Engineer's cabin the last of its kind

Sixth Field Engineer Squadron rebuild history

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  Engineers' cabin the last of its kind
Sixth Field Engineer Squadron rebuild history

NEWS photo Mike Wakefield

HONORARY Lt. Col. Bill Dow stands in front of the Royal Engineers' Cabin, built in 1860 to house members of the British unit as they cut the Canada-U.S. border.

By Marcie Good
Contributing Writer

IT'S only a small rustic log cabin, scarcely larger than a garden shed.

But it represents an important piece of the history of this province.

In 1859 members of the Royal Engineers were posted to British Columbia.

One of their jobs was to carve a strip through the wilderness along the 49th parallel to mark the Canada-U.S. border.

This cabin, now standing beside the Lt. Col. J.P. Fell Armory on Forbes Ave., was once a humble home to about a dozen of the engineers.

When they were marking the border between 1859 and 1864, similar log cabins were built about every 50 kilometres, starting at Point Roberts and going east. This is the last one standing.

"In those days you chop the old tree down, square it up, put the notches in, and away you go," said Honorary Col. Bill Dow of the Sixth Field Engineer Squadron, who worked on getting the funds together to bring the cabin to North Vancouver.

"In the middle of winter with the fireplace going it would have been a cosy place," he says, looking around the 180-sq.-ft. cabin.

But the story of the Royal Engineers went beyond the little cabins in the woods.

After their posting ended in 1864, about half of them stayed in British Columbia to take advantage of land they were offered.

Members of the unit opened up large areas of the province, building highways, planning towns, surveying land, and producing maps.

Some of the roads they built include Vancouver's South Marine Drive, Burnaby's Kingsway and Canada Way.

Several engineers formed New Westminster's first police force.

"They were the ones that really opened up this place," said Dow.

It was also the impact of the British engineers that helped Lt. Col. Fell convince the Ministry of National Defence to form the Sixth Field Engineer Squadron in North Vancouver in 1914.

That connection makes the armoury a perfect home for the cabin, which stood on a farmstead in the Upper Fraser Valley until 1986 when the landowner wanted to tear it down.

For a time it was at the military museum in CFB Chilliwack.

Dow secured a B.C. Community Spirit Grant of $4,500 to help save the cabin.

Members of Dow's unit recently went to Chilliwack and took it apart, log by log.

Led by Capt. Grant Acheson and Capt. Jim Stewart, they reassembled it on a concrete foundation in North Vancouver and have restored the roof.

This Saturday, Col. Anthony F. George of the Royal Engineers in Monmouthshire, England, will join the unit for the official opening of the cabin at 3 p.m.

The ceremony will be followed by a reception in the Vimy Ridge Combined Mess.

Those who wish to attend can call 986-1722.

By next year, members of the unit hope to have the cabin open to the public.

"It's going to be great," said Dow.

"Over a period of time it's going to be part of the ambience of the armoury."

Original Article published 18 September 2000 in the North Shore News.  Please click here to see original article.