Gary McGratten and White Rock Museum collections

Snapshots of growth on the Peninsula

Local realtor donates historic aerial photos to White Rock Museum and Archives

Nobody remembers at this late date the name of the pilots and photographers who flew over Semiahmoo Bay and Crescent Beach in 1928 and 1932, methodically exposing photographic plates to build up an bird’s eye view of the area.

No one knows what kind of planes zig-zagged over the Semiahmoo Peninsula, including South Surrey and the small but growing community of White Rock, as the work was done, although it’s a fair bet that the crews and technology – and maybe even the aircraft types – had seen similar service in aerial reconnaissance missions during World War One.

But thanks to local realtor Gary McGratten, these crucial pieces in the ongoing jigsaw puzzle of local history are now a part of the permanent display at White Rock Museum and Archives.

McGratten, a keen collector of local historical ephemera, said he found a series of the images at a second-hand store around 15 years ago, and had them pieced together to form a single panorama.

Interest piqued, he discovered that aerial surveys had been done yearly and purchased prints of others from the period that are still on file at the National Archives in Ottawa.

McGratten, who specializes in ocean-view properties, said he had the resulting collages “hanging around the office” for years until he decided to donate them last month.

“I thought it would be great for the museum to have something like this,” he said,

“It’s a very, very nice acquisition for the museum,” said collections, exhibits and programming co-ordinator Amanda Sittrop. “It teams very well with what we already have here.”

Having what is – literally – an overview of the history of the period provides a valuable geographic reference and context for other photographs and reminiscences collected and preserved by the museum, she said.

She said the museum is grateful not only for McGratten’s generosity in donating the aerial panoramas to the community, but also for the example it sets for others.

“Some people don’t think about donating their photos to the museum – but there must be boxes and boxes of historic photos still in attics and storerooms that could wind up being lost.”

Geographical features of the time, including the original appearance of the Peace Portal Golf Course, the pier and operations at the lumber mill on the Little Campbell River, and the old Semiahmoo Secondary school at Five Corners (now site of White Rock Elementary) are clearly discernible in the photographs.

McGratten said the principal source of amazement for him in the photographs was “all the greenery.”

“There weren’t many roads, and most of them were for logging trucks – at that time only a handful of owners owned the whole thing,” he said.

“I’d always had an interest in the history of the city, so the only thing that really surprised me was to see where Marine Drive (originally Washington Avenue) ran along the waterfront, before the railway moved it up onto “the hump.”

“It makes it interesting to see the past like this – how much growth there has been, he said.

“People can’t believe it used to look like that here.”

“I’m surprised at the agricultural sense of the area,” said archivist Hugh Ellenwood.


“There were large plots of land that had been cleared out here.”



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