Local History

A Historic Look Into Surrey: A City of Stories

Surrey, British Columbia is met with a mixed reputation in the eye of our surrounding provinces. For years, the media has put a main focus on negative events that take place, as it does with most cities, never bringing attention to our growing community, developing infrastructure, and the unique, good-hearted people that choose to call this place home. What most don’t know is that Surrey possesses a rich history far greater than what many of its inhabitants could imagine. In celebration of Canada 150, author K. Jane Watt has penned Surrey: A City of Stories , which she hopes will shine a light on our evolving community’s past, present, and future.

“People we spoke to told us over and over again what a great place Surrey is to live, and to raise a family,” Watt explains. “We were told repeatedly that residents here are tired of the negative spin that outside newsmedia puts on life here. They wanted this book to be a celebration of human connection and human ingenuity over time. I think we have done that.”

Surrey: A City of Stories is a visual record that details the history of Surrey’s early years and growth into the the modern society it is today. This book, made in partnership with the Surrey Heritage Advisory Commission, Surrey Archives, Surrey Museum, and Surrey Historical Society, trails the city as far back as the 1700s, giving readers an in-depth look at the landmarks, artifacts, and those who were here before us, the Indigenous peoples and European discoverers.

“Surrey has an incredible history, and one that is little-known,” the author states. “This place on which we all live is a known land, and it has been a beloved home for Kwantlen, Semiahmoo and Katzie tribes since long before Europeans arrived. Descendants of each of these nations still live here, they still call this place home.” Watt continues: “We wanted this new history of Surrey to span that breadth of time and experience, and remind readers that this remains traditional territory, the ancestral home of modern Indigenous people with ancient roots. They are part of the fabric of today’s Surrey. That’s how we began the book and we carried on from there.”

Pages are decorated with hundreds of eye-catching images profound enough to carry the weight of this nearly 290 page historical encyclopedia. Surrey: A City of Stories does not hold back in giving readers a visual guide as informative as the words they support, providing an intimate look into the city’s evolution over time.

“We wanted this book to be a gorgeous and colourful celebration of Surrey’s history. We worked closely with book designer William Glasgow to showcase material and to make the pages engaging. We also included maps and original handwritten documents. We want people to get a glimpse of the holdings, and hear parts of human stories. We want the material in the book to spark dialogue and connection.”

Upon opening the book’s hardcover, you are immediately greeted by a First Nations art-piece entitled “Paddling Through the Waves of Change” by Phyllis Atkins. The work features a male and female salmon etched to the side of the canoe as it rides the ocean-waves beneath the sun. The opening pages contain photographs that span from the 1800s through modern times and the book’s dialogue begins with a quote from local-man Henry Thrift, taken from the 1929 newspaper the Surrey Gazette. The near-90 year old quote still holds truth to this very day.

“The municipality of Surrey had its ups and downs, but has come through it all stronger than ever, prepared to meet the future that it has before it.” – Henry Theft, the Surrey Gazette .

K. Jane Watt will be doing a reading of the book at Semiahmoo Library on Thursday, November 16.

“It’s kind of a ‘behind the scenes’ presentation. I’ll be talking about the journey to create this book, introducing people we met along the way, both historical and modern, and telling their stories. We will also be showing some of the incredible photographs and maps that grace the book and talking about the decisions we made as we put the book together.”

Watt concludes with an ode to her partners in creating this proud work: “My name is on the cover of the book, but it depended on the hard work, trust and vision of lots of people. Surrey: A City of Stories was a deeply collaborative project.“

Copies of Surrey: A City of Stories will be available at K. Jane Watt’s reading at the Semiahmoo Library on Thursday, November 16. To register, call 604-502-6459 or email archives@surrey.ca The book can also be purchased online as well as at various city locations. To find out how you can get your copy visit | www.surrey.ca/culture-recreation/

Johnny Papan
Jonathan Nicholas “Johnny” Papan is a Canadian writer, filmmaker, and musician born in Surrey, British Columbia to a Guyanese mother and half-Hungarian, half-Trinidadian father. Aside from film and music, Johnny also enjoys performing standup comedy. His interest in journalism surfaced after watching documentaries on influential writers Nora Ephron and Hunter S. Thompson. - www.johnnypapan.tk