Abbotsford's agricultural bounty has always been its raison d'etre; for the Sto:lo First Nations, then for settlers of the Gold Rush and pioneer immigrants; and today, for commuters and those seeking a rural lifestyle.
As the gold rush subsided in the latter half of the 1800s, many miners returned to the fertile Fraser Valley, either as farmers or as workers with the railway.
Migrants from the south were just as numerous and since parts of the American-Canadian border were still under dispute, the British had their Royal Engineers survey the area and secure British sovereignty. They built the Old Yale Road – the first road link through the valley and many engineers stayed, taking up an offer of pre-empted land at reduced prices.
Namesakes of these early families are found throughout Abbotsford and include Maclure, Ward and Abbot whose 160 acres would become the heart of the Abbotsford community.
Vancouver's Bread Basket
Within a few years, in 1891, the Canadian Pacific Railway established a station at Abbotsford on its line between Mission and Sumas in Washington State. By then, the area was already producing crops of tobacco, farm produce and dairy products in such quantities that the BC Electric Railway arrived in 1910, expressly to transport goods from the valley to New Westminster and on to Vancouver. The region has been the bread basket to the city ever since.
The Abbotsford Lumber Company, owned by the Trethewey family, was the other major draw to the region. Operating in and around Mill Lake, the company used the lake to sort logs as they arrived by rail from the surrounding area, before sending them off to fast-growing American markets. Facilities around Mill Lake included housing, lumber and shingle mills, drying kilns, shipping yards, a Japanese bath house and a general store.
More than anything else, this company fuelled the growth and ethnic diversity of Abbotsford, attracting workers from China, Japan, Europe and other North American centres. Emmigrés from India's Punjab Province arrived about 1902 and proved themselves such skilled workers that they were asked to build the Trethewey family home. Payment came, in part, as building materials for their temple – now a Historic Site, which the Sikh men carried by hand from the lake to the building site on South Fraser Way.
The Mennonites came to the valley in 1929 and although they numbered less than 50, within eight years they had built their first church using lumber from the then dismantled Mill Lake Lumber Mill. A post-World War II influx of refugees swelled their ranks and although the population has never grown beyond a few hundred, the Mennonites are firmly rooted in the community.
In fact, today Abbotsford leads the country with the highest proportion of people of South Asian origin per capita and is the third most ethnically diverse city in Canada, after Toronto and Vancouver. As a result, there is a conscious effort to embrace and celebrate these diversities whether with art gallery exhibits at venues such as The Reach, or through multi-cultural festivals.
With its accessibility to both Vancouver and the BC Interior, Abbotsford's central location has also been a boom for other industries beyond agriculture. Sporting events, trade and consumer shows now contribute significantly to the local economy.
An impressive infrastructure of ice rinks, indoor and outdoor courts and playing fields has earned Abbotsford the nickname, Sport Town, and caters to the training and tournament needs of amateur and professional sports. Abbotsford is home base for NFL Calgary Flames farm team, the Abbotsford Heat.