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Surrey Historical Society undertaking two big initiatives

SHS planning to commemorate 200th Anniversary of the James McMillan Expedition

Several new initiatives are on the horizon for the Surrey Historical Society.

In a newsletter to members (sent out May 28), president Evelyn Wedley said initial planning has begun for two big undertakings that will be occupying SHS members’ time in 2023 and 2024. The society wants to bring “Old Curly” back to Surrey and they are planning to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the James McMillan Expedition.

Old Curly is an engine from the 1880s and is the oldest surviving steam locomotive in British Columbia. Currently located at the Burnaby Village Museum, Wedley said it’s out of place there.

“(Old Curly) does not fit the mandate of the Burnaby Museum and should be returned to Surrey to find a home on the Fairgrounds, where she used to work,” noted Wedley.

Old Curly was first used to build part of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1882.

“(Old Curly) was later used in the 1890s to haul the early timber harvest out of the bush in Surrey,” added Wedley.

She said Old Curly was operated by a man named Bob Harvie who ran it from the U.S. border up to Hazelmere and then on to Cloverdale and Port Kells.

“The main rail line went right down the middle of Pacific Highway, and through what would become the Cloverdale Fairgrounds.”

Wedley added that when the Great Northern Railway moved its right of way to the southern shoreline of Surrey, part of the original right of way was sold to the Municipality of Surrey and became known as “Harvie Road.”

When Old Curly was sold, engineer Bob Harvie went with it to the logging camps along the coast.

In terms of the James McMillan Expedition from 1824, Wedley said the SHS is planning to recognize the event with as many partners as they can muster.

Wedley said the SHS has already had preliminary discussions with several organizations, including the Surrey Museum & Archives, the Langley Heritage Society, and Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

She said the SHS wants to make the 200th a “true recognition” of an event that affected the entire area.

“The Society is looking into commemorating this significant event in cooperation with other organizations,” she explained.

According to, the James McMillan Expedition was a surveying trip that sought to find a suitable site for a new Hudson Bay Company fort (the eventual Fort Langley).

In the winter of 1824, James McMillan headed up a survey party from Fort Vancouver (present-day Vancouver, Washington).

“Traveling north through Puget Sound, the party reached Semiahmoo Bay on Dec. 11, 1824,” the entry noted. “The weather was growing cold, the wind was blowing, and ahead of them was the wide open stretch of water and the rounding of Point Roberts. They decided to wait for the weather to clear and camped near the present site of White Rock.”

The expedition would then head up the Nicomekl River. They had to portage over to the Salmon River before reaching the Fraser. The expedition sailed up the Fraser and went as far as Hatzic Slough before returning to Fort George, Oregon (formerly Fort Astoria).

In her newsletter, Wedley also encouraged everyone to attend the grand opening of the South Surrey Indigenous Learning House on June 17 (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.).

“This process of Truth and Reconciliation is a model for other schools and entities in Surrey to make some changes, a process that has begun,” she added.

The SHS is holding three in-person members’ meetings over the next six months with tentative dates set for: June 24, Sept. 23, and Nov. 25.

The society is currently looking for volunteers to help with planning for the James McMillan Expedition 200th anniversary commemoration.

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Malin Jordan

About the Author: Malin Jordan

Malin is the editor of the Cloverdale Reporter.
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