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Page last updated November 16, 2022

© Michael Kluckner

Written/sketched in 2003: The view towards the town of Stewart at the head of the Portland Canal, log ponds on the right. I sat out on the dock from which (I believe) the copper ore is shipped, ore from the successor to the Granduc Mine. The big Eskay Creek gold and silver mine, owned by Barrick, is about 80 km north; I'm unclear whether ore is shipped out from here or . . . .?

The Empress Hotel, at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Brightwell in Stewart. Closed, but potentially restorable, the hotel was built in 1908 by "a German financier" (undoubtedly Alvo von Alvensleben) as a base for the Canadian Northeastern Railway, which was to connect tidewater at Stewart directly east through the mountains to the Peace River wheatlands and Edmonton. (The truck, a Ford 45, was/is operated by Lindsay's (1973) Ltd. and, according to the painted sign on the door, did the route from Prince Rupert to Terrace and Stewart--it seemed a nostalic reminder of the days before 18-wheelers came to dominate all long-distance trucking.)

The Robert Stewart house at 301 7th Avenue, from British Columbia Magazine, July 1911, p.1015. The Stewart family used the house, built in 1910, until 1945; it still exists in good condition, although the front of it is quite difficult to see due to a row of fir trees planted tight along the front.

Named for the local postmaster, Robert Stewart, about 1905, Stewart's first raison d'etre was its proximity to rich mining properties, but it very rapidly was boosted into a status as a great northern metropolis, its location promising easy access to the untapped riches of northern BC and Alberta. The key appears to have been initial investments by Alvo von Alvensleben and partner E.P. Davis in a 160-acre townsite called Portland Canal on the eastern side of the original Stewart Townsite. The pair sold its lands to the Canadian Northern Railway in August, 1910 (see "New Townsite of Portland Canal: Canadian Northern Lays It Out Adjoining Stewart, & Lots Are Now On Sale." Province, August 24, 1910, p. 7.); the Canadian Northern, then in competition with the Grand Trunk Pacific which was a-building to its Prince Rupert terminus, evidently believed that it too ought to have a northern terminus to syphon the produce of the northern prairies and the Peace River directly west to tidewater.

According to the Province article, the 25' x 100' lots occupied 160 acres on the east of the original Stewart Townsite, placed on the market by the Townsite Department of the Canadian Northern Railway; T.S. Darling, the manager in charge, sold it and the company's promotion of Port Mann from the same office in Vancouver. News that the Canadian Northeastern Railway had commenced work in the spring of 1911, grading eastward up the Bear River Valley, confirmed in many minds the promise of Stewart as Canada's most northerly Pacific port.

Advertisement reproduced from British Columbia Magazine, July, 1911. This, I believe, is the original Stewart Townsite, not the Portland Canal promotion

Advertisement from the back page of British Columbia magazine, July 1911, showing the Canadian Northeastern Railway's terminus at Stewart. In an article in the magazine (p.1016), dripping with boosterism for the townsite, it is stated that Sir Donald Mann "built [the] Canadian Northeastern Railway – destined to be the Pacific end of a great transcontinental system." (Special Collections, Vancouver Public Library)

Stewart Museum site

Alvo von Alvensleben: one of the most flamboyant promoters and speculators in BC before the First World War, he was born in Westphalia in 1877, a "second son" who was said to be a count, arrived in Vancouver almost penniless in 1904 but had soon wheeled and dealed his way to success. He is said to have channelled millions of dollars of German investment into British Columbia in the first decade of the 20th century. His involvements included the Stewart area, as described above; the Dominion Trust building at Hastings and Cambie in downtown Vancouver; the Vancouver Docks proposal of 1909; Pacific Coast Fisheries, which erected a $300,000 cold storage, ice and reduction plant in 1909 at Pacofi Bay off the western end of Talunkwan Island in the Queen Charlotte Islands [Dalzell, Queen Charlotte Islands vol. 2, Harbour 1973, p. 235]; and, Wigwam Inn on Indian Arm [see Luxton, Building the West, pp. 354-5; the building, by architect Sholto Smith, was completed in 1910 for von Alvensleben and fellow developer Benjamin Dickens, and was seized by the Custodian of Enemy Property in 1914.]

He spent the first years of the First World War in the USA, then was interned, and upon his release resumed his activities on both sides of the border, eventually becoming an American citizen in 1939. He died in Seattle in 1963. His only known descendant, a daughter named Margaret, married a man named Denis Murphy in Vancouver on December 6, 1935--does anyone know what happened to this family????

[Photograph and biography in my Vancouver The Way It Was, pp. 50-1]

Alvo von Alvensleben, from Who's Who in Canada, 1913 edition

Alvo's American mining interests at

Advertisement from Man to Man magazine, December 1910 (Special Collections, VPL)

Hand-tinted photographic postcard probably by the Gowan-Sutton Company, Vancouver.

His daughter Margaret von Alvensleben Newcombe had an equally fascinating life. Her obituary from the Seattle Times, August 8, 2004:

Margaret (von Alvensleben) NEWCOMBE Died July 21, 2004 due to complications from a fall. Daughter of Alvo von Alvensleben, financier, and his wife Edith Wescott. Born on September 21, 1909. A graduate of the U of W School of Journalism in 1931, she was awarded the Col. Blethen scholarship by The Seattle Times. Earned a living by her typewriter most of her life, reporter, women's editor, magazine editor, P.R., etc. Worked for the Canadian Red Cross, Canadian Arthritis Foundation, Washington State Nurses Association, Seattle Times, Vancouver Daily Province, Silver Star Weekly in London, etc. She lived abroad with her husband, Canadian artist W.J.B. Newcombe, in Canada, Mexico, Spain and England for several years, helping promote and arrange exhibitions of his paintings. In 1956-57, she was second in command of a refugee camp for Hungarian refugees in Central England under the auspices of the Red Cross. Margaret is best known locally for her contributions to improving the quality of life for seniors. Part of the Anti-Poverty program responsible for introducing the reduced Metro transit pass for the elderly and establishing the first Household Aide program. Assisted in setting up JETT (Jobs for the Elderly). Served on the executive board for Senior Services and was the first woman to serve as president on the board of the ACLU. She served as a weekly volunteer with both of these organizations until she was 89. Her capacity to care is what gave her life significance. She is survived and lovingly remembered by her brother Gero, niece Karen, nephews, Eric (Teresa), Brian (Ruthie), great nieces, Llodia (Jorge), Bryta (Brandon), great grand nephew Adam and her dear friends Edith and Ben Swisher. 

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From Michael Kennedy, 2022: Here is a trove of information on Stewart on the UBC open-source website.

From Michael Kennedy, 2015: There’s an article on the Portland Canal Shortline Railway in this newsletter.

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Artwork and text ©Michael Kluckner, 2001, 2002, 2003