Vol. 5   No. 1      June 1958

Shades of 1858, complete with side whiskers! Six lucky Sappers who are attending the British Columbia centenary celebrations."

From left to right:
Capt. G. R. Gathercole (25th Fd. Engr. Regt.), S.S.M. W. A. Foster (25th Fd. Engr. Regt.), Sgt. D. G. Tucker (12 S.M.E. Regt.), Cpl. N. E. Miller (17 Port Trg. Regt.), L/Cpl. M. G. King (Sch. Mil. Svy.), Spr. K. G. Thomas (Works Service)

Photo: 'The Soldier'

When one realizes the amount of work accomplished by the Royal Engineers in their four and a half years in British Columbia, one wonders how so few could accomplish so much.  Yet it was not a case of all work and no play, for the detachment gathered each winter, from November until March, in it camp at Sapperton, and their camp was then the centre of the social life and activity of the community.  They had a social club.  Their theatre was the scene of all kinds of dances and parties and balls, and all that social life which tends, if properly guarded and looked after, to the betterment of a community.  The Engineers had a theatrical troupe, and the men of the detachment played comedies and all sorts of dramatics pieces.

New Westminster, late 1859

Summarizing the work of the Engineers, it may be said that they made all the important explorations of the country from the time they came there.  They surveyed practically all the towns and the country land; they located and superintended all the trails.  They built North Road, which was originally a trail.  They built the Douglas-Lilloet road.  They built the Hope-Similkameen road for twenty-five miles; and portions of the Cariboo road.  All the maps of that time they drew, lithographed and printed in Sapperton.  They formed the Lands and Works Office and printed the first  British Columbia Gazette.  The inaugurated the first Building Society on the mainland; the first social club on the mainland, the first theatre and theatrical society on the mainland.  They designed the first school house.  They designed and built the first Protestant church on the mainland--the Church of St. John the Devine, originally at Langley and now at Maple Ridge, and they designed other churches, the original Holy Trinity, New Westminster, St. Mary's, Sapperton, and probably those at Yale, Hope, and Douglas.  They designed the first coat of arms of the Colony.  They designed the first postage stamp.  They established the first observatory where they kept continuous scientific meteorological observations.  Of course Captain Cook and Captain Vancouver had earlier temporary observatories, but the first permanent one was built by the Engineers with it's position fixed as 49 12'47" North latitude and 122 53' 19" West longitude.  They had the first private hospital and the first private library, both of which were later to benefit the citizens of New Westminster.  And indirectly they built the Parliament buildings, for on 21st January 1864, the first Legislative Council of the Colony of British Columbia opened in the then vacant barracks of the Royal Engineers at Sapperton, New Westminster.

These are material things.  But they were no an ordinary detachment  of the Royal Engineers; they were selected men and always took their share in every good work.  In everything that went to the building of the community, as well as in performing their regular duty, Colonel Moody at the head, followed by his officers and men, fully lived up to the motto of the Corps, Ubique and Quo fas et gloria ducunt.

Lieut.-Colonel Richard Clement Moody


In the summer of 1863 orders were received from England that he detachment of Royal Engineers should be disbanded, and that officers and men should be given their choice of remaining in the Colony as settlers or of returning to England.  Colonel Moody1 and the other officers along with  twenty of the men left for England in October, but the remainder settled down in British Columbia, in civil life s plasterers, plumbers, gardeners, masons, bricklayers, tanners, grocers, blacksmiths architects, carpenters, photographers, tailors, shoemakers, undertakers, surveyors, bookkeepers, hotel proprietors, in fact as men who were active  in every walk of life.  IN 1863 there were 130 of them.  Thirty-five years later there were 34.  In 1903 there were 25, and in 1909 (46 years later) there were 14.  The last survivor, Philip Jackman, died in 1927.


To mark the pioneers work done by the Royal Engineers during these days which the province is now commemorating the Corps Committee has arranged , at the request of the British Columbia authorities, that one officer and five O.R.s, uniformed and armed as for 1858, will participate in the various centennial celebrations in conjunction with a similar party in modern dress from the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers.

In addition the Corps is to present to the City of New Westminster an enlarged replica of the Corps badge.  This plaque will be hung at the entrance to the City hall and will serve to remind all who pass of the longstanding association between the 'Royal City' and the Royal Engineers.

Since the main events take place during the summer months, the party arrived in B.C. early in May.  They are stationed at the Royal Canadian School of Military Engineering, located in the same Chilliwack country surveyed almost 100 hundred years ago by Captain Parsons and his small party.  From there, joined by a similar  detachment from the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers, but uniformed and armed for 1958, to emphasize the continuing Sapper tradition, and accompanied by the band of the Royal Canadian Engineers in pre-war scarlet, they sally forth to take part in the province of British Columbia's Centennial.

By this joint effort it is intended not only to reflect the work of the Royal Engineers in the early days, but to illustrate the fact that although the Corps left the province some 50 years ago, its work has, and is being perpetuated and carried forward by its offspring, the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers.

1 Colonel Moody, later Major-General Moody, died at Bournemouth on the 31st March 1887, and now lies buried in St. Peter's churchyard there.  He was born 18th February 1813, the second so of Colonel Thomas Moody.


MCGIVERN, Captain J. S., The Royal Engineers in British Columbia, Chilliwack, May 1957.
SAGE, Walter, N., Sir James Douglas and British Columbia, Toronto, 1930
HOWAY, F. W., British Columbia, The Making of a Province, Toronto, 1928.
HOWAY, F. W., The Royal Engineers in British Columbia--1858-1863 an address published in the Engineering Journal, Montreal, January 1937.