British Columbia·Photos

Ice then and now: When the Fraser became a skating rink

Photographers in New Westminster have been catching shots of ice chunks floating in the mighty Fraser River this week. And while it certainly shows how cold it's been this season, there was a time when the river froze solid enough to stand on.

Think it's cold now? There was a time when B.C.'s longest river froze from New Westminster to Surrey

In this photo from the 1920s, a group of nattily-dressed skaters plays a game of hockey on the frozen Fraser River, with the New Westminster Bridge in the distance. (New Westminster Archives)

The mighty Fraser River that flows through much of the province hasn't been untouched by this season's enduring cold snap along the South Coast. 

Photographers in New Westminster, B.C. have been catching shots of ice chunks floating in the water this week.

"Over the last four or five days, depending on just how the tide is pushing the river, we would see the surface of the river quite covered with chunks of ice floating along," said Archie Miller, a B.C. historian and New Westminster resident.

Miller and his wife, Dale, run a company called A Sense of History Research Services. Their home overlooks the river. He says ice in the Fraser isn't that uncommon. 

"This does happen every few years if we get a cold snap like this," said Miller. 

But while it's not the first time the Fraser has iced up, there was a time when the river froze solid enough to stand on. 

'People took wagons and horses on it'

"The Fraser used to freeze, I won't say regularly, but it would freeze more years than it didn't in the earlier days of the province and the colony," said Miller.

"There weren't that many people living around here, therefore there wasn't so much heat coming off homes or coming out of fireplaces or chimneys, and there wasn't as much industry, there weren't as many boats and so on.

"Definitely all from the beginning of New Westminster, 1859 and up, there would be lots of examples of major ice in the river, major freezing up."

In this picture from 1922, two men and a dog sit in the middle of the frozen Fraser River near New Westminster, B.C. (New Westminster Archives)

There is one year in particular, though, that is well documented in the City of New Westminster's online archives: the time when the Fraser became a skating rink.  

"It is in early February of '29," said Miller. "For a period of a week or so ... the Fraser was really quite solid. We want to emphasize that's not top to bottom, that's across the top." 

With the New Westminster Bridge in the background, a group of skaters glide over the frozen Fraser River in this photo from 1929. (New Westminster Archives)

Miller says along with the skaters and hockey games shown in the city's archive photos, vehicles were also out on the ice.

"People took wagons and horses on it, we also know that there were people, we've seen photographs of people with their car out in the middle of the Fraser," said Miller.

"So it was very solid and it stopped things on the river completely at that time."

In this 1929 photo, Anne Alsbury (left) and Olive McDonald (right) stand on the frozen ice of the Fraser River near the New Westminster Bridge. (New Westminster Archives)

That was the last time the river froze that solidly, says Miller, although there have been other icy years.

According to the city's archives, the river also froze in the following years, as demonstrated by this man and his obedient dog. 

This photo from New Westminster's City Archives shows a man and a dog on the frozen Fraser River. The archives estimates the photo was taken sometime during the 1940s. (New Westminster Archives)