ZYTARUK: Surrey’s had its fair share of famous visitors through the years

Tom Zytaruk

So let it be written…

It is a small world, after all.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Surrey last week got me thinking about other famous people who have visited these parts over the years. No doubt I’ll forget to mention someone, so if that’s the case, I mean no slight.

There are the famous, and then there are the internationally famous.

Gotta start, of course, with the King.

Elvis Presley made a brief stop at the White Rock train station in 1957, on his way to perform in Vancouver. He apparently didn’t get off the train to greet adoring fans on the platform, though (Sure, it was brief, but it still counts for a visit, right?)

For the younger set, two young pop singers also visited Surrey before their celebrity status went beyond mega-spectacular. In June 2000, Britney Spears was already well on her way to interstellar fame when she shot a McDonald’s commercial in Cloverdale, along with the Canadian pop group ‘N Sync. Roughly 300 local kids were hired to play "the adoring fans," screaming at a stage at 176th Street and 64th Avenue while their heroine lip-synced her hit, "Oops…I Did it Again."

Some eight years later, on August 18, 2008, Lady Gaga, at age 22, did a Monday night gig at the Mirage nightclub in Guildford. Tickets were $25.

Madonna never came here, as far as I can remember, but some impressive members of the clergy have. Not that I’d number Madonna among them.

Pope Tawadros II was in Surrey last year on his first papal visit to Canada.

He performed the liturgy at St. George Coptic Orthodox Church in Whalley and also visited St. Mary Coptic Church before attending a special luncheon at the Sheraton hotel in Guildford.

The Coptic Orthodox Church is an ancient church founded on the teachings of Saint Mark, who brought Christianity to Egypt during Nero’s reign in the first century A.D.

There are more than 50,000 Coptic Orthodox Christians throughout Canada, with 74 priests serving some 40 churches. It’s the largest Christian church in Egypt and the Middle East, and has roughly 16 million members worldwide.

On the famous speakers circuit, Surrey’s Regional Economic Summits brought in some big-hitters from the worlds of politics and business. Former U.S. presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton spoke before a well-heeled crowd who paid $599 per person to attend the event inside the Sheraton while protestors, cheesed off that Bush was in town, laid siege to the hotel. That was in 2011.

The following year British billionaire Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, which embraces more than 400 companies, was a guest speaker at the Surrey summit.

Mickey Rooney, Clint Eastwood, Peter Falk, Morgan Freeman and Gene Simmons are other celebrities who’ve set foot in Surrey.

And then there are those "Wha?" moments, like when former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher presided over a ribbon cutting to open a local supermarket. That’s right, the Iron Lady herself. Fondly remembered in some circles as Attila the Hen. She was here, but memory fails me exactly when – it was sometime in the 1990s, I think.

A Conservative’s Conservative, Thatcher ruled Britain from 1979 to 1990. In 1982, she waged war on Argentina over the Falkland Islands, and won. She was also the longest serving prime minister of Britain during the past century, and the only woman to hold that office.

As far as visits from famous people go, Canadian prime ministers don’t really count because they inevitably drop by whenever there’s an election campaign going on. So I guess they fall into a category of semi-familiars.

But one prime ministerial visit does stick out. Jean Chrétien, in an apparent attempt to reveal to the proletariat that he really is that "little guy from Shawinigan" and not merely a privileged lawyer, rolled up in a pickup truck to the Scottsdale McDonalds in North Delta, where he dined on a cheeseburger and fries while the media, rather ridiculously, witnessed the event for posterity from what Chrétien’s handlers evidently considered to be a safe enough distance.

Finally, there’s the poet Robert Service. Canada’s greatest rhymester lived in North Surrey in the late 1890s, in a barn at the corner of Smith Road and Chickadee Lane near the bottom of Scott Road hill. Today, that’s 121st Street and 101A Avenue. The "Bard of the Yukon" wrote The Shooting of Dan McGrew and The Cremation of Sam McGee. Local historians contemplated honouring his residency here with a plaque. Not a bad idea.

…So let it be done.

Tom Zytaruk can be reached via email at tzytaruk@thenownewspaper.com

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