A double wedding, Surrey’s tallest tree, a “Ghost Face” mask, pioneer homesteads and the “Home of the Friendless.” As Tom Zytaruk reports, Surrey’s Mound Farm has seen it all – but you’re not allowed in. Not yet…
Ever glance south while driving near Cloverdale on Highway 10 and wonder what the story is on that lonely cluster of tall trees that’s poking up, like spiky hair, from that odd bump of land?
You’re not alone.
You’d be looking at Surrey’s Mound Farm.
On really foggy mornings, the Mound’s treetops are all that emerge from a vast carpet of white that blankets the entire valley.
They’re close by, and yet seem so far away, shrouded also in mystery as all roads linking the Mound with the outside world have no trespassing signs, chain link gates or both. It’s kind of like Surrey’s own Area 51.
Destined to be a public park, the Mound has nevertheless been off-limits for decades.
The Now recently enjoyed an exclusive peek inside its majestic forest, courtesy of Surrey’s parks manager, Owen Croy.
First, the natural history.
The bump is a drumlin, or a little ridge shaped kind of like half of a giant boiled egg cut from top to bottom and set down on its flat side. Formed by the movement of glacial ice, we can only guess how old it is. Rarely are drumlins isolated geological features, as is this one. Its steep sides are covered with blackberry bushes.
The Mound’s summit is 16 metres or 52 feet above sea level and in its forest of roughly 1,000 mature trees stands Surrey’s tallest, a 204-foot-tall Douglas Fir.
We drive to the bump along a gravel road from the west, and as we reach the top it feels like we’ve travelled back in time. Songbirds sing their tunes, the air is fresh and the forest a lush green, home to barn owls, voles, Sitka Spruce, Western Red Cedar, Grand Fir, Douglas Fir, Big Leaf Maples, native roses, native willows, and flowering crabapple.
“It’s a fantastic site for biodiversity,” Croy says. “It’s got great old-growth trees.”
Croy tells me that Green Timbers’ tallest trees are about 95 years old, “because it was logged clean to the ground.”
The Mound, however, has never been logged and some of its trees “probably pre-date colonization and European contact. They could be hundreds of years old.”
We tackle a loop trail the city constructed in 2001. The Mound greets Croy like an old friend and its mosquitoes leave him alone. It’s not so sure about me, a newcomer.
I get mangled.
Croy leads me to Surrey’s tallest tree. Data collected from aerial footage shot a couple years ago has helped city staff determine that of Surrey’s 50 largest trees, 25 are on the Mound.
“The average height of those 25 trees is 155 feet, and the tallest tree in Surrey is here, on Mound Farm Park,” he says. “It is 204 feet tall, 53 inches in diameter.”
The Mound Farm and its surrounding fields – 160 acres all told – were purchased by the city in 1993 for $1.7 million using park acquisition funds and funds from the drainage utility.
About 130 acres in the lowlands are leased out to farmers, now in the 16th year of a 20-year lease.
The Mound itself is about 30 acres.
In 1996, the 30-acre part was preserved in perpetuity, through a public referendum. The long-term master plan for the site will see the lowlands reserved for agriculture.
Croy said the city plans to lead tours some time in the future.
“We do get some folks from the Cloverdale area who say, ‘Hey, you know, you did a master plan a long time ago, when are you going to be opening that to the public?’ Well, we will, it’s a question of priorities, but it’s also we want to do it slowly and carefully to make sure we’ve covered all the bases off and, you know, dealt respectfully with the commercial agriculture, because we’ve leased the site.”
And now, the people part
As our tour nears its end, we come to a little clearing in the forest where we find a small stone ring fire pit. Near it, someone has left behind one of those ghastly white “Ghost Face” masks, from Scream movies fame. It’s face up, and quite creepy.
Croy picks the mask up off the forest floor, and carries it out. He figures some kids must have snuck in.
The Mound has no sanitary sewer but does have a well. Two wood-frame houses atop the drumlin are rented out to long-time tenants by Surrey’s realty service. Both can be found on the Canadian Registry of Historic Places.
Early Surrey farming pioneers William and Anne Smith settled on the Mound in 1884. According to notes from an unknown source, held by Surrey Archives, Smith was born in Niagara, Ont. on Sept. 3, 1821 and worked as a cabin boy on boats on the Great Lakes. By age 20, he was captain of the “Rialto.”
In 1849, he married 17-year-old Anne “Fanny” Knight in Illinois. The archival notes place Smith at a general store in Nebraska in 1872, a sawmill in Kansas in 1876, and then at a farm in Edison, Washington sometime before the family settled at the Mound Farm in 1884, where he stayed until he died on May 7, 1906. His wife died on April 2nd, 1909.
Their main crop was oats and hay, grown “in large amounts” on the land surrounding the Mound. The couple had six children and one of their sons, Bion Bernard Smith, became Surrey’s clerk in 1884 and a charter member of the Odd Fellows Lodge in 1891.
The smaller of the two houses, the Bion Smith House, is a cottage on the west side of the Mound and was built in 1928. A religious group called “Home of the Friendless” rented the Mound Farm from Bion Smith and stayed there three or four years while Smith himself lived in Illinois.
Stan McKinnon, a Surrey alderman and newspaperman, wrote in 1985 that the organization took care of teenage boys and young men, a number of which “were at least partially mentally handicapped.”
“The home itself, and its farm, was operated by women,” McKinnon wrote. “They dressed in long black gowns, from neck to black shoes.
“The Home of the Friendless seemed to be held in some suspicion by the community,” McKinnon’s account reads.
“This was not helped by the attitude of those in charge, who seemed of the opinion that all other people without exception were part of the world, the flesh and the devil.”
According to McKinnon, some local families “had a strong feeling that young people were being used more as unpaid farm labourers, than as clients to be looked after.”
Another Mound owner, James Loney, served on the local school board. Also of interest is a letter to Surrey municipal engineer Claude H. Harvie dated Nov. 19, 1974 from a Mrs. J.D. Mills in Burnaby, noting her grandparents James and Harriet Crandell had lived on the Mound and her father Oscar and uncle Elmer were married there in a double wedding ceremony to Jessie Alston Baird and Diana Israel, respectively, on Oct. 16, 1893. She said she remembered her mother mentioning they had a Chinese cook.
The larger of the two houses on site is a Colonial Revival mansion built by George H. Snow in 1936, after he bought the property. This lovely white farmhouse, with its porch supported by Doric columns, is today known as the George Snow House (pictured).
Bob Bose, Surrey’s mayor from 1987 to 1996, said Snow was a wealthy food broker and remembers attending high school with his daughter, Daphne, who had a Ford convertible.
“She was a fantastic looking woman,” he recalled. “They were wealthy Kerrisdale types.”
Bose set the record straight on a funny little rumour that had circulated back in the early 1990s that he wanted to set up his own little Camp David-style mayor’s retreat at the Mound Farm during his term at the city’s helm.
Asked about it this week, Bose laughed.
“Bob’s little cocoon myself. It was just a fantasy joke,” he said, segueing into jocular remarks about draw bridges and moats.
“Just poking fun at myself.”
Still, the idea to set up some kind of conference retreat for small gatherings, like Camp Kwomais in South Surrey, has been floated.
Other forgotten suggestions of past decades have been to open a restaurant there similar to what they have in Stanley Park or Queen Elizabeth Park, or set up a small-gauge railway around the Mound’s circumference, at its base, on which a replica of Old Curly — an old Surrey logging steam engine — could take families for a ride.