Local History

Where the Old Surrey Meets New Surrey

Recording, preserving and presenting the past of our city, region and country is probably one of the most demanding, but also the most compelling processes since we began recording our histories and stories. Focusing on a micro-location such as one city and its communities is challenging because changes, additions, developments or destructions are way more visible and often seen as the most significant elements of an era. Living in a developing and constantly changing city such as Surrey presents another great challenge for archivists, historians and all those interested in understanding our historical path. Over the last 130 years Surrey has changed in size, population and political life numerous times, becoming the city we know today. Around year 1880 this huge territorial area was populated by approximately 1000 inhabitants, while today it is populated by more than 460,000 and attracts an additional 1000 new residents per month.

Recently I attended a presentation by the Surrey Archives, as a part of their Spring program that aimed to bring awareness to Surrey’s past through the presentation of art canvases. Using documentary art collections accompanied with photographs, Ryan Gallagher, the Archives Reference Specialist, told us stories about Surrey based on the topics reflected in the artwork.

              Photo credit (Artwork): From the Surrey Archives

“Using images from Archives documentary art collection to tell the stories from Surrey’s past we’re using one piece of artwork, depending on what the artwork is, we can tell the stories about Surrey’s logging, pioneers, schools and more modern history”, said Gallagher to me after the presentation.

I asked Gallagher if he felt that Surrey has lost the aura and soul from the past as a result of the fast paced development and changes in the population structure over the last couple years. He replied, “It would be too strong to use the word losing because Surrey today is a totally different city altogether”. He also made a very significant point with the fact that just sixty years ago, in the time of WWII, Surrey was largely an agricultural community and has just recently experienced a population boom.

I recently celebrated my 5th anniversary of coming to Canada and settling in Surrey. I have the urge to learn more about the past and present, and to draw lines between the old and new Surrey. It was great pleasure to dig in and learn that some of the oldest Surrey buildings including Christ Church and Surrey Centre Cemetery (an eternal home to some of the greatest people from Surrey’s earliest history) are still there as the city has grown to be the second largest metropolitan area in the Province. Learning that the Whalley area got its name from the Arthur Whalley Gas Station, located at the corner of Ferguson Road (108th Avenue) and Grosvenor Road shows that Surrey has always been close to its community and representative of its members.

Photo Credit (Artwork): From the Surrey Archives

As they witnessed the City’s first steps and transformation in the past; today we’re witnessing a new wave of transformation and the start of a new central area for the city and communities. Our focal point has moved north from the 1880’s to the Central City area. The first part of that wave came last year with the Central City Library, and will continue with the construction of the new City Hall and Plaza, joining the two as a place of celebration, gathering and creation of brand new community spirit.

The Surrey Archives will continue with a series of presentations telling the story of Surrey’s past in combination with Surrey’s present.  Visit them and learn more about the real Surrey of the past in a unique way through the use of art. This is a great opportunity to get involved, learn about the City and promote positive elements about Surrey.  That’s why Surrey604 will be there to support the Archive’s efforts!

You can follow the Surrey Archives on Twitter : @surreyarchives

Esmir Milavic
Born in Bosnia, Esmir’s interests are in journalism, politics, communications, history, culture, sports, books and technology. He has contributed to some of the most innovative independent media projects to come out of Bosnia and Herzegovina. One of the earliest members of Surrey604, Esmir now resides in Sarajevo working with Bosnian FACE TV.