Laurent Guichon was born in 1836 in the Savoie province of France. At the young age of 22, he followed his adventurous heart to the goldfields of California. He worked in mining there before taking the gold trail into British Columbia’s Cariboo Region. In 1861, when Laurent was 25, he met Bill (W.H.) and Thomas Ladner. The three became friends as the Ladners operated supply stores along the gold trail and Laurent and his partner ran a pack train business between Quesnel and Yale. Laurent Guichon’s son, Frank, later described the pack train business as “rough and hazardous”: “‘[Dad] carried a revolver for protection because at times he carried as much as $10,000 in nuggets and gold-dust in a belt around his waist.'” Despite the hazards, the pack train business prospered and, in 1864, Laurent’s brother, Joseph, came to Canada to work with his brother.
In 1868, Bill Ladner and his brother, Thomas, left the goldfields of the Cariboo to begin working on the 1,100 acres of land which they had purchased on the Fraser River Delta. While they were busy draining, cultivating and homesteading their land, Laurent Guichon and his brother were setting up a cattle ranching operation in the Nicola Valley. In June of 1879, Laurent traveled to Victoria where he married Mlle Peronne Rey who was also from Savoie, France. The newlyweds traveled back to the Nicola Valley and settled first on Mamette Lake, north of Kamloops (where their first child, Marie, was born in 1880) before moving to Chaperon Lake near Merritt and then to Douglas Lake. Laurent and Peronne’s family continued to grow; they had four of their ten children while living in the Nicola Valley. In 1884, they left the Douglas Lake Ranch; it eventually became the largest cattle operation in the British Commonwealth.
But before they left ranching, (either in 1878 or 1881) Laurent Guichon’s old friend, Bill Ladner, persuaded Laurent to buy 1,000 acres of “farmland” adjacent to the Ladner’s property on the Fraser River Delta. The Guichon’s land stretched from what is now known as 46A Street to 41B Street. Instead of moving onto their 1,000 acres, the Guichons moved to New Westminster and hired labourers to dig ditches to drain the newly acquired land at “Ladner’s Landing.” In 1884, Laurent and Peronne and their family opened the Hotel Guichon along the river in New Westminster. The hotel was razed in the 1898 fire which destroyed much of New Westminster. (The office building that the Guichons constructed to replace to burned-out hotel was still standing in the 1970’s.) While living in New Westminster, the Guichons were also building on their property at “Ladner’s Landing.” The second Hotel Guichon and an adjacent ferry landing were built along the river at what quickly became known as Port Guichon.
The paddle steamers running from New Westminster to Victoria would stop at Port Guichon to take on passengers and/or freight. The settlement around the hotel and ferry landing was officially named the town site of Port Guichon in the early 1890’s.
Sometime in 1887, the growing family moved from New Westminster into the Port Guichon Hotel while their new home was being built across the road. The Guichon family home still stands where it was built on River Road West. (The home is no longer in the Guichon family, but it has been handsomely renovated.)
Apart from the hotel and ferry landing, Laurent Guichon also ran a saloon and general store. He used his experience with cattle ranching to raise a large herd of dairy cattle, and he cultivated a considerable amount of grain. His son, Frank, recalled that at one time, “there were sixty cows on the Guichon farm to be milked at a time and the butter produced sold for 20 cents a pound.” Laurent and Peronne and their ever-growing family, (Alfred, the tenth and last child, was born in their Port Guichon home in 1897), contributed to the community in many more ways. In her article, “The Guichon Story: Part II,” Wendy Fuchko describes other contributions the family made to their community, first in the fishing industry that was growing up around Port Guichon:
Although seasonal, fishing became a semi permanent occupation for many people who resided at Port Guichon year round. Eventually, [ the Guichon’s] property in the vicinity of River Road West and Savoy Street (named for Laurent and Peronne’s birthplace) was subdivided into lots and sold for approximately $200 each to the “aquatic farmers” desiring homes on land…. [Also] reflective of Port Guichon’s true development as a community was the increasing need for sociological outlets and collectives. A considerable portion of the citizenry were of the Catholic faith including the Guichon family who, among others, offered their home as the site of the first religious services in 1887. Shortly thereafter, it became apparent that a parish church was needed. Once again the Guichon family aided in the advancement of the namesake settlement by donating a parcel of land to the parish for the exclusive purpose of building a church. Under the supervision of Father Irene Jacobs OMI and with a great deal of help from the congregation, work on the first Sacred Heart Church was completed in 1891. Located at the intersection of 44B Avenue, Savoy Street and what came to be known as Church Street, the new church was blessed by Bishop Durieu OMI that same year….
Despite thievery and an earthquake in 1949, the church remained an integral part of the community for over half a century. However, a windstorm in October, 1962, wrought severe damage to the building, rendering it unsafe. Four years passed from the time the original Sacred Heart Church closed its doors to the completion and subsequent blessing in 1966 of the present, much larger Sacred Heart Church located on Arthur Drive.
In addition to these contributions to the community, Laurent Guichon also served in civic politics as a member of the new municipal council, as did his youngest son, Alfred. A year before his death in 1902, Laurent Guichon became a major participant in one of the
most important developments in Ladner’s history. In 1901, the Victoria Terminal Railway and Ferry Corporation allowed for the construction of rail and steamship service between Port Guichon and Victoria, through Sidney. Fuchko writes that, designed to transport rail cars and passengers, the facility [at Port Guichon] made use of a steamship, the Victorian, which was renovated to accommodate eight to 12 freight train cars on the loading deck. The laborious task of building the railway began with the arrival of the Forteviate, a four-masted sailing ship, at Port Guichon. Its cargo, rails brought from England, was unloaded by hand. The strength of several men was required to carry each rail. In a process lasting months, the rails were laid, starting at the dock and extending to Cloverdale and other points. From Port Guichon the railway ran along what is now Station Street past the “Station” that currently stands as part of the Fishermen’s Hall, and around the back of the present site of Port Guichon Elementary onto what is now 44 Avenue. From there, the rails ran east to Cloverdale and connected north to New Westminster and south into the United States. Upon completion, the service combining two forms of transportation was able to move people and merchandise in a manner efficient for the day. Additional wharves and warehouses sprang up along Port Guichon’s waterfront while telephone and telegraph lines paralleled the railway. The Victoria Terminal Railway Company became part of the Great Northern Railway and the Port Guichon-to-Cloverdale line became part of the continuing battle between the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Great Northern Railway; they were fighting for exclusive rail rights between this part of British Columbia and points south and west. There is little doubt, therefore, that Laurent Guichon and his family made an amazing contribution to the development of our community.