The CN Rail lines being laid through Langley in 1911. The tracks would cut through the properties now needed for the Trans Mountain right of way. (Langley Centennial Museum collection)

The CN Rail lines being laid through Langley in 1911. The tracks would cut through the properties now needed for the Trans Mountain right of way. (Langley Centennial Museum collection)

Heirs of long-dead Langley property owner owed $100K

After a tax sale, the descendants of James C. Kavanagh are owed money by Langley Township

The heirs of long-dead millionaire James C. Kavanagh are owed a cheque for more than $100,000 from Langley Township – if anyone knows where to find them.

In the latest twist in a story that began in 2019, Langley Township has seized some oddly-shaped, largely unusable properties in Walnut Grove, for failure to pay property taxes. The properties were sold at the annual municipal sale two years ago.

Now the Township is advertising for the heirs to the Kavanagh estate.

A Township notice in last week’s Langley Advance Times says two cheques – one for $99,611.52, another for $2,814.63 are payable to James C. Kavanagh.

Kavanagh is unlikely to collect, as he died 101 years ago in 1922.

Born in Niagara Falls in 1850, Kavanagh was a postmaster in Brandon, Man., then a hotelier in Winnipeg, where he seems to have made the bulk of his fortune.

Later in his life he moved to Vancouver, and in 1911 he acquired two properties in Langley that happened to lie in the path of the Canadian National Railway line, just before it was built through what would become the Walnut Grove neighbourhood.

The railway construction and expropriation left behind two divided parcels of land, each of them composed of a pair of narrow wedges of property on either side of the tracks. The plots, near 98A Avenue and 203rd Street, have suburban housing to the south, and industrial properties to the north.

The larger of the two sites, totalling 16,500 square feet, was valued at $12,900 by BC Assessment this year, and the smaller, 500 square feet, at a mere $300, making them among the least valuable pieces of real estate in Langley.

After Kavanagh was paid by the CNR, he seems to have ignored what was left of the land, moving to California, where he died in 1922.

In the meantime, Langley Township and the provincial Land Title and Survey Authority forgot the properties existed as well.

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The lots were added back to the property tax rolls in 2017 after a century-old administrative error was corrected.

That was just in time for the Trans Mountain Pipeline project to come along – and to require access to the lands. The expanded pipeline was to be built alongside the CN Rail line through much of Walnut Grove and Surrey, and crews needed access to the Kavanagh lands.

Trans Mountain’s lawyers mounted a search for the heirs to Kavanagh, and found that James had left all his property to his wife Helen Irene Kavanagh. She appears to have died without a will.

Court documents filed up to 2019 showed that Trans Mountain had even used genealogical records in an attempt to track down two elderly women who could be granddaughters of James Kavanagh, locating one in California and another in Connecticut.

The pipeline company was prepared to offer up to $336,000 for access to the sites.

A Trans Mountain spokesperson confirmed that the company never managed to find Kavanagh’s heirs.

In 2021, Trans Mountain petitioned the Canada Energy Regulator for access, having failed at that point to negotiate access to the lands.

Although the pipeline did go through, no one was paying Township property taxes, and the parcels went up for tax sale at auction in 2021. The buyer has not been identified, but Trans Mountain confirmed it did not purchase the land.

Any property whose owner does not pay taxes for three years or more can be sold at auction on the last Monday of September.

Kavanagh’s heirs could have held on to their property, however.

“The original owner has one year after the property is sold at tax sale to pay the taxes and retain their property,” according to the Township’s website.

With no one having come forward as of September in 2022, the sale is final.

If the purchase price is above the amount of taxes and interest owing to the municipal government, the surplus is paid to the previous owner of the land. In this case, that would be Kavangh’s heirs, who, if they can be found, stand to collect $102,426.15 from the sale of the land.

According to a Township spokesperson, no one has put forward notice claiming the surplus.

If no one comes forward, the money will go into the custody of the provincial government as unclaimed property. The province will have the responsibility to attempt to locate and notify the owners, under the Unclaimed Property Act.

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Langley TownshipTrans Mountain pipeline