Back in Surrey's old days

Back in Surrey’s old days

The Re-Enactors bring the experiences of pioneers to life.

Teacher Mary Jane Shannon runs a tight ship.

When class begins, students must stand, call out: “Good afternoon, Miss Shannon,” then sing the hymn God Save the King.

Today, after a strict lesson in spelling (it’s “c-a-r-i-b-o-o”) and some local history, someone mentions an iPad.

The teacher, smart as a whip, asks in her distinctive Irish accent: “Is that for washing dishes, dear?”

Sounds reasonable.

It is, after all, June 8, 1906 – it says so on a chalkboard in the classroom inside the Cloverdale Heritage Railway Station, where several families are meeting with Surrey’s Re-Enactors following a train ride and a greeting with the local Reeve, T.J. Sullivan.

The Re-Enactors are back from the past for a third year, a heritage troupe that brings Surrey’s history to life through five pioneers during the period of 1872 to 1945.

The characters, who will have made 20 visits to local events by the end of September, include the real-life figures of:

• Reeve T.J. Sullivan, who joined his brother to set up a sawmill in Surrey in 1903, and went into local politics;

• Carpenter Eric Anderson, who made his way to Canada from Sweden on a whaling ship, finally settling in Surrey and retiring comfortably after selling land to the BC Electric Railway;

• Zennosuke Inouye, a prominent Newton-area berry grower, chauffeur, and veteran of the First World War. He was the only Japanese veteran to have his land returned to him – following 80 letters of protest – after his internment during the Second World War;

• Dr. Fredrick Sinclair, the only doctor in the municipality for more than 40 years, and a driving force in the creation of Surrey’s Victorian Order of Nurses, the Surrey Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, and Surrey Memorial Hospital.

• Mary Jane Shannon, who was a student and later a teacher at Clover Valley School in Surrey’s first school district. She later pursued a career in nursing.

Miss Shannon – the spitting image of local actress Sara Holt – tells the her students that their tiny classroom has much nicer fittings and furnishings than when she was their age.

“This isn’t the same log cabin that had been my original school in 1882.”

She tells them she taught her first 28 students, ages six to 16, on April 14, 1903.

(Sixteen minus six soon becomes a math question, and a young boy she calls “Master Evan” must stand and remove his hat before answering).

Her salary: $50 a month, the same as her own teacher got 21 years earlier.

“All the stories are true,” says coordinator Yvette Dudley-Neuman. “They’ve been historically documented and researched through the Surrey Archives. So every character we present has a connection to Surrey.”

The local physician, Dr. Sinclair, also at the train station, opens his bag to show a variety of instruments, serums and odd items such as a bottle of purple-dyed milk that was used to help isolate a local farm that had sold contaminated products.

The physician – a Doug Cameron lookalike (below) – says his biggest challenges are educating the public about hygiene, children’s health, and diseases such as typhoid, salmonella and smallpox.

Working alone as the area’s only physician, he makes constant house calls.

Dudley-Neuman says the Re-Enactors will act accordingly depending on what time period they represent, and are never out of character.

Indeed, the ever-sharp Miss Shannon has been heard to say she’s of good character.

Her lesson ends with “Please repeat after me: God Save the King! Class dismissed.”

For more information and bios about The Re-Enactors, visit


Upcoming visits by the Re-Enactors:


• July 19 and 20 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. – Fusion Festival at Holland Park

• Aug. 2 and 3 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. – Powell Street Festival at Firehall Arts Centre, Vancouver

• Aug. 9 from 12-4 p.m. – Cloverdale Heritage Railway Station

• Aug. 16 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. – Cloverdale Blueberry Festival at Surrey Museum

• Sept. 6 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. – Fleetwood Festival at Fleetwood Recreation Centre

• Sept. 20 from 1-4 p.m. – Discovery Saturday at Surrey Museum

• Sept. 20 from 12-3 p.m. – Olde Harvest Fair at Historic Stewart Farm

• Sept. 26 and 27 from 12-4 p.m. -Culture Days at Surrey Arts Centre

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