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Importing the First Purebred Holsteins to BC
By Kathy Steves
In 1885 Manoah Steves decided he was ready to import high quality dairy cattle. He hoped to ship butter with his vegetables to New Westminster and eventually to supply the townsite his son William Herbert was developing along the waterfront. He was very interested in genetics for both plants and animals and he wanted to breed registered cattle and horses.
He sent away for information on several breeds but was particularly interested in Holstein Friesian cattle. These mostly black and white dairy animals had been used in Holland for many years to produce butter and cheese, whichwereeasiertostoreandhandlethanmilk.TheDutch farmers were known for their skill at breeding for high production as well as desirable appearance.
He learned that the first attempt in 1857 to import a basic herd (to the US) ended with lung plague which we now call tuberculosis. Winthrop W. Chenery in Massachusetts had four more animals shipped from North Holland in 1861. Then in 1869 Gerrit Miller of Peterboro, New York imported three cows and a bull from Friesland.
Manoah visited some of the Holstein owners on the west coast of the United States in the spring of 1886. He ordered a set of the Holstein herd books and read their contents thoroughly. He wrote to Theron G. Yeomans, the president of the Holstein Association and later the founding president of the Holstein-Friesian Association for advice and help in finding suitable animals.
Yeomans arranged to ship him three well-bred animals. The yearling bull UNCLE REMUS had been imported from Friesland inside its mother on October 6, 1884 and had been born February 12, 1885. The two-year old heifer SATIN had been imported with her mother on the same shipment when she was eight months old. The second heifer FROLIC 2nd had been raised by Yeomans himself and had an impressive American pedigree. Her sire’s dam, PRINCESS OF WAYNE, had been imported in 1879 and had the second highest milk production record in the world up to 1891 (29,008 lbs in 365 days). Later figures showed that between 1877 and 1886 over 9000 bred Holstein heifers and 750 Holstein bull calves were imported from Europe to North America. 22 importers brought over 6857 of these animals in that decade.
Manoah’s three animals arrived in Tacoma, WA on the Northern Pacific Railway
company train from Portland, OR on June 3rd, 1886. They were transferred along with a crate of pigs first to a ferry heading for Victoria, then to a ferry from Victoria to New Westminster which would deliver them to a dock near the future Steveston townsite. They arrived at a perfect time of year when grass on the tide-nourished mud flats was green and lush. After four months of good pasture, the animals settled into winter on scythe-cut hay and chopped root vegetables. This same year, L. Guichon at Ladner’s Landing bought a heifer, SUNFLOWER 2nd and a bull, WAUKESHA from California, but no calves were ever registered.
Satin’s bull calf, Lulu King, was born uneventfully on January 20, 1887. The younger Frolic was bred within six weeks by Uncle Remus, making her calf and Lulu King the first purebred, registered Holstein calves born in BC in 1887. ‘Lulu’ would become the unregistered prefix used by Steves for many years when registering their calves with the Holstein Herd Book.
Manoah was so pleased with his newly acquired Holsteins that he wanted to get a bigger herd as soon as possible. In August of 1887 Manoah decided to travel to Ontario to Michael Cook’s farm to arrange to buy one rail carload of Cook’s cattle. Cook was the first president of the Holstein Friesian Association of Canada from 1884 to 1887. He had built up a sizable herd from five bred heifers imported on June 21, 1882, nine more imported on June 19, 1883, and eight more on October 15, 1885. Manoah arranged to buy five of the original Dutch imported (older) cows in these shipments and was quickly convinced to increase his purchase to two carloads with a promise of a reduced price – this evidently was not kept. In all, Manoah bought 33 animals (of which 10 were bull calves), including four under two months of age. These represented 2/3 of Cook’s herd. Half of the calves travelled out to BC without their mothers, although they were probably pail-fed milk, not suckling their mothers directly. Cook convinced Manoah to buy nine bull calves that were all sired by Cook’s GUGARTHA PRINCE sire, assuring Manoah that his neighbours would be eager to purchase them to upgrade their own herds. Cook had sold all his young bulls the previous year – perhaps his local market for these next bulls was saturated. Although there are no records of the total price paid, documents show Manoah paid $200 for a cow with her young heifer, and other payments were spread out in 1889 and 1893. With the benefit of registration records, the names and birthdates of
all the original animals are known.
