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CANADA 150: How Surrey came from ‘sprawling non-entity’ to productive, connected city

Muted Canada 150 celebration an opportunity to reflect, predict and brainstorm

Canada turns 150 this week.

Celebrations of this milestone have been somewhat muted, when compared to the 100th anniversary, which captured the interest of nearly all Canadians and many in other countries.

It is worthwhile to remember what this country has achieved, look at where it is going and consider changes to make it better.

Surrey, Delta and White Rock have had significant moments in the past 150 years.

In 1867, there were few people in what are now these three communities. Most were First Nations people, who spent much time on or near the Fraser River or the ocean, the source of food and means of transportation.

These people had lived here for millennia. When Europeans – who first came as traders and later as gold miners – arrived, they were extended a hand of friendship.

First Nations people often received nothing but promises in return.

In the worst cases, they were deliberately made sick with contagious and deadly diseases such as smallpox.

Unfortunately, this set up the current situation, in terms of treaties, land use and living together peaceably.

The Tsawwassen treaty, ratified in 2007, was a step in the right direction and the Tsawwassen First Nation in Delta has set an example for other First Nations clustered in the urban areas of B.C.

Surrey and Delta (White Rock seceded from Surrey in 1957) were both incorporated in 1879, eight years after the colony of B.C. became part of Canada. They were rural municipalities, with limited transportation and communication. People lived on fertile land and fed themselves, but selling their products wasn’t simple.

Numerous roads and trails were built – including Scott Road, Semiahmoo Trail, McLellan Road and Yale Road – and these form the framework of the road network today.

There were no bridges to New Westminster, the mainland’s chief city in 1879, or Vancouver. The first was built between the Liverpool area (now Bridgeview) and New West in 1904. It is still there, used only by railways.

Railways made a big difference in the early days. The first was built in 1891 from the U.S. border to Liverpool, but by 1915 there were several lines. The arrival of the BC Electric interurban in 1910 brought fast transportation and electricity to many areas.

Great Northern Railway’s decision to reroute along the coast in 1909 led to the establishment of White Rock and Crescent Beach.

A new bridge, the Pattullo, opened in 1937 and brought people to Surrey in significant numbers. Delta had to wait to be connected with communities to the north until 1959, when the Deas Island (now George Massey) tunnel opened.

Since those connections, there has been continuous growth. It is far from over. In areas less suited for farming, development has been intense.

Surrey became a city in 1993, setting the stage for a change in attitude towards what many in other areas had considered a sprawling and rambunctious non-entity.

The future is bright, but there is plenty of work to do to ensure that residents can fully participate in all these communities have to offer.

Frank Bucholtz writes Fridays for the Now-Leader. You can email him at