Surrey is a unique and growing city in the Lower Mainland. The pacific ocean laps at the shores of South Surrey as locals and tourists alike enjoy a walk along the pier while 15 minutes away crowds cheer on wild west antics at the Cloverdale Fairgrounds. Surrey’s six town centres cover beach front landscapes to rolling farmlands to dense urban forests, all with the beautiful backdrop of the west coast mountains.
The city’s diversity is not just in its geography, it is also reflected in its culture and population. With approximately 470,000 residents Surrey is BC’s second largest city and estimates say it will not be long before it passes Vancouver itself. The city is still young and its growth is ongoing, giving Surrey the advantage of changing and adapting with its people. Cultures and traditions meld together here, creating strong communities and a new understanding of what it means to live alongside one another.
Road – Surrey is an easy 30 – 45 minute drive east from Vancouver. Highway 1 exits into the Guildford area while Highway 99 flows through South Surrey towards the American border.
Air – Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is Canada’s second busiest airport offering flights around the globe only a short drive away from Surrey. Abbotsford International Airport (YXX) is also nearby and a favourite for locals seeking a less hectic travel experience.
Ferry – The Tsawwassen ferry terminal connects the mainland to Vancouver Island as well as the Gulf Islands and is only a 30 minute drive away.
Rail – The King George, Surrey Central, Gateway, and Scott Road Skytrain stations connect Surrey to the greater Vancouver area as well as Vancouver International Airport.
The Surrey area was originally inhabited by a number of First Nations peoples, most notably the Semiahmoo and Kwantlen tribes. Small seasonal villages lined the banks of the Fraser River, Boundary Bay, and Semiahmoo Bay. Like most First Nations these tribes were semi-nomadic, following traditional fishing and hunting routes through the area.
The first European explorers that would have seen Surrey were actually Spanish. Don Francisco Eliza of the San Carlos and Jose Maria Narvaez of the Santa Saturina traveled pas White Rock and Crescent Beach in June of 1791 as they surveyed the Strait of Juan de Fuca. English Captain George Vancouver would lead an expedition from Boundary Bay a year later to detail the coast and eventually come in contact with the Spanish. The English and Spanish were peaceful towards one another and shared information, although control of the area would be ceded to the English.
Surrey’s official border was set on June 15, 1846, by the signing of the Oregon Boundary Treaty. The area was not settled yet but increasing pressure from American expansion forced negotiations. The first real flood of people coming to Surrey was in early 1858 for the beginning of the Fraser Gold Rush. The sheer amount of newcomers resulted in Governor Douglas formally proclaiming the Colony of British Columbia later that year. It was not until 1871 that British Columbia was incorporated into Canada and Surrey was not incorporated as a town until 1879.
Early settlers mostly came to Cloverdale and South Surrey. The area had been cleared by logging and a farming community began to emerge. Fishing, especially for oysters, was also popular in the area. Surrey’s first city hall was built in 1881 and its first public school was erected a year later.
As Surrey grew into the 20th century it developed six major town centres: Cloverdale, Fleetwood, Guildford, Newton, South Surrey and Whalley (or City Centre as it is now referred). The town could not expand without better infrastructure so in 1937 the Pattullo Bridge was built to span the Fraser River and connect Surrey to New Westminster. This allowed Surrey to grow and become a “bedroom community” for people working in Vancouver proper.
The need for infrastructure continued to increase so in 1964 the first Port Mann Bridge was built to allow for even more expedient travel to and from Vancouver. This proved to be a major development and led to Surrey experiencing unprecedented community growth from the 1980’s onward. In 1990 four Skytrain stations were built in Surrey, making it even more accessible to the rest of the lower mainland. Today Surrey’s population rivals that of Vancouver and is predicted to pass it by as early as 2020.
Surrey got its name due to its geographic location across the Fraser River from New Westminster. In England the town of Surrey lies on the opposite bank of the Thames from Westminster. In Canada’s Surrey the town’s first local municipal council clerk, HJ Brewer, thought the name would be a fitting homage.
Located up the hill from the fields of Bear Creek Park the Surrey Arts Centre is the heart of visual and performing arts in the city. The theaters two stages have hosted travelling national troupes but the centre has always been careful to foster local talent as well. The centre is also home to the Surrey Art Gallery, a dedicated gallery space displaying prominent international work alongside local artists in ever changing exhibitions. The gallery has also recently set up and offsite UrbanScreen program at the Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre, the largest display of its kind in Canada.
The Royal Academy of Bhangra is a not-for-profit association that offers a formal and thorough education of Punjabi folk dance. The academy caters to dancers of all skill levels and is accepting of all cultures, adding to the mosaic landscape of the city.
Found in historic Cloverdale the Surrey Museum tells the city’s stories through written word, sound, and interactive electronic displays. Visitors are treated to exhibits detailing the founding of the city as well as new pieces highlighting the culture of its people today. The museum works closely with nearby schools and often makes room for student work.
Surrey’s annual Earth Day celebration Party for the Planet is a huge environmental party. Last year the event was headlined by Five Alarm Funk and featured local talent Good for Grapes. Its many events and booths crowd the plaza at city hall and usually draws a crowd of at least 25,000. The party takes place April 23 with information on this year’s lineup set to be released March 28.
