There’s a history we know and a history we lost. This story is about the second kind.
At the Port Moody Station Museum, curator Markus Fahrner does something unusual for a historian: he talks about rumours.
There are rumours about how Jesse Scott came to be at the Imperial Oil Corporation in 1923. There are rumours about how hard he worked and how he died. But even the rumours don’t answer the biggest question.
“Who is Jesse?” Fahrner asks.
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A broken story
The story starts with Jesse’s father, Henry Houston Scott.
Born in Texas in 1854, it’s possible – although not proven – that Scott was raised in slavery.
Speaking to the Peace Arch News in 2018, Surrey Historical Society member Jim Foulkes said he couldn’t verify whether or not Scott was a slave. However, records indicate that Scott later applied twice for compensation with an American court for former slaves, according to Foulkes.
Scott, his wife Amy Florence Alridge and their 10 children were homesteading in Oklahoma around the time Canada’s Minister of Interior Clifford Sifton had just increased annual immigration to the tune of 800 percent.
“African Americans from Oklahoma enthusiastically responded,” according to the Oklahoma Historical Society.
Many Black families left Oklahoma for the Canadian Prairies, “where they met the same wariness and discrimination that had allowed slavery to exist in an earlier time,” according to a description in the Canadian Encyclopedia.
In about 1912, Scott and Alridge began a life in what is now Surrey. Helping them grow hay and raise dairy cattle were their three youngest children Jesse, Roy, and Benola Myrtle. Jesse would’ve been about 13 when the family arrived.
Roy worked at a lumber mill and was also a railway porter. Benola Myrtle was a schoolteacher and singer. Jesse worked on the farm and played outfield for the Ioco baseball team.
However, an account published in the Peace Arch News suggests he might have also been a commercial painter and insurance broker.
“What I remember about Jesse is the twinkle in his eye. I never saw the man without a smile on his face,” said Surrey Historical Society member Roger Bose in the article.
A grave marker at the Surrey Centre Cemetery notes that Jesse died in 1967, when he was about 68 years old.
In 2019, the City of Surrey turned a section of what had been the family farm into Henry Houston Scott Park.
But while the father has been immortalized, the son remains something of an “unknown figure,” according to Fahrner.
“I would really love to know what he actually did in Ioco,” Fahrner says. “It’s just forgotten. . . . That’s what I found the most tragic.”
It’s a reminder of the stories that get retold and the ones that are neglected.
“We have to start changing,” Fahrner says. “This can’t be anymore that in 2022 we kind of drop people out of history.”