|Ruskin is a rural, naturally treed community, about 35 miles (55 kilometres) east of Vancouver where the Stave River flows from the north into the Fraser River. Ruskin was named after of the English art critic, essayist, and prominent social thinker John Ruskin.
Ruskin is one of the historical communities of the City of Maple Ridge, British Columbia. Ruskin borders on its west side with the community of Whonnock by the Whonnock Creek and the Whonnock Reserve, and on the east side with the municipality of Mission, British Columbia and the Stave River.
The area generally understood as Ruskin goes beyond those boundaries. Ruskin in a social sense straddles the municipal border of Maple Ridge and Mission. In that close-knit community there was and is no border separating residents from Maple Ridge from those in Mission. Residents along the western shore of the lower Stave River, even if they live in the municipality of Mission, consider their neighbourhood as Ruskin.
The Whonnock First Nation claimed land along the Fraser River between the Stave River and Whonnock Creek as theirs but this land was finally not included in the Whonnock Indian Reserve and was released for settlement.
The area on both sides of the Stave River, including Whonnock and Ruskin, was originally referred to as “Stave River.” Over time the settlers gave distinctive names to the places where they lived in that large area. Members of the Canadian Co-operative Society, formed in Mission, BC, in 1895, gave the name Ruskin Mills to the community they established at the mouth of the Stave River in present-day Ruskin. The opening of a post office in 1898 made the name Ruskin official.
Aside from a lumber mill – the first one in Ruskin – the members of the co-operative built homes and barns and a boarding house. Not less than thirty students—mostly the members' children—attended the first school in Ruskin in the spring of 1897.
The co-operative failed after only a few years and in 1898 the Society surrendered its assets to E.H. Heaps & Co. Heaps turned the small Ruskin mill into a progressive operation. The company built a logging rail line that grew northwest until it reached Dewdney Trunk Road and down a short distance along the east side of Kanaka Creek.
Across the CPR rail track, on the shore of the Fraser River, was Heaps office building that also accommodated the general store and post office as well living quarters for senior staff and their families.
The Heaps mill at Ruskin burned down in the winter of 1904/1905 and again in 1910. There were plans and promises for a new and even larger mill but Heaps's Ruskin logging and lumber operations went in receivership after the building boom in Vancouver crashed in 1913
As Heaps's operation came to an end, Stoltze Manufacturing Co., a company with American connections started a shingle mill started operations on the Stave River less than half a mile upriver from the ruins of the Heaps mill and just across the municipal border line in Mission. In the 1920s Stoltze was the largest shingle mill in British Columbia. Stoltze's success depended heavily on the employment of in particular Japanese workers in the woods and in the mill. The 1930 depression hit the mill hard and it closed during the Second World War.
After the First World War, Japanese had started farming in Ruskin; mostly growing raspberries and strawberries. In the 1930s there were about thirty registered Japanese landowners in Ruskin. Some seventy-five percent of the Ruskin population was Japanese. Farming on a large commercial scale ended with the expulsion and Japanese-Canadian internment in 1942.
Lumber remains until today the main industry of Ruskin.
The mills and the businesses of Ruskin were and are all in the south-east corner of Ruskin close to where the Stave River joins the Fraser River, close to the rail tracks and since 1930 present-day Lougheed Highway.
After Heaps took over the operation of former Ruskin Mills the school moved from the mill site to a location on 96th Avenue at the foot of 284th Street. That is where the school stayed until it was closed in 1998. After that Ruskin students attend the Whonnock Elementary School.
For their community events the residents of Ruskin assembled in the schoolhouse or other locations. When in 1916 the old schoolhouse was replaced by a two-room building, the residents pulled the old structure across the street and made it their community hall. That first building burned down in 1922—the date shown on the front of the hall today—and was replaced by the present structure, opened in 1924. The hall is owned and operated by Ruskin Community Hall Association, incorporated in 1930.
The Ruskin Dam, in the District of Mission, stands at the narrowest point of what had been the Stave River canyon. The dam was completed in 1930 for purpose of hydroelectric power generation.
Higher up on the Stave River is the Stave Dam (actually two dams flanking what is now technically an island), built over Stave Falls, once a natural feature of the Stave River. In 1899 the Stave Lake Power Company was formed and subsequently obtained permission from the province to use the water of the river at the Stave Falls to generate electric power. It took more than a decade to make that a reality. Only in December 1911 did their successor, the Western Canada Power Company, see power starting to flow from the Stave Dam plant.
The Stave Falls Branch, an electric railway built by the British Columbia Electric Railway Company in 1910, connected the CPR line at Ruskin with the construction site. The traffic generated by the activities around the Stave Falls dam convinced the CPR to approve the building of a rail station at Ruskin that same year – one of the many things by which the residents of Ruskin profited from what happened in their backyard.
The CPR’s Ruskin railway station built in 1910 was dismantled in 1961 when there were no longer enough passengers to warrant a stop of the scheduled trains. The post office was closed the following year.