by Kevin Diakiw
In the latter half of the 1800s, New Westminster municipal clerk H. J. Brewer gazed at the land across the churning, muddy Fraser River and was reminded of his native home in the United Kingdom.
The county of Surrey was 7,850 kilometres (4,700 miles) away, situated across the Thames from Westminster, England.
“Due to the geographic similarity of this district to that of County Surrey in England, in relation to Westminster, I suggest it be named Surrey, British Columbia,” the city clerk is quoted as saying at the time.
The proposal was in keeping with tradition. Queen Victoria had named New Westminster (also known in B.C. as the Royal City) after England’s Westminster.
Brewer’s idea was adopted, and the large expanse of land – 316.4 square kilometres – spanning from the river to the U.S. border – would be known as Surrey from 1879 onward.
Prior to that, First Nations had lived on the land for more than 6,000 years, establishing permanent villages and seasonal settlements at Crescent Beach and along the Fraser and Little Campbell Rivers.
After becoming incorporated in 1879, early commerce in the municipality included farming and logging.The population of Surrey was only 35 at the time, but that was about to change.
Surrey officially became a city in 1993, and breakneck development and booming population growth would be the mantra for the latter part of the 20th century.
Town centres – commercial hubs with surrounding residential properties – popped up, at least one with a with familiar British name: Guildford. (At left is its English counterpart).
Others were named after early settlers – Newton, Whalley and Fleetwood – while two more (South Surrey and Cloverdale) were named for their geography.
Surrey eventually became known as a suburb of Vancouver, which is about 45 minutes away by car.
By 2013, Surrey had a population of just over 500,000 – with 1,000 new residents arriving every month, making it the fastest-growing large city in Canada.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the nine-member city council is development-friendly, making that expansion all the more possible.
Some of Surrey’s current challenges come with its rapid growth. They include providing adequate services, such as schools, hospitals, and transportation, to match the burgeoning population.
Crime has long been a problem, however, the city has made a large investment in policing. With more than 600 members, the Surrey RCMP force is the largest detachment of Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the country.
And Surrey council recently visited England to glean ideas for devising a Crime Reduction Strategy, which includes the creation of community courts and the installation of closed circuit TV cameras in high-crime areas.
On the education front, with the massive influx of population, accommodating the 70,000 students is a long-standing challenge.
The city’s 99 elementary schools and 19 high schools are bursting at the seams. Portable classrooms are a common sight on many school grounds to create extra places for learning. However portables aren’t ideal; they are located away from the main school building and often lack their own washrooms.
But the population of Surrey just keeps growing, due in part to prohibitively expensive land throughout the rest of Metro Vancouver.
As such, one of the biggest industries in Surrey is residential, commercial, institutional and industrial development, with construction values topping $1 billion annually over the past several years.
A key challenge for city council is maintaining environmental stewardship while providing enough recreation centres, libraries an other amenities for its citizens.
Surrey is blessed in that one-third of its green space is protected from development, as it is designated Agricultural Land Reserve, which is protected by the province.
Moving forward, there are demographic-based issues to address.
In addition to having a population where nearly half (43 per cent) speak English as a second language, Surrey is also home to B.C.’s biggest group of seniors and largest number of young people under 19 years old. Surrey also has one of the largest populations of refugees.
That means that not only does Surrey need to create and deliver effective multicultural and elder care programs, but the city must also provide more sports fields and recreation services than most cities of the same size.
With estimates indicating that by 2041, one in five people in Metro Vancouver (the 20 municipalities that surround Vancouver) will call Surrey home, the city’s motto seems particularly apt: “The future lives here.”
Surrey (U.K.) is ‘a beautiful place’
by Guy Martin (U.K.)
Accounts of life in Surrey, U.K. go back more than a millennium.
The county of Surrey lies south of the River Thames in London. Its name comes from Saxon settlers calling the area Suthrige – or southern region – of their Middle territory, around the sixth century AD.
In the subsequent centuries, Scandinavian Viking raiders and an invading Norman army were among those who set foot in the county before its place in history was ensured when it played host to the issuing of the Magna Carta, a document which led to the rule of constitutional law in the English-speaking world.
A couple of centuries after that – in the later Middle Ages – one can find the first traces of a reputation it has today as an annexe of London – through the nickname Surrey Capon, a reference to it being the county where chickens were fattened up for the capital’s meat markets.
Its repute as a playground for rich Londoners can be traced to the early Modern era, with the building of magnificent royal palaces in the north of the county. Some of the country houses built in the 16th century are still standing today.
Although the urban expanse of London had long since started to spread south of the River Thames, into what was Surrey, years before the 1830s, this was a period when the county’s major settlements started to grow with the arrival of railways.
London’s wealthy workers were suddenly able to travel to and from their Surrey homes on a daily basis, and a century after the industrial revolution, the Second World War was another major moment in world history which deeply affected the county.
A system of fortifications was built in the county in case of a German invasion. They were not needed but parts of them can still be seen today, as can much of Surrey’s history.
Its historic country homes, such as the former mansion of Anglo-Canadian business tycoon and politician Maxwell Aitken, have been well-preserved, as have its market towns and varied architecture.
Prior to 1965, Surrey constituted the area between Kent to the east and Hampshire and Berkshire in the west, stretching from the south banks of the River Thames through central London to its southern border, about 30 or 40 miles from the south coast of England.
But the boroughs by the Thames became part of Greater London in 1965, despite some places there retaining names such as Surrey Quays, and the borders of Surrey were moved around a dozen miles south, where the county council offices are still based.
Today, the county of Surrey has a population of about 1.13 million.
The council’s cabinet member for community services, Helyn Clack (above), was not surprised to hear residents of another Surrey, across the Atlantic, were taking an interest in her home county.
“We have people coming here all the time from the U.S., Canada and Australia trying to find out about their roots ,” she said. “I’ve heard of people going to my village, Charlwood, because that’s their surname.
“And Surrey’s a beautiful place.”