Aboriginal people have lived in and around the lower Fraser River for many thousands of years.
Often, they moved from camp to camp through the seasons, following herds of elk, harvesting the land of berries and the water of sturgeon, herring and shellfish. Places like Chilukthan Slough and Tsawwassen, which derives its name from Chewassin, the Coast Salish word for "facing the water," still speak to that heritage.
The arrival of Europeans had a devastating effect on Aboriginal populations up and down the coast. Smallpox wiped out about two thirds of the Coast Salish people, along with bronchitis, tuberculosis, measles and influenza. By the time the first official census was completed in 1878, the population of Tsawwassen was recorded at only 52 people.
It was about this time that early pioneers started by clearing land, first on Annacis Island and on the south shore of the Fraser River opposite the new capital of New Westminster and then further down river. The Ladner brothers were among these early homesteaders.
They were the first to bring the grassy marshland into farm production and with their easy access to the Fraser's deep water channel, steamers were quick to make Ladner's Landing a part of the busy route between Victoria and New Westminster. The area flourished.
Growth and Industry
By the late 1800s, the pace of settlement increased and expanded to the shores of Boundary Bay, Westham Island and Chilukthan Slough. Dykes were built to stave of seasonal flooding and a rudimentary road system broadened trading routes inland.
By the turn of the century, salmon canneries had arrived. They lined the shores of the South Arm and for awhile Ladner's 14 canneries were the most important canning centre in the region. Within a few years, however, Steveston's more advantageous setting took hold and Ladner's canning industry dwindled.
Still, it had attracted Chinese and Aboriginal workers as well as smaller communities of Japanese, Norwegians, Finns, Greeks, Basques and Croatians, many of whom account for Delta's current ethnic diversity.
Today, Delta's three neighbourhoods still retain much of their heritage and historic markers pepper the countryside.
Ladner's Heritage Buildings
Ladner still exudes the ambiance of a quaint fishing village. While still-standing canneries await refurbishment, many of Ladner's heritage buildings have already taken on new leases of life as B&Bs, specialty boutiques and other commercial enterprises.
Burns Bog in North Delta is a natural landmark; Westham Island's family farms are now in their fourth and fifth generation and walking the dykes is an active reminder as to their importance to the Delta landscape.
Canada's First Self-Governing Nation
Most significantly, is Delta's First Nations heritage which, in Tsawwassen, represents a landmark in Aboriginal treaty negotiation. Here, the Coast Salish have retained stewardship of their land not as a Territory, but as Canada's first self-governing Nation.
Delta Museum & Archives
Stroll through the early years of the 20th century inside a 1912 Tudor-style heritage building that once served as municipal offices. Fine artifacts and authentic detail draw visitors into Victorian and Edwardian-era rooms (including a formal parlour, bedroom, nursery, study, scullery and typical pioneer kitchen).
The sights and sounds of an early street scene feature a general store, blacksmith shop, bakery, drug store, hotel, one-room school house and more. Dramatic exhibits highlight First Nations artifacts, historic farming, fishing and duck decoys. In summer, the museum offers interpretive heritage tours and offers a self-guided book.