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Lorna Wallace fondly remembers random animals roaming around the Newton house and property where she grew up, even before the place was officially known as Surrey Zoo.
She lived at the corner of 132nd Street and 60th Avenue, on land purchased in 1945 by her parents, George and Muriel Galicz.
“My dad was into birds of prey, that was his passion,” recalled Wallace. “He had eagles, hawks, owls, peregrine falcons – he used to raise them, and he was always taking in these injured animals. So I grew up with robins in my bathroom and cougars in our bedroom, everything under the sun. Surrey was bush then, so my dad was kind of the resident animal curator.”
He met his match in Muriel, one of Surrey’s first licensed kennel operators and a keeper of keeshonds.
Together they officially opened Surrey Zoo in October of 1967, in a ceremony that involved Reeve Roland Harvey and declaration of the animal sanctuary as a Canadian Centennial project.
Foxes, monkeys, cougars, wolves, deer, birds and other creatures lived at the zoo for the next decade-plus, until the municipal council of 1977 opted out of a funding deal.
Today, that corner of Newton is home to Berea Baptist Church and lots of houses, and Wallace lives in Fleetwood.
“My dad pretty much built it by himself, the fencing and all that,” Wallace noted. “He used to have a little green donation box, and then he built a ticket booth and I was often in there, making macramés and selling tickets. It was very old-school, and the kids in the neighbourhood were kind of drawn to my dad because of the animals. He put them to work with a wheelbarrow, hauling sawdust and stuff, and keeping them out of trouble. Sometimes I still run into those kids and they tell me the stories, it’s kind of neat.”
Of the animals, she remembers a Bald eagle named Igor that lived nearly 40 years.
“He (George) got it from his good friend that ran Stanley Park (zoo),” Wallace noted. “It had fallen out of its nest and a fisherman had given it to Stanley Park, and after a year it was a little feisty so he gave it to my dad. He was quite the bird.”
Sig Hupfauf, who went to school with Wallace and still lives in the neighbourhood, recalls the day the zoo began to take shape in the early 1960s.
“We thought it was the strangest thing ever for this zoo to all of sudden be in our neighbourhood,” he said.
“We used to hang out there, and for us kids it was pretty awesome because you could see all the animals. That was one of the first animal rescues around, right, so any animals that were in trouble or whatever, people dropped them off there and the Galicz’s took really good care of them. There was a lot of animals there, you name it. They were very kind people, just very caring for those animals, and it was quite a collection.”
Hupfauf said he remembers wolves sticking around the neighbourhood after the zoo was disbanded. “It was a pack of them, but they got pretty domesticated by that time.”
By 1976, close to 8,000 people visited the zoo annually, and George Galicz was in negotiations with Surrey council about keeping the zoo in operation. But the municipality turned down an offer to buy the zoo for $180,000 and renew an operating contract for $50,000. A petition to keep the zoo open fell on deaf ears.
“They asked me at the time if I would stay on and run things until the Tynehead Zoo is finished,” Galicz said in a newspaper story in 1977.
The Leader news story says Tynehead Zoo was expected to be in operation in about three or four years, and all Surrey Zoo animals would go there if the municipality bought the zoo. But the Tynehead Zoological Park never got built on 40 acres of leased land off Highway 1, and neither did an Asia Pacific Park of Nations tourist attraction pitched there in the late-1980s.
The Galicz family ended up moving to the Sullivan area in the early 1980s, and most of the zoo animals went to other sanctuaries around the province, Wallace said.
“They had many friends with similar interests, in Kamloops and places like that,” she said. “Also some of the animals remained with us, but it (the zoo) was just no longer open to public. Some simply lived out their life there. Dad always retained his love for birds of prey, and used to bring them to sports shows throughout the States and Canada.”
George Galicz died in 1999 and Muriel followed in 2010, Wallace said.