by Kevin Diakiw
For what feels like an eternity, Surrey, British Columbia has been the butt of endless jokes.
(What do you say to a Surrey man in a suit and tie? Will the defendant please rise).
Long seen as the rough-and-tumble second cousin to Vancouver’s posher persona, Surrey – now home to more than half-a-million people – is beginning to gain some of the respect it has so sorely fought for.
A downtown core – the region’s second city centre – is developing along a rapid transit SkyTrain route, which can shuttle people to or from Vancouver in just 30 minutes.
Anchor buildings include Simon Fraser University, a major shopping centre, a new architecturally stunning library, Marriott International hotel, a public plaza for gathering, and a new city hall and performing arts centre (under construction).
Numerous residential highrises are also on the way.
Ironically, the city’s shiny new downtown core is situated in its northernmost community, Whalley, which has long struggled with the social ills of poverty, homelessness and substance abuse.
With the crime rate steadily dropping, Surrey’s crackdown on criminals appears to have been effective in Whalley, but increased enforcement has displaced many unwanted elements south to Newton and east to Guildford.
Surrey’s toniest area has long been South Surrey, which has the largest population of seniors over the age of 60.
Rock legend Paul Rodgers (of bands such as The Firm, Bad Company, and Queen), who recently became a Canadian citizen, lives in South Surrey.
And singer-songwriter Lisa Brokop was born and raised in the city before going on to be a Nashville-based country star.
On the whole, the mix of people in Surrey is extremely diverse, with the city home to a melting pot of different cultures.
According to the 2011 national census, 53 per cent of the city’s half-a-million citizens are visible “minorities,” (a term that perhaps needs and adjustment now that the result has passed the halfway mark). Caucasians make up 45 per cent of the population, and aboriginals represent two per cent.
Surrey residents hail from a range of global backgrounds, including South Asia, China, the Philippines, Korea, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Japan.
It’s amid all this variety that Surrey, B.C. has become most comfortable with itself.
Kevin Diakiw is a reporter with The Surrey-North Delta Leader. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Meet Surrey, U.K.
by Guy Martin
Across the Atlantic, in southern England, lies another Surrey, and it also struggles with a reputation some of its citizens are not happy about.
The county of Surrey is situated southwest of London, and has been labelled England’s answer to Beverly Hills.
“Leafy Surrey” has always been a favourite place for rich Londoners to buy a home outside the city, but still within easy reach of the capital.
Some of the key figures and household names from British history can be linked to Surrey – actor Laurence Olivier was born there, author H. G. Wells was a long-term resident, and John Lennon lived in the county for four years from 1964.
In the last decade Surrey, and in particular an area called Elmbridge in the north of the county, has gained ever-increasing renown as a millionaire’s playground – to the growing irritation of some of its residents.
Factors responsible for this view among people from other areas of the U.K. include the arrival of celebrities in greater numbers than ever before, and the publicity that goes with them trying to outdo each other with multi-million-pound mansions.
The Premier League soccer team opened its training ground in Elmbridge in 2005, and as players moved into the area, some brought celebrity wives and tabloid stories of over-indulgence – all adding to people’s conceptions.
The growing obsession of newspapers and society pages to publish lists with wealth indicators – such as house prices, quality of life and average earnings – all put Surrey boroughs and districts near the top.
Previously it had been largely the London borough of Chelsea that was known as a home for the outrageously wealthy to sip champagne, drive their oversized cars (nicknamed Chelsea tractors), or visit designer boutiques carrying a perfectly groomed lap dog.
This was shown by a popular reality TV show, entitled Made in Chelsea, about young socialites doing just that. It was first filmed in 2011.
And Surrey’s emerging reputation as a leafy version of Chelsea has been all-but-guaranteed by the making of a new show this year – once again following the lives of the privileged and privately educated.
The makers of the Surrey Hills show have had to defend themselves against allegations they are not giving a fair representation to the area beyond the gated communities and exclusive estates where such people live.
Guy Martin is a reporter with The Surrey Advertiser in Surrey, England. Reach him at email@example.com