COLUMN: Important piece of Surrey’s history acknowledged

February was Black History Month in Canada, and Surrey council took a major step forward in recognizing its own black history on Feb. 25 by naming a small but significant park after an early black settler.

Henry Houston Scott Park is located on a portion of the property once owned by the Scott family, at the corner of 64 Avenue and 181A Street in Cloverdale. It has actually been a park for decades. Most of the Scott property (which totalled seven acres) was subdivided in the 1970s. A small portion (which includes a portion of the family orchard) remained undeveloped. This was largely because it is too close to transmission lines to permit any building. It has been known by the most unappealing name of 77C Utility ROW.

Surrey Historical Society has been the driving force in getting the park properly named. Jim Foulkes of the society did a lot of research on the family, and their story is fascinating.

Henry Houston Scott was born in Texas in 1854. Texas was a slave state, but Foulkes has been unable to determine conclusively whether Scott was a slave. Seven years after his birth, Texas became part of the Confederate States, which brought on the U.S. Civil War. Foulkes did find that Henry Scott applied twice with a special American court that was providing compensation for former slaves.

Henry Scott married his wife Amy Florence in Texas, and they later moved to Oklahoma and received a land grant there. They had 10 children in total. In 1912, they came to Surrey with three of their children, Jesse, Roy and Benola. The others remained in the U.S.

They began farming on their property and it likely wasn’t much more than subsistence farming. Jesse and Roy both worked at other jobs, and Jesse was also a well-known baseball player. None of the three children who came with them ever married.

Benola was the last of the Scotts – she died in 1971. Shortly afterwards, the executor of her estate gave permission for Surrey Museum to retrieve artifacts from their home. The museum staff who went into the home found that it was large, but unfinished. However, there were many important artifacts found in the home, and they are now part of the museum collection.

The Scotts had been buried at Surrey Centre Cemetery, but their graves were unmarked. In a meaningful ceremony last April, the historical society marked their graves with a stone that has the names and lifespans of the five Scott family members who settled in Surrey.

They were one of the first black families to live here, and likely had the longest residence in Surrey of any black family.

On Feb. 24, I had the privilege of hearing former Liberal MP and cabinet minister Jean Augustine explain how Black History Month came about. She was one of the first two black women elected to the House of Commons, and she recounted how she had to speak to almost every MP, from all parties, in order to get unanimous consent to February becoming Black History Month.

It is very fitting that Surrey has now formally recognized the contribution of the Scotts. A plaque outlining their contribution was erected at the park on Feb. 26, the day after council gave its approval.

Many thanks to the Surrey Historical Society for seeing this project through, and for understanding the importance of recognizing the Scott family.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News, as well as at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca

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