The Surrey International Children’s Festival is a three day extravaganza of family fun. Workshops and activities are set up for children to interact with local artists and express their creativity hands on. The festival also includes live performances, music, and book readings. Something to watch for this year will be a number of performances by Charlotte Diamond. The festival takes place May 26 – 28.
The Surrey Fusion Festival takes place in Holland Park, the city’s only venue that can host an event of this magnitude. A number of cultural pavilions, educational tents, and activities are set up but the real draw is the live music. The music ranges from traditional Korean drummers to popular local bands like Van Damsel and Tourist Company, blurring cultures together into a wonderful event reflective of the city hosting it.
Every May long weekend the Cloverdale Fairgrounds becomes the scene of the Cloverdale Rodeo and Country Fair. The rodeo pays homage to BC cowboy history through events like bull riding, barrel racing, and bareback competitions. Favourite rides like the ferris wheel make a yearly appearance, food vendors line the fair, and country music is in the air for the whole weekend.
The Guildford Station is a great bar in the Guildford area. Delicious and traditional pub fare for an affordable price keeps this place bustling.
White Rock and Crescent Beach are great for beating the heat but keep busy all year long thanks to a wide selection of waterfront restaurants and unique shops.
The cities runs six indoor pools across Guildford, Newton, Fleetwood, North Surrey, and South Surrey for year-round water fun.
The Round-Up Cafe in Whalley serves the best breakfast in town.
The Vault brings fine urban dining to Cloverdale. Built in an old bank building, for special occasion ask for the table in the vault itself.
Celebrity chef Vikram Vij’s second restaurant My Shanti is a South Surrey favorite.
Fraser Downs Racetrack provides live horse racing for gambling or entertainment while Elements Casino keeps the luck going 24 hours a day.
Morgan Crossing, an open air shopping centre in South Surrey with many popular stores.
Barnston Island sits in the Fraser River between Surrey and Pitt Meadows. The island can only be accessed by a small ferry, but the ride is short and free. The loop around the island provides an easy and picturesque bike ride with an excellent day-use park about halfway through the journey.
Tynehead Park has something for everyone. The old paths winding through Tynehead forest allow for an escape from the city’s everyday bustle while the newly paved loop is excellent for bike riding and jogging. The park is also home to the Tynehead Hatchery, providing a unique view of the areas salmon population as well as a wealth of information.
Green Timbers Urban Forest
The Green Timbers Urban Forest is situated perfectly for a quick outdoors outing. One of the largest green spaces in the city it is less than 10 minutes away from downtown Surrey. Many branching paths, old growth trees, and a lake at its center means there is plenty to explore. Make sure to stop in at the Surrey Nature Centre before or after your adventure to learn more about the area.
Historic Stewart Farm
Found in Elgin Heritage Park in South Surrey, Historic Stewart Farm encapsulates what life was like in the area in the 1890 – 1920 period. The farm runs special events all year long highlighting farm life, crafts, and holidays.
Bear Creek Park
Home of the Surrey Arts Centre, Bear Creek Park is perfect for fans of the arts and the outdoors alike. Natural walking trails, Bear Creek Gardens, and many picnic spots make it easy to spend the day outside. There are also open fields for play and a track for getting a run in. One of the park’s most loved attractions is the Bear Creek miniature train which winds through the park. Make sure to check the train out around Halloween or Christmas when it really takes on the spirit of the holidays.
Redwood Park in South Surrey is best known for its diverse vegetation, offering more than 50 different types of trees to explore. The city offers an online guide to the park’s trees for visitors to get the most out of their adventure. The Redwoods the park is named for are a particular joy to see.
Peace Arch Provincial Park
Peace Arch Provincial Park lies directly upon the Canadian-American border. The white Peace Arch monument marks the exact border between the two countries. The park features a luscious green open field and beautifully groomed gardens right along the ocean, perfect for picnics.
Urban Safari Rescue Society
The Urban Safari Rescue Society is a non-profit organization founded in 2007. Their mission is to care for exotic animals that have been abandoned or surrendered to them; animals that would not be able to survive in the area on their own or could prove harmful to the local ecosystem. They have also opened their facility up to the public so people have an opportunity to see and learn about species from all over the world.
BC Vintage Truck Museum
The BC Vintage Truck Museum in Cloverdale offers a glimpse into the cities past through its automobiles. Classic firetrucks, personal use vehicles, and even a few old war transports demonstrate not only the evolution of the truck but also the impact these vehicles have had on the development of the area.
Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society
The Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society was formed in 2001 to protect and restore classic trains that used to operate on BC railways. The society operates these trains on their original track running from Surrey through the Fraser Valley connecting important heritage sites. Passengers ride in style and comfort while the learn about and experience the mode of travel that settled the West.
The Honeybee Centre highlights pure and natural honey products produced right in Surrey. From traditional honey to beeswax candles to body care items the centre illustrates how effective locally sourced produce can be. Tours of the facility include a live beekeeping demonstration which is quiet mesmerizing.