Sandcastle competition at the Spirit of the Sea Festival
(Picture BC photo)

White Rock

Culture & History

The name "Semiahmoo" translates as half-moon, and describes the curving coast of this southern bay of White Rock which, for thousands of years was the permanent home of a Coast Salish tribe, the Semiahmoo.

Early History

Early Spanish and British explorers into the region noted many such peoples scattered throughout what is known today as the San Juan and Gulf Islands. But the numbers were small. Smallpox had already decimated their numbers to a few hundred and further up the coast as European contact gathered momentum, epidemics were set to destroy entire villages.

Settling Boundaries

In 1846, when the 49th parallel established the Canada/US boundary, sovereign claim over the many small, offshore islands remained unresolved. America and Britain each staked their claim – the British Royal Engineers even established their Camp Semiahmoo here and within a decade, the area was besieged by prospectors en route to the Gold Rush, and Roman Catholic missionaries intent on converting the "harmless and peaceable" Semiahmoo peoples.

Semiahmoo Reserve

Boundary lines were finally arbitrated between the US and Canada in 1872. Camp Semiahmoo subsequently became base operations for charting lower British Columbia, and the Semiahmoo Reserve was established 15 years later. All the while, logging and salmon canning operations grew exponentially and remained the backbone of the industry well into the 20th century.

Today, the Semiahmoo are still very much a part of the community: the reserve is adjacent to popular East Beach and Grand Chief Bernard Charles Memorial Plaza commemorates the city's close ties with its First Nations heritage.

Seaside Development

Getting its name from a huge rock left here in the glacial age, White Rock was first homesteaded in 1886 by an enterprising man named Smith. A developer with vision, he quickly subdivided his property into lots and started to promote Semiahmoo Bay as the "Naples of BC," predicting that it would one day become "a popular resort." It would be another 20 years, however, for White Rock to be discovered.

It took the opening of the Douglas border crossing in 1908, the arrival of the Great Northern Railway and the opening of the now famous pier for White Rock to boom as a local tourist destination Indeed, officials were so keen to develop White Rock that for a brief period in 1912, property lots could be had for free with the purchase of a subscription to a British Columbia travel magazine.

White Rock Museum

Some of the community's longest standing families have contributed historical artifacts and photos to White Rock's Museum. Explore the museum's comprehensive exhibit on the region's First Nations and geographic history.

White Rock Today

In the 1950s, a special warrant from the Government of British Columbia created the City of White Rock within its present boundary and development continued by the waterfront and up the hillside. The "Naples of BC" soon became an affordable retirement centre – a standing that still colours its reputation. However, it was this generation that helped shape White Rock, the best example being the White Rock Players, a theatre group staging continuous productions since 1944.

Fine Dining & Culture

Through the 60's, development continued by the waterfront and when the Deas Island Tunnel (now the Massey Tunnel) opened in the '70s, and Vancouver house prices started to soar, White Rock attracted a much younger demographic. By the '90s, when the demand for upscale housing was on and as commuters moved in, White Rock garnered a more sophisticated profile. Many of the cliffside cottages gave way to large homes and today, what was once a sleepy community is not only a popular resort, it also boasts a vibrant and diverse population.

Its seaside enthusiasm spills over into summertime concerts, festivals and outdoor art shows. Food choices, too, now extend beyond home-made gelato ice-creams to a mosaic of fine dining flavours.