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North Delta History: Who the heck was Annie?

There are many stories about how Annieville got its name, but only one can be true
The Annieville Cannery during the construction of the GNR right-of-way in 1908. (Image courtesy of the Surrey Archives, 132.01)

By John Macdonald, Delta Museum and Archives Society

How and when did Annieville get its name? Was it sometime in the early 1890s, as suggested by the story about Norwegian settlers returning home in a rowboat from New Westminster?

The landing place was clogged with bulrushes and someone asked who was going to get out and help land the boat. A voice was then heard, saying in a strong Norse accent, “Oh, Annie vill.”

The story itself may be true, but Annieville had been named years before the Norwegian settlers arrived.

The book British Columbia Place Names says that in 1871 James Syme and his wife Annie were with a party in a small boat looking for a cannery site and had trouble landing the boat in the shallow water. As Annie waded ashore, someone shouted, “Annie will make it.”

There are several problems with this account: James Syme’s wife was Janet, not Annie, and they couldn’t have been looking for a new cannery site in 1871 because the buildings in which Syme canned salmon between 1867 and 1869 had been erected there in 1864 for a fish saltery by former Cariboo gold miner Alexander Annandale. These same buildings were used for the canning operation started there by Alexander Ewen and his partners in 1871.

The 1879-1979 Delta Centenary booklet says that Annie was Mrs. Laidlaw, who later became Mrs. Peter Birrell and that Mr. Laidlaw was a cannery owner. James Anderson Laidlaw was a cannery owner and, after he died in early 1893, his wife did marry Peter Birrell in 1898. But her name wasn’t Annie either; it was Bella. Peter Birrell, however, is directly connected to the story of how Annieville got its name.

In 1878, Peter Birrell and his partners formed the B.C. Packing Company and established a cannery at what became known as Annieville. Birrell continued to be an owner and manger of the cannery into the 1900s. He is the one who appears to have named Annieville. The address given for Peter Birrell in the New Westminster voters list between 1880 and 1886 was “Annieville.” In 1885 the location of the B.C. Packing Company’s cannery “opposite New Westminster” was shown as “Annieville” in the annual BC Fisheries Report.

So who was Annie, then? The 1891 census recorded Peter Birrell living in a two-story, seven-room house that he shared with three other people, including his cook, whose name was Annie Cowie. It’s likely that as Birrell’s employee and cook, Annie prepared meals for him and some of his staff at the cannery during the busy salmon season.

She may even had helped dock the boat they used to travel between New Westminster and the cannery site in Delta.

John McDonald is a member of the Delta Museum and Archives Society’s North Delta Advisory Group.

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