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CANADA 150: A commemorative look at Surrey’s distant past, its present and very near future

Take a look with the Now-Leader at the Surrey area in 1867, 1967 and today as we head into the city’s Canada 150 celebrations
Surrey 1967 centennial totem pole being restored. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)

Let’s take a commemorative look at Surrey’s distant past, its present and very near future.

This weekend, Canadians will be celebrating the nation’s 150th birthday, and Surrey has big plans. Will they surpass Surrey’s Centennial celebration in 1967? Meanwhile, in a local forest, a special conservation project is underway that brings the two together.

The 150th birthday is called a sesquicentennial. Locally, city hall says Surrey Canada Day 2017 will be Western Canada’s largest Canada Day celebration. It’ll be at the Bill Reid Millennium Amphitheatre, at 176th Street and 64th Avenue, on July 1st of course.

It’ll begin at 10 a.m. and end with fireworks at 10:30 p.m. In between, there will be all kinds of family-friendly activities leading up to evening musical performances on the main stage featuring Sway, DJ Flipout, Chilliwack, Magic! and Hedley.

“Surrey is excited to host a Canada Day celebration that is bigger and better than ever,” Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner said. “This year’s expanded Canada 150 zone will give attendees the opportunity to share and celebrate their national pride among tens of thousands of proud Canadians.”

That would be tens of thousands more people than the local population back in 1867, when the Dominion of Canada came into being on July 1st of that year. British Columbia didn’t join until July 20, 1871, making it Canada’s sixth province, and Surrey didn’t become a municipality until Nov. 10, 1879.

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So what was going on here, back in 1867? Well, the Coast Salish First Nations — Kwantlen, Semiahmoo, Nicomekl — had already called this home for thousands of years. As for the Europeans, Lieutenant Jose Maria Narvaez, a Spanish explorer, sailed his schooner into Mud Bay on July 5, 1791; Hudson’s Bay Company Chief Factor James McMillan paddled up the Nicomekl River on Dec. 20, 1824; James Kennedy began cutting Kennedy Trail, from Mud Bay to South Westminster, in 1861 — completing it in 1865.

Starting in 1861, stage coaches rattled down the Semiahmoo Trail twice a week from the U.S. border to Brown’s Landling across from New Westminster on the Fraser; the colony’s first telegraph line crossed Mud Bay in 1865 and in 1866 Telegraph Trail opened, running from Brown’s Landing more-or-less along the south bank of the Fraser to Fort Langley.

Despite all this marvellous stuff, the population of European settlers here in 1867 could probably be counted on a few hands and feet.

One hundred years into the future, Canada’s Centennial Year, in 1967, Surrey had 644 miles of paved roads — 434 of them paved — and a population of nearly 82,000. Lester Pearson was prime minister, WAC Bennett was B.C.’s premier, and serving on Surrey’s municipal council were Reeve Roland J. Harvey, Bill Stagg, Bill Fomich, A.R. Flegal, Ted Kuhn, D.O. Jones, L.A. Shepherd, Bill Vander Zalm, J.A. Dunster, Jimmy Ardiel and T. G. Pearce. The popular movies of the day were The Graduate, The Dirty Dozen, Bonnie and Clyde and the Jungle Book. Also of note, Surrey’s first McDonald’s restaurant opened in 1967.

Surrey residents 50 years ago celebrated Canada’s 100th birthday in a big way, with a Centennial Kite-Fly at Crescent Beach, a Centennial Soap Box Derby in Port Mann, a Centennial Parade in Kennedy Heights, and a Centennial Tree-Planting with 500 trees planted throughout the municipality. The reeve got a special new Centennial gavel and a six-ton Centennial birthday cake was served up a Guildford Town Centre, provided by the Surrey Centennial Committee in cooperation with the merchants.

According to a story in the Surrey Leader, Allison Wickes, Miss Surrey Centennial for 1967, served the cake and handed out Centennnial Medallions to the crowd.

“This immense fruit cake has been decorated with 1,200 pounds of hard icing,” the newspaper reported. “It will be cut into thousands of pieces.”

The cake was sold “in bulk, for use around the world as wedding cake, birthday cake and Christmas cake,” the story read. “Proceeds from the sale of the cake will go toward the care and treatment of children.”

A cornerstone of Surrey’s 1967 Centennial Celebration, though, was the installment of the Surrey Columbian Centennial Totem Pole, where it stands today, 50 years later, in the forest beside the old city hall at 14245 56th Avenue in Newton. It was carved by John Edward “Ted” Neel. The Kwakwaka’wakw carver’s pole is 12 metres tall and, from top to bottom, its four figures are an eagle, a bear, a beaver and a frog. A bronze plaque beneath it reads: “The Surrey Columbian Centennial Totem: A joint endeavour of the Surrey Columbian and its readers, this totem pole was erected in 1967 in observance of Canada’s Centennial and to preserve the art and legend of the Salish Indians.”

The totem pole was entered into the Surrey Community Heritage Register in 2004. It has seen better days. Today, it is surrounded by scaffolding as AT Conservators Ltd. perform their magic.

Conservator Andrew Todd and his assistant Nicola Murray have been hired by the city to bring the pole back to its original glory.

“We’ve got 15 days set aside to do it,” Todd told the Now-Leader. “I think another five might get us finished.

“We’ve done the cleaning that was required to get years of mold growth and mildew and moss and dirt and there’s a big forest cover around here so there was quite a bit of deposit on the surfaces, so that had to be cleaned off.”

He and Murray have put a new zinc cap on the top of the totem pole to prevent moisture from getting in and causing fungal deterioration of the end grain up there. They’ve also done a borate treatment to kill carpenter ants and prevent fungal growth, and are currently applying new paint where required. There will also be some “little wood repairs,” with new red cedar.

Once the scaffolding comes down, Todd said, the pole “should be good for another 50 years.”

It will stay put.

“We’ve talked about moving it because of all the forest cover, but no,” Todd explained. “The city is pretty firm about this is where it was placed, this is where it was meant to be in Surrey and this is where it stays. It’s stood up amazingly well. It’s in good condition, strong condition.”

Before setting out on his own, Todd worked with the Canadian Conservation Institute in Ottawa and was a sculpture conservation specialist with the national museum.

“I decided to kind of head out and came to the West Coast for Expo. You know all the art work out here, the best of it is First Nations. Well, I shouldn’t have said that,” he catches himself. “But I did say that.”

He’s been working on totem poles here since Expo ’86. “Robert (Davidson) was my client back at Expo ’86.”

He also teaches workshops in totem pole restoration. Murray has been working with Todd for almost 10 years. “I love it,” she said. “I’ve had some great opportunities to work on some beautiful totem poles.”

Todd considers it an honor to restore totem poles, which he says contain “deep meaning.”

“You have to consider them to be very special records of First Nations culture,” he said.

After this weekend, Canada’s next big birthday bash will be its bicentennial in 2067.

Until then!


Conservator Nicola Murray applies some touch-up paint to Surrey’s Columbian Centennial Totem Pole. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk).

About the Author: Tom Zytaruk

I write unvarnished opinion columns and unbiased news reports for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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