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 By Tars Cheema
The beautiful and historic village of Steveston may be more known for its quaint tourist appeal and fishing history today, but its name connects us to cows first, not canneries. The Steves Family, for whom the town was named, were the original importers of purebred Holsteins to BC in 1886. Steveston is located at the south west end of the city of Richmond on what used to be more commonly called Lulu Island. This was considered ‘wild lands’ at the time Manoah Steves arrived from New Brunswick in 1877.
I met Harold Steves at the Canadian Farm Writers Conference in September 2019 in New Westminster where he gave a presentation on the history of the ALR. This subject has remained important to him throughout his life and career in different political roles, most notably as BC’s longest-serving civic politician as a Richmond City councilor. (Interestingly, his great grandfather Manoah served on the first Richmond municipal council after being one of the petitioners who successfully encouraged the province to incorporate it in 1879!) It led to a meeting in July 2020 with he and wife Kathy on a two-acre piece of the original Steves Farm, where a few chickens and Belted Galloways still roam, quietly meshing with the major urban developments around them. A further nine acres of ag land remains on the sea-side of the dyke. If only History classes in high school had been this interesting, I may have paid more attention!
A Pioneer Family’s Distant Roots
Tired of the continual border wars in Europe, the German/ Swiss ‘Stiefs’ left Germany, settling in the Pennsylvania Deutsch colony in the 1700’s. When civil unrest was building ahead of the American Revolution, they were among a half dozen families that boarded a sailing ship to Moncton in 1774. They would spend the next 100 years settled in New Brunswick!
Harold’s great-grandfather, Manoah and wife Martha had spent a year in Maryland and another year in Ontario, before deciding they should come west for what he believed would be a better climate and better health. It was 1877 when he met with W.H. (William) Ladner (in Ladner) to investigate possible locations to settle. Finding the marshland of ‘Steveston’ appealing, he purchased 400 acres here. His family joined him the following year. The land was subject to the changing high water table of the marshland and their first house was elevated on stilts. A three foot tall hand-dug dyke would provide additional protection from flooding during most years. Lulu Island is cupped by the north and south arms of the Fraser River, with Steveston located where the south arm empties into Georgia Strait.
He and his wife had six children: Josephine, William
Herbert (the ambitious land-developer), Mary Alice, Joseph Moore (JM Steves – Harold’s grandfather), Ida and Walter. The name Manoah Steves/Steves is found on a park, schools and other civic elements.
It Started with Fudge
Harold and Kathy have become the curators of the Steves legacy of historic agricultural memorabilia. Well beyond the extensive Holstein herd records are stories, documents, images, newspaper clippings and items from the seed and vegetable business, dairy processing/ delivery, horses, poultry and Holstein breed improvement activities in western Canada. Returning home from school, Harold had a standing offer of fudge on Tuesday afternoons with his grandfather’s younger sister Ida (both Ida and Mary Alice lived to 96 years!) Harold became the vessel that held his family’s early history, via Ida’s stories and shorthand records. Some years later, Kathy would transcribe the precious history for broader appreciation by the family and community.
Not a Fairytale
Certainly, Manoah’s ambitions to excel in breeding prime stock for farming generated great progress in the area, but it was not without many challenges. There were cattle losses, depressed markets, a struggling economy which intersected with heavy mortgages all creating financial pressures that they had to withstand. Often, the remedy was selling land or livestock. In doing so, the cattle carrying the ‘Lulu’ or later ‘Steveston’ prefixes would spread the original purebred genes quickly across many more early breeder herds. Much later, starting with the Great Depression, most farms would struggle to keep up since it was difficult to sell enough milk or meat to pay expenses. Toward the end of the Depression, cows would bring $10 at auction, maybe as much as $60 for world record cows, Harold shares.
Later, around 1959, came the zoning change that signaled the catastrophic change for farms in the Richmond area. Despite the protests of around 160 farmers, the City would not be swayed. Many farms could not afford the increased tax, and some simply became ‘non-conforming’ to the new residential zone regulations. In other cases, land was expropriated. Farming was on its way out, while the airport, commercial development on the river and vast residential developments were on their way in.
Kathy’s article presents more detail based on family records and information from Holstein-Friesian Herd Books. It’s a fascinating synopsis of early dairying (and purebreds) through the records of one family. It’s a big history, one which will require a subsequent article...stay tuned!
1 - Harold and Kathy Steves shared some of the intriguing history from the vast archives of their family, starting with Manoah Steves and the first registered Holsteins imported to BC.
2 - Manoah and Martha Steves, 1887, just before he departed for the west coast.
3 - This 1897 Country Gentleman newspaper from Albany, New York, profiled several ads for Holsteins, amid a wide variety of farming ads.
4 - After Manoah died in 1897, JM built his horse barn in 1900 at No.1 Road and Steveston Hwy. The horse is their stallion, Sudbourne Sheriff, born in Sudbourne, England and imported by Alexander Galbraith of Wisconsin. They won the “Premier Championship Breeder” award for horses at the AYP Exposition in 1909.
5 - Joseph (JM) Steves beside the original Steves' residence built in 1878. The house was originally on six foot stilts (similar to piles but set on 3-4 foot cedar slabs, not driven into the ground). The house was lowered sometime after the dyke was built in 1907.
6 - This clipping from a local 1953 newspaper, celebrated the 75-year milestone of Manoah Steves’ importation of purebred Holsteins and their impact.
Manoah Steves / JM
Steves and Sons – Part 1
The Early Years

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