Photo courtesy of the Chilliwack Museum and Archives [PP503820] Photograph shows view of Joseph Teskey standing on front porch of the Teskey family home in the Chilliwack River Valley. A woman (possibly Mrs. Teskey) is partially visible standing between branches/leaves of a large tree which has almost completely overgrown the house, at bottom right in image.

Pioneers: Teskeys take the high ground

Chased by the flood waters, the Teskeys leave their mark on Promontory

The reason for all those Teskey street signs that befuddle visitors to Promontory Heights is a couple who moved to Chilliwack from Ontario in 1889.

Joseph was born in Huron-Bruce, Ont. and married Grace Thorburn of Kincardine, Ont. in 1988.

The Teskey patriarchs crossed the country on a CN Rail train and the last leg of their journey saw them take a ferry boat across the Fraser River from Agassiz to Minto Landing.

They settled in the Vedder Crossing area and lived there for 38 years. In their busy house they raised six sons (Hugh, Loney, Gilbert, Thornburn, Vedder and James) and five daughters (Hazel, Mildred, Grace, Margaret, Lena).

Eventually, the Teskey clan expanded to include 17 grandchildren and 31 great-grandchildren.

Joseph was a blacksmith who had his own shop on Wellington Avenue, and when the Chilliwack Museum opened its doors in 1987 his smithing tools were on display.

Turn-of-the-century editions of the Chilliwack Progress also recorded payments from the City to Joseph for infrastructure projects. He was paid the princely sum of $6 in 1900 and $9 in 1901 for work on Chilliwack River Road, and $12 in 1902 for work on Mt. Baker Road.

Much of the labour likely involved clearing land — logging and removing trees with the help of horses. The work was dangerous and the pages of a Progress newspaper from November, 1902 noted that “Mr. Jos. Teskey, while working on the road at present being made around Cultus Lake, received a very severe cut in his leg from an axe,” and was “doing as well as can be expected.”

One of their sons, Loney, lost his life in a logging accident in 1954.

The pioneering Teskeys had a front row seat for many of Chilliwack’s landmark moments, including the gold rush craze of the 1890s and 1900s.

Prospectors with big dreams streamed through town, looking to strike it rich in the Fraser Canyon.

“There was a lot of traffic on the horse trail past our house,” Grace reminisced in a 1955 Progress article. “Everyone was looking for gold in the mountains.”

In 1927, Joseph and Grace became the second family to settle in Promontory Heights, following the Thornton brothers, George and Fred.

The Teskeys were chased to higher ground after several floods, including the great flood of 1894, washed out their 35 acres at Vedder Crossing.

“We went where the river couldn’t get us,” Grace explained.

Difficulty followed them up the hill when, not long after relocating, their six-room home was destroyed by fire. In a case of bad timing, the couple had allowed their home insurance to lapse shortly before the fire. Undaunted, they rebuilt and helped others make their homes on the hill. With Joseph and others working hard to clear land for homes and Grace serving a midwife for dozens of expectant mothers, by the 1940s the population of Promontory Heights had ‘exploded’ to nearly 50 families.

There the Teskeys stayed. Joseph passed away in July of 1948 at the age of 83. Grace survived a heart attack when she was 76 and lived until she was 92, passing away in August of 1957.

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