NEIGHBOURHOODS: Fraser Heights is an ‘island’ in the big city

EDITOR’S NOTE: From Panorama Ridge to Tynehead to East Clayton, Surrey has become home to practically dozens of cities within cities.

With more than half a million people living in Surrey, each of these communities has created its own identity.

With our new series we call "Neighbourhoods," we are coming to your area simply because we want to tell its story.

Recognizing that every one is unique, both in their character and in the challenges they face, our series will look at each area’s struggles and triumphs.

This ongoing feature will showcase Surrey’s dozens of neighbourhoods through stories, photos and video.

To share your neighbourhood’s story, email us at edit@thenownewspaper.com with the subject line "Neighbourhoods."

 

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FRASER HEIGHTS — Bounded by Highway One to the south, 176th Avenue to the east and the Fraser River to the north, the quiet community of Fraser Heights is tucked away in the northeast section of Surrey.

"Fraser Heights is an island. It’s its own totally separate community," said Sara Pickering, a mother of three and a realtor who’s lived in the area for 15 years.

"We have a very distinct border." Pickering grew up in Whalley’s Cedar Hills neighbourhood and always told her husband she wouldn’t raise her kids in Surrey.

"Then we found Fraser Heights, and it’s just different," she said.

Pickering describes her beloved neighbourhood as a "fabulous, safe community."

And it’s got that small-town charm, she said. "You can’t go into the Tim Hortons or Starbucks without having four or five conversations and taking half an hour."

She expects the area is so tight-knit because of the distinct border.

"If you’re leaving your house in Newton, you could probably stop at about five Tim Hortons on your way out. But in Fraser Heights, there’s just the one."

Pickering loves frequenting Erma Stephenson Park, located next to her house.

"In the evening I come out just to absorb the energy because there’s, like, 150 people there in this one park. There’s people walking, there’s people learning how to rollerblade, kids learning how to ride bikes, people flying kites and flying model airplanes and playing soccer, and it’s just such a wonderful environment."

fraser heights

Until recent years, not a lot of people knew about the community, she noted.

"It was kind of like our own little secret."

And it’s certainly changed dramatically over the years.

"I didn’t have any neighbours 15 year ago," Pickering said with a chuckle. "I moved into a new house and there wasn’t a park, there wasn’t houses around us. We’re running out of land in Fraser Heights very quickly."

She recalled a bear running through her front yard 13 years ago, adding, "You definitely wouldn’t see that now. There are no bushes for the bears to hide in anymore."

The area had many acreage properties when she first arrived and a handful still remain today.

And it’s a family community, she said, almost entirely made up of single-family homes.

fraser heights

Pickering boasted that the area has a couple of well-attended annual events.

She said the Terry Fox run, coming up on Sept. 14 at Fraser Heights Recreation Centre, is very well supported by the community.

Another big event is a country fair, put on by a local strip mall, which happens in early June each year.

"It’s massive," Pickering said. "It takes up like three blocks, all the parking lots are full of pony rides and rock-climbing walls and a band. Thousands of people come, from all over Surrey, I’m sure."

As a realtor, Pickering’s experience has been that people fall in love with the neighbourhood, and don’t often leave.

"People don’t usually move out of Fraser Heights," she said. "I just completed a sale where somebody moved from one side of Fraser Heights to the other because they needed to be in a different hockey catchment. And I’ve lived in two houses in Fraser Heights."

And homes that go up for sale go fast.

"The Fraser Heights real estate market is so hot right now. I’ve sold three houses since June, and they all sold within a couple of days, for almost full price. The one yesterday went for over asking."

Pickering has noticed a lot of Chinese immigrants are attracted to the area.

"They have heard that our community is safe and we have good schools, and high grades for our education standards," she noted. "A lot of our kids really excel."

Fraser Heights Secondary has many a students who do well academically.

Principal Sheila Morissette noted that the University of Toronto recognizes the high school as one of the top 50 in Canada.

"It’s a very special school," Morissette said.

"Our students are really great students who come from good families and really excel."

Morissette is excited about a new program, the Fraser Heights Integrate Math and Science Academy, that allows students to take math and science classes at SFU as part of their curriculum.

