UPDATE: Here’s a Surrey story that holds water

SURREY — As a reporter, I sometimes wonder if anything I write makes a difference. But then something happens that you feel you played at least a little part in.

And it feels good. I wrote a column during a hot stretch in June urging readers to donate water bottles to help the homeless.

It turns out that column inspired a local to champion the issue. The result? The city is installing water fountains.

Amy Reid column logo


In no way am I taking credit for this – Sybil Rowe and the city deserves it all.

If you’ve met Rowe, you know once she sets her sights on something, there’s little anyone can do to stop her.

Last year, she hit the streets and collected 730 signatures for a petition to establish a dedicated park and a heritage designation for the majestic evergreens in Grandview Heights.

And it seems my column set her on a new crusade.

"You did a good thing," Rowe told me over the phone last week. "I wouldn’t have even thought about it if I hadn’t read your story." But Rowe couldn’t stop thinking about it, and made the drive from her South Surrey home to deliver water several times.

When doing so she’d often talk to the street folks who gather under the big tree at 108th Avenue and King George Boulevard.

sybil rowe water bottles fountains whalley
When fighting for water fountains in Whalley, Sybil Rowe wouldn’t take no for an answer and it paid off. (Photo: AMY REID)

She got to know a few of them, and one woman asked her if she’d gone down to "The Strip." She hadn’t.

"I have just discovered the strip," she told me. "I was shocked. It’s a bleak, dismal, barren place. It’s the most dreary street I’ve ever seen in my whole life."

The elderly Rowe said several people asked, "Water? Is that water?" as she walked down the street on a "god-awful" Saturday that was particularly hot.

"They were desperate.

"If they get dehydrated, we’re talking about a very, very serious life or death situation," she said firmly.

Then a light bulb went off. "Why couldn’t the city install water fountains down there?" she asked herself.

Rowe did some research and learned in Vancouver, they have portable water fountains that are hooked up to fire hydrants. It’s something Surrey doesn’t do. Not yet, anyway.

"I thought to myself, boy, we’re not with it here."

She said she walked into city hall and waited for two hours to talk to somebody.

After several weeks of talking to many different people in many different departments at the city, Surrey is going ahead and installing water fountains.

The city has ordered four fountains, said manager of operations Rob Costanzo. Two are coming from the City of Vancouver – which manufactures its own – and the other two are coming from the U.S. The city hopes to have the fountains and install them by the end of this week, said Costanzo. He noted that exact locations haven’t been chosen, but two will likely go to Newton and two to Whalley.

So, is Rowe reveling in her success? Yes and no. While happy to see the city going ahead with the fountains, the lack of shade along the strip is now on her mind.

"I would kill to get a little island of trees there."

If Rowe’s record is any indication, she’ll get those too. This is a woman who doesn’t take no for an answer.

We’re lucky to have her.


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