I didn’t know my grandfather. He died before I was born. But I can imagine him every time I walk the same road he did 100 years ago – the road that leads to Boundary Bay. It was 1919 when he and my grandmother first brought their family of five to the finest beach they’d ever seen.
Before Canadians “discovered” Boundary Bay, the first American to settle there was Michael Whalen. In 1891, the government gave him a parcel of 160 acres. Michael and his wife Elizabeth discovered a spring and created a farm at the foot of Goodman Road. The soil was not ideal and there was a greater potential for their land.
In the first decades of the new century, Whalen developed camping grounds and built small rental cottages. Dirt roads were cut perpendicular to the beach and land was subdivided into small lots for Canadians enticed by sandbars, warm water and more sun than Vancouver saw.
When Tyee Drive was completed 100 years ago, it was the first direct connection between Canada and Point Roberts. It was then that my grandfather, Charles Porter, bought a lot on Cedar Street and built a summer cottage. Charles was from Dorset, England, where his family were farmers. His father emigrated to Victoria in the mid 19th century. My grandmother, Annie Blatchford, emigrated to Canada from Ireland. After they married, they settled in Vancouver, but found happiness in Boundary Bay, in the natural world they loved.
The water source that Michael and Elizabeth Whalen found bubbled out of the steep cliff that rises south of Roosevelt Drive. The earliest cottagers walked to the spring for water, but eventually Whalen dammed the spring and ran water through wooden pipes reinforced with wire strapping. These pipes were buried in the ground and each cottage had a hook-up to the main line. Working the pump on the back porch might produce a sodden maple leaf in the speckled blue graniteware pan.
Cottages on what is now known as the private beach had a different source of water. This was provided by the well on the land that now belongs to Pat Grubb and Louise Mugar in Elizabeth Palisades, the subdivision on the bluff above Boundary Bay. Michael Palisades sits on the bluff to the north of Johnson Road. And so Elizabeth and Michael Whalen are still remembered today.
My mother, June, was four in 1919, yet her memories of reaching Boundary Bay were vivid: Squeezed into the family Ford, driving from Vancouver to Steveston, rumbling onto the car ferry to Ladner, driving through the Delta marshlands on precarious roads built on dikes, up the steep hill to Point Roberts and down the hill again to Boundary Bay.
By 1922, 10-passenger vehicles met the Ladner ferry to transport Canadian day-trippers to the increasingly popular Boundary Bay. The Ladner ferry, which began its run in 1913, operated until the Massey Tunnel opened 60 years ago in 1959.
Summer life was halcyon in Boundary Bay. Eggs and milk were bought from Eggert Burns. Produce came from local farmers and if you rowed out to the fishboats in the bay, there’d be a fresh catch for dinner. The sandbars delivered clams and crab. My mother never got over a picnic on the beach, only content when she reached the farthest sandbar at low tide.
Model Ts cruised down the dirt roads at 15 mph. There were dances with live bands. Sports days and sand castle contests happened on the sandbars each August. There were beach walks through tide pools and eel grass. Low tide was 3,500 feet from shore. Still is. And the tide rolled in over the same hot sand, creating a bathtub by five o’clock.
People flocked to Boundary Bay and Whalen opened his original store at what is now 43 Bay View Drive. Later it was rebuilt at 51 Bay View Drive. He built a mini-golf on his prime waterfront property, which he later turned into a roller-rink. Much later, Michael Whalen’s son, Pat, even built a race track and brought in thoroughbred horses. This was located on the corner of Derby Street and Roosevelt Road. There is still an old horse stable on the property.
To the south of the racetrack, in front of the steeply rising cliff, Pat Whalen built spectator stands. And somewhere in that cliff behind those stands was the spring that Michael Whalen dammed that created the water source that made it all happen.
My grandfather’s life was short, and by 1921 he was gone, but the family stayed on for many summers. My mother remembered playing with the Boundary Bay gang. Leader of the pack was Pat Whalen. Then they grew up and WWII broke the spell. My mother moved to Ottawa to marry my father who was serving in the army.
After the war, they moved to Victoria where I was born. My early summers were spent swimming in the icy waters of Vancouver Island’s east coast. But in 1963, the family moved back to my mother’s hometown of Vancouver. And like her parents, she turned to Point Roberts for relief from city life and bought a lot on Cliff Drive where my father built a small cottage. I moved here permanently in 1972 and live in Elizabeth Palisades. Though I didn’t grow up with the sandbars and warm water that my mother grew up with, my children did. And that farthest sandbar held them in its thrall, as it did my mother. At 11:15 a.m. on June 15, 2015, the moment of the year’s lowest tide, on what would have been her 100th birthday, we scattered her ashes there.
I’m not sure when Boundary Bay came to be known as Maple Beach, but some things haven’t changed. My mother’s family cottage still stands. Community spirit still thrives each summer. Sports days happen and sand castles get built. The water is still warm. And someday I’m going to find Whalen’s dam.
I’m grateful to Pat and Louise of the All Point Bulletin for requesting this indulgent bit of writing. In today’s world, continuity can be a comfort.