Chilliwack-Abbotsford Dairies

The past week in Chilliwack has been a matter of hanging on every word of news about rivers rising, roads flooding and landslides cutting all roads reaching to other parts of the Province. Chilliwack became an island cut off from even Abbotsford, the nearest community with which we are deeply integrated for commercial and health services.

Images of the flooded landscape have been viewed globally.

Many people have read and learned about the history of the area

The prairie where much of the flooding has occurred was once the bottom of Sumas Lake. The lake was drained about one hundred years ago and had been talked about for almost fifty years before that. It took several tries before the project worked and floods and spring freshets tested the plan several times. The lake bottom opened a large rich agricultural area that filled with settlers after the 1920s.

Well before the lake was drained, the Chilliwack-Abbotsford area had established itself as a significant agricultural area for British Columbia and the country. In 1887, Chilliwack (also known as Centreville at the time) hosted the provincial Agricultural Exhibition.

BC Agricultural Association Exhibition - 1887Advertisement - Chilliwhack

Exhibitors competed in categories of dairy, poultry, floral, provincial manufactures, agricultural implements, horses, hogs, field produce, sheep, wool work, wreaths, millinery, knitting, bed quilts, hand sewing, crochet, tatting and embroidery. On September 28, 1887 the winners in dairy related categories were detailed in the Daily British Colonist (p. 1).


A Grand Success – The Town Crowded with Visitors – Everybody Pleased – Some of the Awards.

Centerville, B.C., Sept. 28. – The town is full of people, amongst them many Islanders and lower river residents. Keen interest is felt in all matters connected with the exhibition. The grounds and buildings are spacious and well filled with articles. The general verdict of visitors is that Chilliwhack and Sumas, judging from produce, are among the richest agricultural sections in Canada. The greatest interest is manifested in the result of the competition of dairy products, of which there are sixty entries. The judges had much difficulty in arriving at a decision, but finally announced the following prizes: Fresh made unsalted butter – Mrs. Forsyth, of Chilliwhack, first prize; Sheldon Knight, of Chilliwhack, second; A.S. Vedder, of Chilliwhack, third. Best firkin of roll butter – Mrs. Forsyth, first prize; T.E. Ketchen, of Chilliwhack, second; G.W. Chadsey, of Sumas, third. Best tub of butter, packed – Sheldon Knight, first prize; Mrs. Forsyth, second; J. McCutchen, third. Best cheese – A.C. Wells, of Chilliwhack, first; J.W. Sexsmith, North Arm, second. Heaviest hens’ eggs – J. Reese, first; J. Thompson, second. Heaviest turkey eggs – J.F. Ryder, first; Wm. Chadsey, second. The exhibit of stock and poultry are every good. The Belmont Company, leather manufacturers, Pendray & Co’s soaps, and Hodgson’s yearling bull, of Nanaimo, a splendid animal, will all take prizes.

*early spelling of Chilliwack

Prize-winning production of butter and cheese began early in the Chilliwack-Abbotsford area and products were sold across the province. This week, we learned that sixty-two dairies had to be evacuated. Each dairy has on average 150 cows. Many animals were lost because of the flood; many families devastated.

In response to the damage caused by the mass flooding and mudslides in the Fraser Valley, the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV), the Abbotsford Community Foundation (ACF), and the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce have jointly established the Abbotsford Disaster Relief Fund. Donations to the Abbotsford Disaster Relief Fund can be made online at


Reimer, Chad (2018). Before We Lost the Lake, A Natural and Human History of Sumas Valley. Halfmoon Bay, BC: Caitlin Press.

Watt, K. Jane (2000). Milk Stories, A History of the Dairy Industry in British Columbia 1827-2000. Abbotsford, BC: Dairy Industry Historical Society of British Columbia.