John and Margaret McKee, and their six children, arrived in east Delta in 1875 from Ireland via San Francisco. They purchased 840 acres in the "East Delta flats," which provided an enormous challenge for anyone farming such salt waterlogged, riddled soil. At times the land was completely flooded for months on end.
These stalwart, hard-working people constructed their own dikes along with extensive ditching for drainage and gradually improved the soil quality. In those days, farmers wore rubber boots year round.
Horses were fit with wooden shoes while working the fields to keep them from sinking into the mud, and were used to pull out oxen that had sunk to their knees ploughing a field.
Progress was slow but the pioneers set down their roots in this reclaimed land. And I quote, "It was a task that would have broken the hearts and spirits of less hardy men."
The initial family home and acreage was in the vicinity of the St. Stephen's United Church in East Delta. The church was built on land donated by John McKee in 1891.
While continuing to farm with the aid of their four sons, John and Margaret McKee moved into their new home on Slough Road, now known as Arthur Drive, near Ladner Village. They named the house Rosetta after a school in Ireland. It was customary in those days to "name" homes of some significance.
The house was built in 1895 for Thomas Kerr, a partner in Grant & Kerr sawmill. When the mill relocated to the Port Guichon area, the Kerrs moved and sold the home to McKee.
An example of fine Victoria era architecture and social status, it is now a designated heritage site. The house was acquired by the Corporation of Delta and is the focal point of the McKee House seniors complex.
A third house built and occupied by David McKee, named Melodie Court on Arthur Drive, is now a care home. This house, which is also of architectural significance, had in its landscape a large, prominently displayed monkey tree, the sight of which could stop traffic to admire its uniqueness.
The legacy of the McKee family is forever ingrained in the community fabric as benefactors of donated land for a church site and community centre. In addition to its generosity, the family through the generations was active in the church and community.
John Sr. was a principled man who served many years as justice of the peace. Two sons, John and William, both served terms as reeve of Delta.