On Sept. 7, 1894, at least 30 men living on the north side of the Fraser River received letters patent from Lieutenant-Governor Edgar Dewdney. The letter spoke about the creation of the District of Kent for the first time. The goal: to get some work done.
People had long been living in the area that, after Jan. 1, 1895, would be called the District of Kent.
John Ferguson and Jesse McMillan were the first Europeans to claim land in the area in 1859, although the Agassiz family became perhaps the best-known of the early settlers. Indigenous villages had peppered the lands along the river for centuries before European explorers arrived, and indeed were still there when Simon Fraser paddled down the river.
First gold, then agricultural land drew in settlers. The population grew, and early farmers pre-empted more than 100 acres of land apiece in the 1890s. The Canadian Pacific Railroad increased access to the area once it was built in 1885, and became a major factor in its settlement.
By 1895, the District of Kent had been born, named after the English county of Kent, which was also known for its hops.
On Jan. 14, the first election was held in the district, and five residents were elected to the new municipal council: A. St. George Hamersley (reeve), John McRae (alderman), James Duncan (alderman), John Burkitt (alderman) and Michael Murphy (alderman).
Their task was simple, but imperative: build roads, bridges and a drainage system that would leave farmers with better land and easier access to markets for their crops.
At the first council meeting on Jan. 28, 1895, the first order of business after the appointment of municipal officers was to develop a list of surveyed and gazetted roads. By March, “path masters” were instated to ensure that every household worked six days a year to develop and maintain Kent’s roads.
(Kent would eventually abolish the requirement for this free local labour in 1905, but reinstated it in 1909. In 1928, this kind of labour was abolished throughout Canada, and bylaws were passed to bring in road taxes to maintain the infrastructure instead.)
Along with roads, the first two years of incorporation also saw the establishment of bridges and the construction of the Agassiz ditch.
Now, 125 years later, not much has changed — although the population and the challenges of road and ditch maintenance are significantly larger.
The District of Kent now shares a significant portion of its road infrastructure with the the province, as the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure controls Highways 7 and 9. Upgrades to these major roadways have to be planned with and approved by the ministry, and funding for their upkeep comes from the province.
Drainage also continues to be a major concern in the district. Kent currently has 143 kilometres of drainage waterways, and clearing them of grasses requires the collaboration of the provincial, federal and municipal governments.
Over the years, massive tensions have erupted over these waterways — and as long as the District of Kent is a low-lying municipality with a lot of farmland next to the river, it’s unlikely these tensions will fully disappear.