Sapper Philip Jackman opted for a life of adventure and opportunity as a young man, leaving his small farming village in Devon, England to endure a six-month voyage across the Atlantic Ocean and around Cape Horn to British Columbia.
He was a Royal Engineer with the Columbia detachment, who came to B.C. in 1859. Following an intriguing list of jobs through his adult life, Jackman eventually became reeve of Langley.
Today, he is known as one of Aldergrove’s most storied pioneers and the inspiration for the Langley Centennial Museum’s latest exhibition.
The display pays tribute to the life and times of Jackman, a local legend, muntineer, gold miner, railroader, saloon operator turned mayor and store keep, explained the museum’s arts and history curator Kobi Christian.
Ideas for the exhibition were pondered as much as two years ago, when a research paper was presented, she explained.
Last summer, that report was flushed out and it was confirmed a museum display focused around Jackman would be worth pursuing. But little did Christian, nor the museum’s territorial assistant Shea Wind, have any idea how sparse the Jackman archives would be.
The museum held little to no items from the legendary pioneer. And his remaining family have little more than photographic keepsakes, Christian elaborated.
Nevertheless, the museum team wasn’t swayed from their goal. Reaching out to neighbouring museums and historic sites in New Westminster, Chilliwack, and Yale, and searching into the records department at the Township of Langley, they were able – over the past few months – to piece together an engaging exhibit.
“This exhibit draws information from censuses, directories, council minutes, newspapers, theses, correspondence, oral histories, and other archival records to present the life and times of Philip Jackman, and creates a legacy for future generations,” Christian said, noting the display runs until Feb. 25.
Admittedly, following on the heels of two largely successful exhibits this year (a First World War display and a non-traditional fibre arts exhibit), she wasn’t sure what the response was going to be this current display focused on just one man’s life.
But a lot of people have been “quite interested,” Christian said.
One man’s story
Jackman and other engineers arrived at an encampment along the Fraser River “and quickly engaged in laying out the infrastructure for the new colony; building the provincial capital of New Westminster, surveying and constructing towns and roads, even altering rivers for safer passage,” Christian explained.
The Corps of Royal Engineers or Sappers, as they were called, changed the province, both during their time in the Columbia detachment, and as community leaders after their disbandment in 1863.
Like other Royal Engineers for whom towns, streets, and parks have been named, “Jackman was a doer,” Christian said.
He participated in the Cariboo Gold Rush, worked on the Douglas-Lillooet and Cariboo wagon roads, worked for the Canadian Pacific Railroad – where in 1872 he was involved in a mutiny. He worked at the first provincial lunatic asylum in Victoria, was a New Westminster saloon owner and night watchman, and a general store owner in Aldergrove.
In Langley he became involved in politics, and from 1895 to ’97, he served as reeve (what’s now known as mayor) of the Township of Langley.
After this, he worked seasonally as a fisheries guardian on the Fraser River, eventually retiring and living with his daughter in Surrey.
Jackman was the last surviving Royal Engineer of the Columbia detachment when he died in 1927 at the age of 92.
Where to find the exhibit
The Langley Centennial Museum, located at9135 King St. in Fort Langley, is open Mondays through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., and on Sundays from 1 to 4:45 p.m.
Admission is by donation.