LADNER, WILLIAM HENRY, prospector, office holder, pack-team operator, farmer, and politician; b. 28 Nov. 1826 in Cornwall, England, son of Edward Ladner and Sarah Ellis; m. 12 Feb. 1866 Mary Ann Booth (d. 1896) in Victoria, and they had one son and three daughters; m. there secondly 1 July 1897 Mrs Ella B. McLellan; d. 1 Nov. 1907 in Ladner, B.C.
Edward Ladner, a Cornish tenant farmer, emigrated to a settlement of Cornish lead miners at Mineral Point, Wis. His eldest son, William Henry Ladner, who had some education as well as farming experience, joined him in 1848 and subsequently brought out a younger brother, Thomas Ellis. After the death of their father in 1851, William and Thomas set off overland for the California gold-fields, where they had a little success in placer mining near Sacramento.
In May 1858 the Ladners headed north to the newly discovered gold-fields of the Fraser River canyon. The brothers travelled via the delta of the river, rather than its main channel, in order to avoid officials charging fees at its mouth. Yet by September 1858 Governor James Douglas* of British Columbia had named William one of the first constables in the mining district. The appointment of peace-officers was part of Douglas’s efforts to control liquor sales and calm both Indians and miners. William and Thomas prospected as partners until the spring of 1859 when they began to run a pack train of mules from Yale to Lytton and up-country mines.
In 1865 the mining rush on the Big Bend of the Columbia River caused William Ladner to switch his partner and his focus. He and Robert Thompson Smith, a former partner of Francis Jones Barnard*, began to freight goods using steamers, wagons, and mule trains on various stretches of the 300-mile route between Yale and the upper Columbia. They surveyed and built roads along the difficult part of the route through the Gold Range. The 1866 mining returns were disappointing and most miners left the Big Bend region. Ladner and Smith attempted to obtain compensation for their work, but the government turned them down.
The consequent bankruptcy of Ladner’s business concerns, along with responsibilities to his young wife and family, led him to return to an earlier line of work, farming. He established operations on the delta of the Fraser River in 1868. His brother Thomas, by this time a storekeeper in New Westminster, also pre-empted land but did not settle next to William until 1870. Theirs were typical pioneer subsistence farms. The economic decline of British Columbia after the gold-rush meant that markets were mediocre but gave the Ladners time for experimentation and trial runs at other enterprises. Although William Ladner focused on his farm, Frogmore, particularly its cattle, Thomas Ladner essayed salmon canning.
Frogmore, 14 miles downstream from the regional centre of New Westminster and on the route of the steamers to Victoria, became Ladner’s base for building up the local community. He promoted dyking of the lands that fronted on the river. By 1874 he had arranged for a post office in his home near the new government wharf. That year he also began service on the school board which build Trenant School, the first in the neighbourhood. Later he worked to keep it open, though maintaining an attendance of ten healthy pupils was difficult at times for the farm families. In 1879 William Ladner stumped the district to obtain 25 of the 60 signatures on a petition to the provincial government that led to the establishment of a new rural municipality, Delta. In 1880 and in 15 other years down to 1906, he was elected its reeve, and in that capacity he sought fire insurance for farmers and better dykes. He also served as a local police magistrate. By work on exhibitions with fellow members of agricultural associations, he promoted the breeding of Shorthorn cattle and settlement. After his brother Thomas and friend James Anderson Laidlaw established the Delta cannery, William Ladner sold Donald Chisholm land for the town of Ladner and donated the land for the Church of All Saints (Anglican).
His interest in municipal politics led William Ladner to concern himself with provincial affairs. Political parties were not yet in existence in 1882 when he first ran for office. He stood in New Westminster District, then comprising the lower Fraser valley outside the city. He lost to a group of opposition candidates including John Robson*. However, in 1886 he triumphed and became an opposition member. In the legislature he asked questions on behalf of the pioneer settlers of his constituency, particularly regarding construction of roads, bridges, and dykes. He served on committees dealing with railways and public schools. Although William Ladner, “Independent,” lost his seat in the 1890 provincial election, he continued to voice local concerns. In 1892 he gave evidence at the hearings of the federal royal commission on the fisheries in British Columbia. He testified that the dumping of offal from the fish canneries endangered the water supply for humans and animals from the Fraser River. His canner brother, Thomas, argued the opposite point of view. Subsequent regulations and the building of reduction plants for cannery waste allowed local farmers to have water clean enough that they could go into dairy operations.
For William Ladner retirement never came. He promoted development of his farm and his district and his province. By the turn of the century he was involved in the formation of the Conservative party at the provincial level. When he died in 1907, the flowers at the funeral came from Chinese neighbours as well as from ones of European ancestry. In the local community he had earned remembrance as “the Squire.” Delta municipality’s premier town-site, Ladner, takes its name – as even his brother Thomas’s descendants agree – from its foundation by both brothers.
BCARS, GR 1372, F 741/14–16; F 897/1–6; F 915/7; F 945/1, 10. Delta Museum and Arch. (Delta, B.C.), mss DE 11985-130-1–2 (Delta School Board coll.), B/F/1–2 (W. H. Ladner, ledgers). Vancouver Daily World, 2 July 1897: 4. BCHQ, 14 (1950): 113–14. B.C., Legislative Assembly, Journals, 1889–90. Can., Parl., Sessional papers, 1893, no.10c. Journals of colonial legislatures of Vancouver Island and B.C. (Hendrickson), vol.4. L. J. Ladner, The Ladners of Ladner: by covered wagon to the welfare state (Vancouver, 1972). T. E. Ladner, Above the sand heads: firsthand accounts of pioneering in the area which, in 1879, became the municipality of Delta British Columbia, ed. E. G. Ladner (Burnaby, B.C., 1979); Mosaic fragments: from the memoirs of T. Ellis Ladner (1871–1958), ed. E. G. Ladner ([Burnaby], 1980). Lower Fraser valley: evolution of a cultural landscape, ed. A. H. Siemens (Vancouver, 1968). Terence Philips, Harvesting the Fraser: an early history of Delta, ed. Susan Buckley (Delta, 1988). Scholefield and Howay, British Columbia, 2: 36, 236–37, 445; 3: 170–74; 4: 1118–21. E. M. Terris, “Ladner: a pioneer study” (ma thesis, Western Wash. State College, Bellingham, 1973).