A family enjoys a picnic in White Rock

A family enjoys a picnic in White Rock

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES: White Rock a fine spot for a picnic

City has always been popular location for community gatherings

The origin of the word picnic is not certain, but one source says it can be traced back at least to 1692.

Generally, the two basic conditions on such occasions were that they be held outdoors, and that everyone was expected to pitch in to provide the meal.

Obviously, the setting also was a great attraction, and White Rock’s waterfront fit the bill even before a permanent community was established.

In the early days, groups, ranging from the Bartenders’ Union (with 500 members attending) to the Salvation Army, to the rabbit breeders, organized picnics to enjoy the natural beauty of White Rock’s foreshore or the several camping grounds, such as Bradshaw’s near the train station or Jones Park at the east end of town.

As early as 1914, Henry Thrift’s annual Sunday School picnic, held near the Semiahmoo First Nation land, welcomed 50 children to a day at the seaside. White Rock beaches were also extremely popular for Surrey public school picnics during the 1920s. A thousand pupils were expected to attend in 1922.

Decades later, a unique community picnic was prompted by a mischief-maker on a March night in 1950 when the iconic ‘white rock’ was painted black. After much agonized discussion, the Board of Trade, sponsors of the project to clean the paint off the rock, invited the public to make a picnic of the affair.

For longtime residents, not much equals the nostalgia aroused by the mention of outings originating from White Rock Pier, aboard the Lady Alexandra or one of her sister ships bound for Victoria or Bowen Island.

The first venture, billed as a businessmen’s picnic excursion, to Victoria in 1931, was the brainchild of White Rock realtor George Thrift, who convinced Surrey council to declare the day a civic holiday. The event was such a success that the following year the steamship was chartered to sail under the Surrey Citizens Picnic banner.

By 1940, the civic holiday had become the norm, “to enable citizens of Surrey to attend the Surrey Municipality Annual Basket Picnic.”

Reminiscent of Leacock’s Mariposa Belle, the vessel typically arrived in White Rock about 6:30 a.m. to sound its whistle every 15 minutes until it left the pier at 8 a.m., reaching Victoria at 12:30 p.m.

The day-trippers were back in White Rock at 9:30 p.m. The round trip cost $2.

After a lapse of six years during wartime, the “Lady Alex” once more steamed into White Rock in 1947, ready to transport eager excursionists to Victoria. In 1949, the ANAF sponsored excursion to Victoria attracted 650 passengers.

Often, the ship was under the command of Captain Billy Yates, a sometime resident of White Rock.

A colourful character, he was renowned for having the orchestra play Aloha Oe repeatedly on the trip home.

In The Good Company, author Tom Henry gives this picture of Yates: “Aboard the Lady Alex, Cappy Yates had his own set of rules – often at variance with those of the company. Union Steamships insisted on ship limits, but under Yates, the Lady Alex, licensed for 1,400 passengers, often carried 2,000.

The company also wanted ships to arrive and depart on time. Captain Yates arrived and departed when he felt like it. Once he even held up an entire ship so a crew member could retrieve a child’s hat.”

He adds, “the relationship between Cappy Yates and the Lady Alex lasted throughout the 1930s and ’40s. By 1951 the cruise and excursion business was falling off, a result of an increasing fascination with the automobile for holiday transportation and an improved highway system.”

In 1952, the “Lady Alex” was withdrawn from service, and converted to a floating restaurant.

Once a month, for several years after retirement, Yates would journey from White Rock for a morning visit to the ship. In 1966, he died suddenly while cleaning his son’s swimming pool.

Although the family requested no flowers, one wreath was allowed, from Lady Alexandra.

• • •

Community picnics may be passe, but on a sunny summer’s day, White Rock’s waterfront is packed with folks replicating, in their own fashion, Omar Khayyam’s vision: “A book of verse beneath the bough, A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou…”

The Peninsula’s best-known mother-and-son historians, Lorraine and Hugh Ellenwood, are dedicated to preserving history through the White Rock Museum & Archives. Call 604-541-2225, or email whiterockarchives@telus.net

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Surrey-White Rock MLA Trevor Halford and Surrey South MLA Stephanie Cadieux. (Contributed photos)
BC NDP ‘chose to create a system of chaos’ by holding back COVID-19 data: Cadieux

South Surrey MLAs criticize provincial government after BCCDC documents leak

Flags flown at half mast out front of Fraser Regional Correctional Centre for slain corrections officer Bikramdeep Randhawa. (Neil Corbett/ The News)
Public vigil and flying flags at half mast done to honour slain prison guard

Maple Ridge corrections officer Bikramdeep Randhawa, 29, is being remembered in a number of ways

TEASER PHOTO ONLY
Surrey woman a face of World Ovarian Cancer Day campaign in London, New York

‘It’s so important we find better treatments,’ Catherine Eiswerth says

The map shows the number of COVID-19 cases for the week of April 25 to May 1. The darkest areas indicate communities with a daily average of more than 20 cases per 100,000 population. (BC Centre of Disease Control)
Surrey and Abbotsford battle for top COVID hotspot in Fraser Health

Two communities are among areas across province showing highest transmission

Ocean Athletics’ Roy Jiang – a senior at Southridge School – will study, run track and play clarinet at the California Institute of Technology beginning this fall. (Gordon Kalisch/Fast Track Sports Photography)
‘Triple-threat’ Southridge School student runs toward CalTech

Roy Jiang will compete on track team, play in the university’s symphony and study bioengineering

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to start releasing neighbourhood-specific COVID numbers after data leak

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix update B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count creeps up, seven more deaths

445 people in hospital, 157 in intensive care

Summerland’s positive test rate is much higher than surrounding local health areas, according to internal BC CDC documents. (BC CDC)
Summerland 3rd behind Surrey, Abbotsford in daily per capita COVID-19 cases

Interior Health is rolling out additional vaccine availability to the community

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Mandeep Grewal was gunned down outside an Abbotsford bank in October 2018. Police said a violent gang war to control drug-line territory was going on at that time. Drug charges have now been announced against seven people. (FILE PHOTO: John Morrow/Abbotsford News)
7 people face 38 charges related to gang drug activity in Abbotsford and Mission

Police say investigation began in 2018 into expansion of Brothers Keepers’ drug line

Amazon is pausing its Prime Day marketing event in Canada this year amid ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at its facilities in Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Amazon Prime Day halted in Canada due to COVID-19 outbreaks in warehouses

The event was postponed to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, the company says

Ally Thomas, 12, seen in an undated family handout photo, died on April 14 from a suspected overdose. Her family says they are frustrated more public supports weren't available when they tried to get her help. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Minister says suspected overdose death of 12-year-old pushing B.C. to ‘do better’

Minister Sheila Malcolmson of Mental Health and Addictions says the government is working ‘as hard as we can’ to build a system of care for youths

At this Highway 3 check point, police officers will be asking for identification from drivers, documentation regarding the driver’s name and address, and the purpose for the driver’s travel. (RCMP)
No fines handed out at 1st COVID-19 roadblock as checks move across B.C.

Cpl. Chris Manseau says a total of 127 vehicles were stopped at a roadblock in the Manning Park area

Most Read