CRATE, WILLIAM FREDERICK, miller, millwright, and HBC employee; b. between 1807 and 1813 at London, Eng.; d. 1 Oct. 1871 at Cowichan, Vancouver Island, B.C.
William Frederick Crate was engaged by the Hudson’s Bay Company at Lachine, Quebec, in April 1834 for three years at an annual salary of £150 Halifax currency. His contract was cancelled at York Factory in July 1834 and he spent the winter of 1834–35 in the Red River Settlement. He was then re-engaged at £100 sterling plus house and board for service in the Columbia Department, where he was placed in charge of the mills at Fort Vancouver, the company’s headquarters for its operations west of the Rocky Mountains. By 1843 Crate had rebuilt and expanded the company’s sawmills and supervised the construction of the first water-driven grist mill; all were built on streams to the east of Fort Vancouver. The grist mill, completed in 1839, could grind about 20,000 bushels of grain a year; from it came flour for the HBC’s western posts and supply ships and for sale to the Russian American Company.
Crate did not renew his contract in 1843 but returned to England to marry on 29 Feb. 1844. He and his wife Sarah spent several years in Vermont where two of their four children were born. John Fenton, who had succeeded Crate as miller at Fort Vancouver, resigned in 1849 and Crate resumed his former duties. During his second employment at Fort Vancouver, Crate completed a new and larger grist mill and constructed a third sawmill which would cut between 3,000 and 4,000 feet of timber in 12 hours.
Following the Oregon Treaty of 1846, Fort Vancouver ceased to be the chief post of the HBC in the Pacific northwest. However, the fort continued as the major distribution and collecting point for the posts south of the 49th parallel, and Crate was in charge of the five-man crew which kept the buildings of the fort in repair. The Oregon Treaty confirmed the “possessory rights” of the HBC to its land and property north of the Columbia River. Nevertheless, the company had continuous trouble with Americans who took up claims to its lands surrounding Fort Vancouver. To protect the grist mill, Crate and his wife filed for a donation land claim of one square mile in 1849 and in 1850. Crate recognized that the mills still belonged to the company, and until 1860 he received wages for running them. But his claim did not include the site of the sawmills, which he also operated for the company. In 1853, Ervin J. Taylor and his wife filed a claim to the half-section of land on which the sawmills stood, and about 1856 Taylor took possession of the mills during Crate’s absence. Despite an injunction drawn up by Dugald Mactavish, then in charge of Fort Vancouver, Taylor remained in possession.
In June 1860 the HBC finally abandoned Fort Vancouver, and employees and equipment were removed to Fort Victoria. Crate, however, chose to leave the company and remain on the Columbia River. He was ordered to send all of the milling machinery to Victoria, but he kept what was fixed to the mills and later sold it as his own before moving to Victoria in 1863.
Crate occupied a lot on Government Street near Fort Victoria until 1866 or 1867, when he took a farm in the Somenos District near Quamichan Lake in the Cowichan Valley. Denied permission to build a wharf at Maple Bay, he sought permission in July 1868 to build a small, water-powered grist mill on Somenos Creek on the Quamichan Indian Reserve. Officials of the colonial government were sympathetic to his application because such a mill would serve the Indians and would promote the sowing of cereals and grains by white settlers in the district. In August 1869, after consultation with the Indian owners, Crate was finally given a seven-year lease to two and a half acres for the mill site at an annual rent of $15. The government showed its support for Crate’s mill by approving his request for free transport of machinery and building material on the government steamer Sir James Douglas. In return, Crate was to grind the chief’s corn without charge, and all of the wheat required by the Quamichan Village Indians at half the price he charged other customers.
This mill proved to be the restless Crate’s last effort to make a new life for himself and his family. Having outlived two of his four children, he died “in very indifferent circumstances.”
British Columbia, Department of Lands, Forests, and Water Resources, Lands Administration Branch, Crown grants, XIV, 2713. PABC, William Frederick Crate correspondence. “Disposition of W. F. Crate, Victoria, VI., 26 August 1865,” Evidence on the part of the Hudson’s Bay Company claimants (British and American Joint Commission for the settlement of claims of the Hudson’s Bay and Puget’s Sound Agricultural companies, [Papers] (14v., Washington, Montreal, 1865–69), II), 104–18, 229. HBRS, VI (Rich), 23, 157–58, 229; VII (Rich), 122–23, 199–200. National Archives (Washington), Microfilm Publications, Microcopy no.432, Population schedules of the seventh census of the United States, 1850, Roll 742, Oregon, Oregon Country (Washington, 1964), 73, f.37. J. A. Hussey, The history of Fort Vancouver and its physical structure ([Tacoma, Wash., 1957]), 110, 151, 198–206. W. E. Ireland, “Early flour-mills in British Columbia: part i – Vancouver Island and the lower mainland,” BCHQ, V (1941), 89–109.