Surrey’s historic Strawberry Hill Hall is on the move – but not far, just a few metres.
The 111-year-old structure, one of the city’s oldest community halls, is being repositioned on its corner lot and renovated at a cost of more than $1.2 million.
In June, four years after the city purchased the lot for an amount not disclosed in a 2016 report to city council, Proactive Construction was awarded the contract for the hall’s rehabilitation project, targeted for completion in 2021.
The site, at 75th Avenue and 121st Street in Newton, was silent on Thursday morning (Oct. 29), with the stripped-down, boarded-up building rested on posts and a new foundation under construction.
The renovated hall will be used for childcare and community rentals.
“The Parks, Recreation & Culture Department will operate the facility,” notes a report to city council, “providing licensed preschool, before and after school care, and cultural programming on evenings and weekends, while also making the facility available for approved community uses through rentals.”
Surrey’s historic Strawberry Hill Hall is on the move – not far, just a few metres – for future childcare/rentals, in $1.2M reno project. The 111-year-old structure is among the city’s oldest community halls.
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Work to reposition the hall away from the sidewalk is being done to make the intersection safer for motorists and pedestrians, according to city hall.
“Currently the building sticks out beyond what it should for that corner of the road, and visibility isn’t great,” Scott Groves, Surrey’s Manager of Civic Facilities, told the Now-Leader in 2019. “We want to keep it as close to the corner as we can, so it’ll be moved four or five metres, diagonally, to pull it back a bit. We’re kind of restoring the distance it was originally from the road, that corner, because the intersection is much larger than it was years ago.”
The new-look hall will include updated washrooms and kitchen, new cedar-shingle cladding and roof surface, windows, plumbing, ventilation, gas furnace, electrical systems and lighting fixtures, according to a council report in June. “The existing parking lot will be expanded and improved with islands, boulder retaining walls on the east and south edges, landscape, and lighting.”
For the 36 childcare spaces created, the Ministry of Children and Family Development has chipped in with a $425,000 grant. “These funds are dedicated to purchasing program equipment and supplies, providing project staffing costs during the renovation, and for the addition of an outdoor nature-themed playground in the adjacent R.A. Nicholson Park,” says the council report.
“While the City is currently being mindful of spending due to projected COVID-19 budgetary shortfalls, the project needs to move ahead at this time in order to receive the grant funding.”
Strawberry Hill Hall, once known as Strawberry Hill Farmers Institute Hall, is listed on the Canadian Register of Historic Places (historicplaces.ca).
The hall “reflects the presence and organization of early farmers who settled in the rich agricultural uplands of the Strawberry Hill neighbourhood, and serves as a testament to the success and persistence of the agricultural community in Surrey.”
The area derived its name from the strawberries harvested by the area’s Japanese settlers “from between the stumps of old-growth trees, prior to the land being fully cleared,” the website notes. “The Strawberry Hill Farmers Institute was founded on September 3, 1909, and the Hall was constructed with the help of donations, grants and volunteer labour on land donated by the first president of the Institute, George Henry Flux. An essential part of community life, the Institute held lectures on farming practices, hosted social activities and provided assistance to new settlers.”
Strawberry Hill Hall is located just steps from a new heritage storyboard that tells the story of the Komagata Maru incident. The storyboard, among 50 such heritage signs at locations across Surrey, is part of work by the Surrey Heritage Advisory Commission to shed light on the ship passengers’ troubles in Vancouver more than 100 years ago.
The storyboard calls the Komagata Maru incident “a clear example of racism from Canada’s past.”
The ship arrived in Vancouver from Hong Kong on May 23, 1914, carrying 376 passengers, according to an account posted to komagatamarujourney.ca. Most of the passengers were immigrants from the Punjab region in what was then British India. The hundreds of passengers, according to thecanadianencyclopedia.ca, were not allowed on shore. For two months, they remained in the waters outside of Vancouver.
Raj Singh Toor, grandson of a passenger aboard the ship, called the storyboard “a good learning tool” to inform Surrey residents of this dark bit of history. “We can’t undo the past, but we can move forward and leave a legacy for future generations by educating them about the past,” Toor said.
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