The new sewage system was designed to replace an older patchwork of collectors and outfalls. Today, the Gilbert Road Trunk Sewer No. 2, a parallel system,  is under construction by Metro Vancouver.

Gilbert Road Trunk Sewer

The Gilbert Road Trunk Sewer – Looking North from Westminster Highway. (City of Richmond Archives Photograph 1988 123 430)

Before 1973, when the Lulu Island Wastewater Treatment Plant at the south end of Gilbert Road became operational, the pipe discharged untreated sewage directly into the south arm of the Fraser River near the foot of Gilbert Road.

Sewer Outfall - the launch

The Placement of the Gilbert Road Sewer Outfall at the South Arm. (City of Richmond Archives Photograph 1988 123 401)

Other Engineering Department activities documented by the recently-digitized group of photographs include dyking and drainage projects, traffic and intersection studies, and aerial surveying of fire halls, municipal buildings and parks and recreation areas.