James Kennedy was born December 9, 1817 in Ballymena, near Belfast, country Antrim, in Ulster Ireland. He was the youngest son of James Kennedy of the "Rampart", Ballymena. James was well educated and studied as an Architect.
In 1839, at age 22, James sailed for America. He practiced his profession of Architecture in Rochester, New York. He traveled widely in the United States and visited Wisconsin, Illinois and other mid–western states.
In the late 1840's James moved to Toronto, Ontario and stayed until the early fifties. In 1854 James married, at Whitby, Ontario, Miss Caroline Stone, the second daughter of the Hon. Marshall B. Stone, a United States Senator from Minnesota. On November 1, 1856 their first son James Marshall was born in St. Paul, Minnesota.
In the latter part of February 1859, James, Caroline and their son James, two and one half years old, left Ontario, via New York, for the Pacific North West and the newly proclaimed colony of British Columbia.
Caroline Kennedy recalled:
We spent a few days in New York, embarking on Tuesday early in the morning for Panama, crossing the Isthmus by train... in a pleasant run of about three hours. Passengers, baggage and freight were immediately transferred to the steamship which was to take us to our destination.
...We reached Victoria, a shabby looking little place. The previous year it had experience stirring times. The gold excitement of the Fraser had enticed many, chiefly from California, all bent on seeking their fortunes in the sands of the Fraser. We remained in Victoria two weeks, during which time Mr. Kennedy made a trip across the Gulf and up the Fraser to the site of Queensborough. Upon his return we decided to settle in Queensborough.
With the beginnings of the Fraser River Gold Rush, when gold was found in the sand bars of the Fraser Canyon, a stampede of golf seekers invaded the colony. To maintain "law, Order and Good Government", the Colony of British Columbia was proclaimed on November 19, 1858 and its capital became Fort Langley. A contingent of Royal Engineers had arrived under the command of Col. Moody. They were charged with aiding the development of the new colony.
Moody was pre–occupied with the defense of the colony, in face of the American policy of "Manifest Destiny". The bulk of the miners arriving in the first rush were Americans from California. The potential danger to the colony was that of the United States. Moody felt that Fort Langley was indefensible and chose a more defendable site on the north shore of the Fraser River. The site chosen was Queensborough at the point the Fraser River separates into the north and south arm. This was a defendable location which controlled access along the Fraser. In 1860, the name of the center was changed from Queensborough to New Westminster upon the suggestion of Queen Victoria.
Caroline Kennedy recalled:
After arriving in Queensborough (later New Westminster) in March 1859 on the boat "Eliza Anderson", we were most hospitably entertained by Mr. W.J. Armstrong, who had very recently arrived and had opened a grocery and provision store. He proffered us the use of his comfortable batching quarters until our tent was put up, which Mr. Kennedy set right about doing over a substantial frame upon a board foundation, on a partially cleared piece of ground not far from the river, later known as Lytton Square, where our market now stands.
Mrs. James (Caroline) Kennedy was the first white women to arrive in New Westminster. On August 11, 1859 a son George was born in New Westminster. He was the first white child born in New Westminster.
James Kennedy tried his hand at many occupations; architect, builder, school teacher, road contractor and ranching.
In 1860 James was the first to preempt land on the south shore of the Fraser across the river from New Westminster.
While several local history books say James Kennedy settled in Surrey that was based on the assumption that his early preemptions (District Lots 15, 24, and 25) were in Surrey. They were in fact in the Annieville area of North Delta.
Kennedy believed that the starting point of his 1861 trail to Mud Bay would become the nucleus of an important community and perhaps the terminus of the "The Great Pacific and Atlantic Rail Road".
Kennedy's dream of a community based around his district lots was not to be. Col. Moody felt that any development should be directly across the Fraser River from New Westminster. This did occur when Ebenezer Brown built his wharf at Brownsville which in time became the terminus of roads and a railway.
He probably also dreamed of moving his family there from New Westminster. The was a birth announcement in The British Columbian in September 1865 indicating that Caroline Kennedy had given birth to their fourth child Thomas "At the Rampart, opposite New Westminster".
It's still not clear to what extent Kennedy and family actually lived on the property, although he did build cabins and establish gardens on all three properties. That effort was part of the requirements to maintain the preemptions prior to purchase. However, he improved the properties but for the most part commuted back and forth from New Westminster.
There are details in newspaper advertisements Kennedy placed when he was offering the properties for sale beginning between 1864 and 1871. Kennedy moved his family to Derby near Fort Langley in 1867 where he taught school until 1872.
In January 1861 James Kennedy signed his trail contract to build a trail from his lot 15 south to Mud Bay. He was contracted to cut a trail from his lot 15 holding to extend south to the Serpentine River near Mud Bay and an extension to the meadow lands of the Serpentine Valley near what is now the Colebrook area.
Kennedy was paid for the costs of the trail construction, in part with script, that he and his employees could use to preempt property that they in turn could homestead. Kennedy and son Robert owned several quarter sections in Surrey along Scott Road in the "Kennedy Heights" area. The Surrey Heritage Register includes a "Robert Kennedy House" at 12481 Old Yale Road, now the site of a junk yard. It was built in 1892 but it has not established that Robert every lived there.
The Kennedy Trail provided access for the first of the settlers to preempt land in the district that was to become Surrey. Settlement lagged initially but increased markedly with the decline in the Fraser River and Cariboo Gold Rushes. Many former miners chose to take up farming or logging and one of the prime areas for settlement was the lowlands of Surrey.
James and Caroline Kennedy's family
- November 1, 1856 their first son James Marshall was born in St. Paul, Minnesota.
- August 11, 1859 a son George was born in New Westminster.
- August 15, 1861 a son Robert was born in New Westminster.
- September 1864 a son William Dempter was born in New Westminster.
- September 18, 1865 a son Thomas born at The Rampart opposite New Westminster.
- November 18, 1867 a daughter Mary Emily born in Derby near Ft. Langley
- April 8, 1872 a son Benjamin Stone born in Fort Langley.
In 1866 The Crown Colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia are united and named British Columbia. The capital was New Westminster but in 1868 by a vote of the Colonial Legislature the capital became Victoria.
In April 1867 Langley's first school opens in Derby and James Kennedy became the first teacher. He moved his family to Derby near Fort Langley in 1867 where he taught school and later transferred to the school in Fort Langley until 1872.
In time Kennedy returned to New Westminster and to his vocation as an architect and builder. He acted as a superintendent for the Dominion Government in the construction of the Federal Post Office building in New Westminster that was later destroyed by the fire of September 10, 1998. He acted in the same role for the Provincial Government in the construction of the Provincial Asylum for the Insane. He designed and constructed a number of the business blocks in the city.
James Kennedy, while living in Langley, advertised a sale of stock and land of his old pre–emption downriver from Brownsville.