Profiles of Historic Sites
Nicomen Supply Stores & Post Office, Deroche, BC
Nicomen Island Women's Institute fonds/0174-005
Courtesy Mission Community Archives
Date of Original Construction:
Original settlement 1860s
Small rural community, north-east of Nicomen Island, about 18 km east of Mission on Lougheed Highway. The community includes a school, a community hall, the Fraser Valley Regional District Community Access Centre, and a few remaining retail stores and a gas station. The CPR track runs parallel to the Lougheed Highway, on the south side of the community.
Sto:lo people thrived in the area for thousands of years, fishing the rich waters, harvesting the land, hunting and trapping. The Nicomen Slough is a favourite nesting and breeding area for eagles and a variety of water fowl, including swans, geese, and ducks. Sto:lo people had a number of permanent settlements in the area, including Lak: amel; seasonal camps were also located along the rivers and slough where fishing and food were abundant.
One of the earliest settlers was Joseph Deroche, who settled in the area in 1862, and after whom the village is named. His first dwelling was a log cabin, but he eventually built a farmhouse, just south of where the Deroche Bridge now stands. When the farmhouse burned down, he built another, which survived and is now the local landmark.2
The Canadian Pacific Rail line came through in 1885, creating jobs and providing the first land transportation. Settlers could now get supplies, groceries, feed for livestock, regular mail deliveries. They could ship milk and produce to Mission and Vancouver.
The community was referred to as North Nicomen; when a post office was set up by Ernest Desrocher in 1891, the name was changed to Deroche. In 1893, residents started a petition to get a school, and a one-room North Nicomen School opened in October. The first teacher, Norman McLeod stayed on for 5 years. By 1914, the school was overcrowded and a new one was built; an extension was added on the east side in 1932, and was in continuous use till 2000.
The major flood of 1894 inundated the area, the CPR track was under water as far as Hatzic. After the flood, farmers put in their own roads, little more than trails, to connect to the school, churches and river landings. In 1901, a bridge spanning Nicomen Slough linked the growing communities.
Austin Cooper had opened a general store by 1902 and his brother Charles took over as postmaster in 1903, and opened a large new store by 1906. He married Louisa Tyler, a registered nurse, who created a flower garden and tennis court. Charles went into partnership with Henry and Mary Park and the store was changed to the Nicomen Supply Store.
The Kelliher Sawmill opened in the summer of 1908, north-east of the bridge. Logging crews and mill workers were housed in bunk houses.
A Chinese laundry had opened behind Cooper's Store in 1908. The first community hall was completed. Charles Cooper built a pool hall and barber shop west of his store. The Tremblays opened a butcher shop.
In 1911, the CPR put in a station and section foreman's house. Charles constructed the first water supply for the town in 1913, bringing water from Burnbrae Creek. In 1912, the mill was sold to A.P. Wilson, renamed the Cottonwood Mill, modifications and improvements were made, and a dam was constructed across Nicomen Slough for holding logs. During WWI, the mill closed down and went into bankruptcy; the mill buildings were taken down, and machinery removed. Hollow tile from the dry kilns were re-used in both commercial and residential buildings in the area.
St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church was consecrated at Deroche on August 16, 1914, and blessed by Father Chirouse. Presbyterian and United Churches were also built in the community.
The Dewdney Trunk Road, between Stave River and Deroche bridge was completed in 1916. A year later, a terrible fire burned down the central core of the village and gutted the store, and destroyed the community hall, post office and several homes. Louisa Cooper rebuilt the store.
The decade following the war is said to be "the best years" of Deroche. The large bunkhouse from the mill became the Deroche-Nicomen Farmers' Co-operative Store, which carried hay and feed, in addition to general supplies, groceries, boots, gasoline and oil. In the 1930's it became a feed store, then a residence, and a pool hall, and was finally torn down in 1957.
During the Depression, two relief camps were established in Deroche housing 100 to 140 men each. The men were set to work "construction a section of highway east of Deroche". In 1933, 300 men marched into Mission to protest conditions. In December 1934, eighty-five residents walked out of the grounds over the firing of the chief cook. Mission's Corporal Renner and two constables met the protesters a mile west of camp, and tried to persuade them to return to camp. The men refused, continuing on to Vancouver where they met with the new medical health officer Dr. J. McGammon. After 5 days, government trucks returned the men to Deroche. The camps were closed in 1936.
In 1948, Red Cross headquarters set up in Deroche3 during late May and June to assist victims of the flood.
Today, there is still a small village at Deroche, with a general store and new Shell gas station.
People Associated with the Site:
Joseph Deroche4, came west from Quebec in 1858, attracted by the gold rush. He settled east of Mission in 1862. In 1891, he acquired land both east and west of his farm, to his advantage when the rail line came through. Joseph married Marie Daneau in 1864; she was a teenage Metis girl, whose father had brought her to St. Mary's school after her mother's death. The couple had six children together. Joseph passed away in March 1922, just short of his 100th birthday.
Thomas F. Morton - first manager of the Farmers' Cooperative, and Justice of the Peace
Grace Morton - operated a small dry goods store from the front of her house from 1922 to 1925; chairperson of the Union Board of Health, North Fraser Unit (1950), first female chairperson of the Mission School Board.
W.H. Urquhart - second manager of the Farmers' Cooperative
J.H. Reid - last manager of the Farmers' Cooperative
James Kelly - operated a Shell Gas station on Lakahamen Indian reserve
Maxwell Smith - former editor of Fruit Magazine, Dominion fruit inspector, chairperson of Provincial Land Settlement Board, Liberal candidate (died suddenly in 1927)
Murray and Winnefred Smith - bought Coopers Store in 1936, extensive modernization with most of the original gradually removed; operated store for 10 years
Frank and Norah Staines - opened Bi-Rite Store in 1942
Buildings are mainly wood frame and single storey; some with "false front" typical of early commercial buildings.
Where to get further information:
Discovering Deroche from Nicomen to Lake Errock, Daphne Sleigh, self-published 1983. It is now out of print, but reference copies can be consulted at the Mission Museum and the Mission Community Archives.
DVD Images & Memories of Deroche, 1930's 40's & 50's The Wardrop Sisters, Margaret & Clarinda, recorded April 2008. Reference copy for viewing available at Mission Museum.
Mission Community Archives (see family fonds for persons mentioned here)
1 Based primarily on information from Discovering Deroche from Nicomen to Lake Errock
2 For more detail, see Butter / Inman Farm profile on this site
3 People of the Harrison, Daphne Sleigh
4 See "Mission's Farms & Farmers", available at the Mission Museum
Last Modified December 13, 2013