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North Delta history: Those radical veterans from Poverty Hill

Settling in North Delta to raise chickens, Second World War vets form Delta Rate Payers Association
Second World War veteran Arne Knudsen led what would become North Delta’s first Delta Rate Payer’s Association. (Photo courtesy of Delta Museum and Archives Society)

By Nancy Demwell, Delta Museum and Archives Society

Land previously owned by interned Japanese was claimed by the federal government in 1946 in order to settle returning soldiers under the Veterans Land Act. Veterans were given land in North Delta on Hellings Road, on what is today 86th Avenue near 116th Street.

These settled veterans started chicken farms and, because there was no available ground water and a scarcity of surface water in the dry summer, were forced to buy water at $4 for 600 gallons from a dealer located near the Pattullo bridge. This made their farms marginal enterprises. Disease hit the poultry industry in 1947 and all the birds on these North Delta farms had to be culled.

Since survival of these farms was now impossible without a cheaper source of water, four veterans led by Arne Knudsen went to Delta’s city council in Ladner to ask for water service. They were refused. Before the war, the earlier Japanese owners were not allowed to vote in municipal elections, so they had no voice despite the fact that they paid taxes. The mayor and council were apparently unaccustomed to considering the requests and needs of the heights of North Delta.

The vets returned for every council meeting. One alderman was so irritated by their repetitive request that he cried out, “Not those radical veterans from Poverty Hill!” The veterans liked the sound of that title and took the name as their own.

They formed North Delta’s first Delta Rate Payer’s Association, called a meeting, and with each following meeting attendance grew. With the help of Albert Huff, a sympathetic First World War veteran on city council, they made contact with the Greater Vancouver Water Board, and finally, with the backing of a great number of North Delta rate payers, their request for a public water system was granted.

North Delta got its public water system in 1948, and that same year North Delta had its first resident voted onto city council. The Rate Payers Association has played a significant role in North Delta since that time and has included high profile leaders such as Delta’s current Mayor Lois Jackson, prior to her time on city council.

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