Students can take a condensed approach to Grades 11 and 12 that will allow them to take six university classes at SFU worth 20 post-secondary credits. Morissette said as far as she can tell, the school is the only one in Western Canada to offer such a program.

Heather Nelson, with the Fraser Heights Community Association, echoed many of Pickering’s thoughts on the community, including it being charming and safe. She estimated the community’s population is more than 25,000 now.

"We’re very low in crime rate," Nelson noted, but added there have been problems over the years, such as grow-ops and recovery homes.

"We don’t want those here. We say ‘get out.’ Our goal is zero tolerance," she said, stating the community works closely with police and the bylaws department to deal with problems.

She noted some refer to the area as "Mayberry."

"And it is," she said with a smile.

The area’s modest commercial district has a village feel, and residents want to keep it that way.

fraser heights

"We’re not interested in big-box stores, that type of thing," she said. "And we’ve got Guildford mall just seven minutes across the way here. You can go down to Langley to get more of the big-box stores, just hop on the freeway and go. And you’re close to the border, and now with the new South Fraser Perimeter Road you’re much closer to the ferries. The last time I had to do it, in a snow storm in early April, we left at 20-after eight and made it on the 9 o’clock ferry."

Nelson said due to the lay of the land, Fraser Heights acts as an amphitheatre.

"CN Intermodal is on the stage. Then in comes South Fraser Perimeter Road, and they’re on the stage, and we’re sitting in the seats. So with all that has come extra noise, depending on where you are in the area."

She said the community is "encircled in fumes," seeing as it’s surrounded by trucks, trains and the Fraser River. "There’s all kinds of transportation around us."

fraser heights

A big disappoint for the community, Nelson said, was that it never got a stop in 2012 for the new #555 Port Mann Express bus that runs from Langley’s Carvolth Transit Exchange to Braid Station.

But the community will be pleased to learn that bus stop is actually in the process of being built. The city is footing the bill, at a cost of nearly $200,000.

Coun. Tom Gill, who lives in Fraser Heights, is glad the stop is being built, but wishes the ministry had worked it into the original design.

"The reason why we didn’t get the stop is solely based on the premise is it wasn’t part of the design," he noted. "I am disappointed that this is another cost that we have to bear, given the ministry should have done a better job of addressing that at the time."

The scope of the work includes four bus stops complete with concrete pads, shelters and electrical power for lighting. Two of the four stops will be located on 156th Street, and the other two at the lower reaches of the HOV ramps.

Bus service should commence at the stops in early September, the city says.

Nelson said a looming infrastructure project could impact the community.

In March, news broke that the proposed new Trans Mountain pipeline could rip through some residents’ backyards in Fraser Heights, as Kinder Morgan land agents assessed alternate routes for the $5.4-billion project.

Cheryl-Ann Archibard, who’s lived in Fraser Heights for 30 years, told the Vancouver Sun the proposed easement for the pipeline is 30 feet wide, which could take up half of her backyard right to the back door of her twostorey house.

Greg Toth, senior project manager for Kinder Morgan, said at the time if the pipeline were to go through the area, a process would have to be followed, including reaching mutual agreement with the landowners, coming up with compensation and having the Natural Energy Board declare the project of national interest.

Homeowners would also have the right to object, he said, and added the last resort would be to enact a "right of entry" should a landowner obstruct the process.

The City of Surrey has applied and been approved as an intervenor in the National Energy Board hearing. It’s expected a decision could be delivered in early 2015.

"Residents are wondering what will happen to their properties," Nelson said of the pipeline project.

Asked if she expects Fraser Heights to change over the coming decades, Nelson didn’t anticipate a major shift.

"There might be some effort to create greater density," she mused.

"They say in Surrey, you never know what’s going to happen in the morning. You might see a change, so you have to stay alert. A house might be torn down, trees might be gone," Nelson said. "And we covet our trees around here because of concerns of health and noise pollution – the freeway is beside us and there’s the CN operation which is vastly changing and growing."

Check out the ‘My Fraser Heights’ page on Facebook, which Pickering runs, for more information on happenings in the community.

fraser heights

areid@thenownewspaper.com

– With files from Vancouver Sun

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