A Rough Start in BC
Manoah’s cattle were shipped on the recently completed Canadian Pacific Railway to Port Moody. Rail transport for two carloads was $405 to the coast. They were loaded onto the steamer Princess Louise which would stop at Lulu Landing
on her way from New Westminster to Sidney we believe. There were no buildings ready to house them upon arrival on October 6 and 16, 1887. The harsh windy and
rainy conditions of November were hard on them. In the first year, many of the new Steves animals died. Manoah’s letter recalled, “We lost four or five heifers calving - calves too big and quite a large number of young calves. One died coming here, one died with throatdisease,anotherpasttwo was found dead in the pasture field.” Three of the original imported mature cows also died. In 1888, Manoah sold severalanimalstofarming neighbours - Uncle Remus, one heifer and three of the Prince sons. The young breeding bulls brought $100 each. Manoah kept
three of the other young bulls for his future herd use while using Lulu King for breeding in ’88-’89. Another Prince son was sold for breeding in 1890, but the others have no record of transfer leaving us to speculate that they died or were beefed. In 1888, from the 10 cows and nine bred heifers, only five heifers and four bulls survived to be registered.
More BC Dairies Import Purebred
Other BC dairy farmers were also catching on to registered Holsteins. In 1887, B.N.L. Davis of Mount Vernon, WA, sold six registered Holsteins (four bulls, two heifers) to these buyers: John McKee (Ladner), Henry Barker (Upper Sumas), Jonathon Reece (Chilliwack), Thomas McNeely (Ladner’s Landing) and A.C. Wells (Chilliwack). Reece became the second BC dairyman to register Holstein calves (1889), heifers resulting from the Davis purchases. Another early registered Holstein dairyman in BC was Hubert F. Page, who arrived in Matsqui in 1889 from Amherst, NS. His father had imported the first registered Holsteins in Nova Scotia in 1883 and added several more in the following years. By 1889, they had built their herd to about 23 cows, and apparently split the herd to allow Hubert to bring 12 cows and an American bull to BC. In the 1889 American Holstein Friesian Herd Book, four new animals were registered to J.E. Page and Sons of Matsqui. In the first volume of the Canadian Holstein Herd Book in 1892, Hubert Page registered his bull, 12 cows and six calves. Page’s cattle appeared in every volume of the Canadian Herd Book until 1902 when he registered nine bulls and 19 heifers in the American Holstein Friesian Herd Book. The Page family still had Holsteins on the old homestead in 1953. Several other BC dairymen purchased registered stock from other breeders in Nova Scotia around this time as well. In 1891, Henry Bonsall started his large dairy in Chemainus with three bred heifers from Wisconsin, and a bull and heifer from Minnesota. In Volume Two of the Canadian Holstein Herd Book (1895), Bonsall registered four cows, three bulls, seven heifer calves and two bull calves. He registered about 10 new animals each year to 1912 and beyond.
A Difficult Economy
An oversupply of cattle and a general economic depression forced prices of cattle at public American sales to drop drastically from an average of $187.40 per cow in 1886 to an average of $115.80 in 1889 and $110.30 in 1890. Cook had been very astute in disposing of most of his herd in 1887! By 1890 he had bought only one new cow, but his herd had increased from 18 to 38 animals from calves out of his original cows. The following years were difficult to maintain profitable cattle prices. Manoah’s eldest son Herbert, a successful businessman with his extensive seed company, was ambitiously purchasing and developing land which would become Steveston. Unfortunately, sometimes economic timing clashes with vision,
and he found 6 himself over-
extended more
than once when
mortgages came due. Manoah stepped
in several times
to shore-up the financial needs of Herbert’s development plans. By 1892, Manoah and Herbert were holding many uncollected bills, and mortgages were due. Most of the registered cattle were sold as a result.
But this was far from the end of the Steves dairying and
seed enterprises. The farm would rebuild the herd and develop a processing and delivery service through New Westminster and Vancouver. An interesting story for Part 2.

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