Today, Surrey is BC's second-most populated city after Vancouver, and the largest in area at 317sq km/190sq mi.
Diverse, multicultural, youthful, and still growing, this urbanized, spread-out city has come a long way from its early agricultural roots – although it's also maintained its traditional green space with more than 600 parks and greenbelts. It all adds up to an exciting experience for visitors.
Surrey's First Nations
What is now Surrey was originally inhabited for centuries by the Aboriginal Coast Salish people. They built villages, hunted, fished and farmed by the banks of the Fraser River, as well as around Boundary Bay and Semiahmoo Bay.
European settlers flooded into the region during the mid-19th Century Fraser River Gold Rush. The area's first hotel was built at the townsite of Brownsville (formerly a Kwantlen Aboriginal village called Kikait) in 1861. A small farming community emerged, and in 1879 Surrey was incorporated as a municipality, although its population was less than 1,000.
The name "Surrey" was the brainchild of the first local municipal council clerk, HJ Brewer. He noted that Surrey was right across the Fraser River from New Westminster, and stated: "Due to the geographic similarity of this district to that of County Surrey in England, in relation to Westminster, I suggest it be named Surrey, British Columbia."
Logging of Surrey's cedar, fir, and spruce forests proceeded apace to create farmland. Dairy, vegetables, beef and hay emerged as major Surrey crops. Meanwhile, Surrey's first city hall was built in 1881, and its first public school at Clover Valley in 1882.
Surrey's Growth in the 20th Century
In the 20th century, six major town centres emerged in Surrey: Cloverdale, Guildford, Newton, South Surrey and Whalley (now known as City Centre).
A big catalyst for growth was the building of the Pattullo Bridge over the Fraser River in 1937. The Cloverdale Rodeo, founded in 1945, became one of Surrey's signature events, pulling in more visitors.
In the post-World War II era, Surrey's trend toward expansion proved unstoppable, even though White Rock, in South Surrey, became a separate municipality in 1957. The Port Mann Bridge was built in 1964, providing a link from Surrey to Coquitlam. The Guildford Town Centre mall opened in 1966, and remains BC's second largest shopping centre with 200-plus retailers today. Industrial parks popped up everywhere.
When the SkyTrain rapid transit link expanded into the City Centre area in 1990, it gave Surrey commuters easy access to downtown Vancouver. Surrey was incorporated as a city in 1993.
The population of Surrey is expanding and will likely surpass Vancouver's in the next 15 to 30 years. It's a young, diverse population: according to a 2006 census, nearly 28% of Surrey residents hail from South Asia. Many visitors enjoy Surrey's choices in Indian dining, clothing, shopping, and other amenities.
Olympic Venue City
With a revitalized downtown core, extensive shopping, a well-developed parks system, and a multicultural arts and cultural scene, Surrey is becoming a major city in its own right. It hosted the Volunteer Preparation Centre for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. As well, a new Simon Fraser University (SFU) campus has been established in the City Centre.
To learn more about Surrey's intriguing past, head to the Surrey Museum. It offers archival films on the BC Electric Railway, exhibits on First Nations culture, hands-on weaving demonstrations, a well-preserved pioneer cabin, and much more. The on-site Surrey Archives burgeon with historic photos, newspapers, and personal papers.