Profiles of Historic Sites
Store and Post Office, 1900s (Cooper's store)
Giles family fonds/0220-197467-6
Courtesy Mission Community Archives
Nicomen Island Community
8km east of Mission
Date of Original Construction:
1861 (first non-aboriginal settlement)
Nicomen Island is a large island approximately 8 kilometers east of downtown Mission; the Nicomen Slough, a narrow stretch of water, surrounds the island. There are bridges across the Lougheed Highway just past Dewdney and before Deroche. At one time, Nicomen Island had a CPR station, a school, and a Catholic church, a Baptist church, and numerous riverboat landings along the Fraser River where paddlewheel boats routinely stopped.
Today the land is primarily agricultural, mostly large dairy farms.
The word Nicomen comes from Halkomelum "Ni Koamin" which means "water going around." The area was used for centuries by Sto:lo people for gathering food; the slough contains habitat that is important to many species, but especially Bald Eagles, Trumpeter Swans, waterfowl and spawning salmon. It has always been subject to flooding, so there were no permanent settlements. Today, there are two reserves - Popekwatchin and Skweahm.
In 1861, James Codville set up a homestead on the island. He operated a stopping place for the hungry miners traveling to the gold mines, and wintered their transport animals until the Caribou routes opened up in the spring. He also operated the Codville Hotel at MacDonald Landing, and the first post office on the BC mainland.
Sam MacDonald arrived in 1865 and acquired 300 acres of land where he operated a prosperous farm, supplying beef to mainland communities; steamers could simply stop at McDonald's Landing and cattle would be loaded up a plank from the beach to the ship. In 1890 he donated an acre of land on which the first Nicomen Island School was built. Sam McDonald remained a bachelor, but had one adopted son William "Billy" MacDonald, who took over the farm. After his death, his wife continued to run the farm, and it is still in operation in 2006.2
A post office was established in 1890 in the home of blacksmith and wheelwright William Brown, who maintained it for a decade. The area was incorporated as Nicomen Municipality in March, 1892; stretching from Norrish Creek to Harrison River. It included three communities Nicomen (Island), North Nicomen (now Deroche), and Squakum Lake (now Lake Errock). Each had a post office.
Other homesteaders gradually acquired land on the Island. There were no roads; the Fraser River was the only link to Fort Langley, New Westminster and beyond. When the Fraser froze over, settlers were cut off. Islanders had to make an eight-mile walk to a store in Hatzic. Herbert Miller remembers in 1887 a rough trail to the bank of the slough, being ferried across in a row-boat, and then walking the CPR tracks. Later, Ashley Cooper operated a store at MacDonald Landing from 1900 to 1907.
The Nicomen School was also a community gathering place; the Odd Fellows Lodge met there as early as 1893, and Divine Worship was held there by the Methodist circuit. There was a Baptist Church, which later became the Community Hall.
May 28, 1948 flood3 - about 100 families were living on the Island, the dyke broke in the southeast corner near Tremblay's farm. By late afternoon, a 30 foot breach opened; the army were called to help; 50 soldiers arrived in trucks and pontoon boats, laden with sandbags. When the army left for duty elsewhere, residents were advised to leave their homes - many remained. Late on 29th, the main Nicomen dyke burst. Families attempted to save livestock, stacked furniture on tables, and the residents waited on roofs for rescue. A lumber yard operator chained vehicles together and towed them across to higher ground. Refuges were taken to Mission City Red Cross shelters.
Today, Nicomen Island and the slough provide important winter habitat for Trumpeter Swans, and is a popular bird-watching destination. An estimated 100 to 200 swans frequent Nicomen Slough from late November through January, along with a wide range of waterfowl, including teal, wigeon, scaup, Canada Geese, goldeneye and merganser. Several of the rivers and streams that enter the slough are utilized by spawning salmon; the presence of these fish attracts hundreds of Bald Eagles. The eagles are usually visible from late November through January sitting in trees or standing in shallow sections of the slough.
People Associated with the Site:
Captain James Robinson - riverboat captain who had transported supplies for the miners up to Hope - homesteaded in the area and used his small steamer to carry livestock and supplies up Hatzic Slough.
William "Billy" McDonald - appointed fishing inspector for New Westminster District, A member of Fraser Valley Milk Producers Association, and served as school trustee.
Samuel Tretheway: took over farmland acquired by his father James Tretheway.
Richard Brett and wife Emma (sister of Samuel Tretheway).
Gourlay brothers: well established farmers; families continued to farm until 1939.
George Magar and Charles Gardiner: built the first Nicomen Island School in 1890 for a total cost of $800.
Maggie Dallas - first teacher, paid $50 a month and had 25 students; she boarded with the Miller family.
George Lux - school trustee and farmer; cousin to the Miller family who farmed on the island till 1919.
Benjamin Worth and son Alexander: farmers
Donald and Malcolm Morrison farmed near the southern end of Quaamitch Slough.
French Canadian settlers included Tremblay, Caron, Prefontaine, Beaulieu, Desrochers, and Lessard families.
In 1892, only 6% of the land had been cleared and cultivated. Of the rest, 72% was woodland and 22% was "swamp, marsh, and pasture". Each spring, the freshets would flood the low-lying land, forcing farmers to move their livestock to higher land. The flood waters also produced swarms of mosquitoes. Huge floods in 1882 and 1894 inundated the land.
Today, the woodlands have been cleared, the swamps drained, dykes built, and dairy farms occupy most of the land. Corn and berries also thrive in the rich soil, and road-side farm sales are common throughout the growing season.
Where to get further information:
- Discovering Deroche: from Nicomen to Lake Errock, Daphne Sleigh, self-published, 1983.
- High Water: Living with the Fraser Floods, K. Jane Watt, 2007.
- See also: Profiles of Historic Sites
- Mission Museum
- Mission Community Archives: search family fonds for persons mentioned.
- Environment and Lands regional office in Surrey, BC [(604) 582-5200].
1 Source for most of the history: Discovering Deroche from Nicomen to Lake Errock
2 Mission Farms & Farmers
3 Mission on the Fraser pp 175-177
Last Modified February 28, 2015