Brian Croft
Painting the History of Vancouver and British Columbia

340. Cloverdale 1913

Limited Edition Stretched Canvas Giclee Print: sn95, ap10, pp5


20x32 (inches) sn $800, ap $900, pp $950

28x44 (inches) sn $1200, ap $1300, pp $1350

From an original painting by

Brian Croft

In the mid 19th century, Surrey’s virgin landscape had it all: highlands, lowlands, floodplains, scrub, tall timber and much of it, available by pre-emption. As Europeans began settling in the region to be known as Surrey, many folks tended to favour a particular hillock. It was a fine highland for a community looking down and southward to the Nicomekl River, which meandered its way through Clover Valley. The townspeople called this place Surrey Centre. By 1881, this hilltop community had the municipality’s first town hall and the area’s first church, completed in 1884; for a long time this was the natural centre of things.

In 1887, New Westminster businessmen formed the New Westminster and Southern Railway (NWS) with rights to build a rail line between Brownsville, on the south shore of the Fraser River across from New Westminster to the International border. The NWS joined forces with a similar American company and this amalgamation attracted the interest of J.J. Hill and his Great Northern Railway (GN). With GN backing, the line was built from Brownsville, east along the river adjacent to Barnston Island and then veering south, seeking the lowest grades through Port Kells, Clayton, Cloverdale, Hazelmere and then on to the border. The alignment through “Cloverdale” was along the east side of 176th Street. The first GN train ran in 1891 and J.J. Hill’s vision of a northern service from Seattle to Vancouver was realized. Cloverdale was very well positioned for the future. In 1897 the Yukon Gold Rush caused traffic to soar. In 1904 the long awaited Fraser River Bridge opened; no longer would GN passengers disembark at Brownsville or New Westminster and board the ferry “Surrey” to complete their journey across the Fraser. Then in 1909, calamity, GN opened a new ocean-hugging line along the coast of the Semiahmoo peninsula which drastically reduced traffic on the NWS Cloverdale route. However, in 1910 as if by magic, the British Columbia Electric Railway (BCER) opened its Fraser Valley Branch line, their tracks crossed the NWS line just south of Milton Rd (today’s Highway 10). The BCER brought daily Interurban passenger and freight service which ran the full length of the Fraser Valley from Chilliwack through New Westminster and into Vancouver. Just as importantly, the BCER electrical overhead lines brought electricity to customers near the line. At Cloverdale, the BCER built a full sized depot as well as an immense electrical sub-station. Back up on the hill at Surrey Centre, plans for a new Surrey Municipal Hall were on the municipal agenda. The new location would be right-smack-dab at the new centre of things, Cloverdale.

Cloverdale was the new heart of Surrey. The new Municipal Hall was completed in 1912. The following year, the Pacific Highway (176 St.) officially opened running through to the border. In earlier days, the intersection of 176th and Highway 10 was known as Parr’s Corners after the Parr General Merchandise store then located on the northwest corner. Appearing in my painting from left to right are the BCER depot, the GN Section house, the newly renovated Parr house (in red and cream), the Cloverdale Creamery, BC Telephone Office and the Burrows and Armstrong General Store. Moving north on Pacific Highway, The Columbia Hotel, built in 1907 took over from the expansive Starr Hotel and Livery which burned down in 1911. Next in view, a freight shed, then Carncross & Hugh Realtors. In the new two-storey red brick building owned by L.K. Sully, Pemberton and Son Realty and The Bank of Montreal, managed by Mr. Nick Kendall, have both just moved in. Next door, the roof of Mr. Hans Johnson’s Shoe Repair is visible and a few doors north, H.V. Parr General Merchandiser. Finally The Cloverdale Methodist Church spire. A GN engine, a class B-21 4-4-0 approaches the tiny GN depot on the east side of 176th. Just a few people are waiting - a testament to the already reduced service. The last GN train would depart Cloverdale in 1923. The Cloverdale Opera House built in 1904 on King St. is eclipsed by the newly finished Municipal Hall. I painted Surrey’s proud new seat of government gleaming with new electric light. In the foreground, BCER Interurban Freight car no. 1700 is about to depart eastbound for Chilliwack while a line crew wait at the freight shed siding with their locally built electric handcar.

An accurate map was required to do this painting. I used satellite technology as a template and re-mapped Cloverdale circa 1913 from a wide variety of archival sources. The resulting map is my gift to the Surrey Archives. The last BCER interurban passed this way on Sept 30, 1950. The railway impetus that virtually created Cloverdale was no more. Although in the intervening years the frenetic pace of progress may have at times appeared to bypass this beautiful community, time has not been unkind. Cloverdale prevails today, charming, historical and pretty. -Brian Croft

Other Brian Croft paintings linked to this work are Chilliwack – 1913 and Crossroads at Langley Prairie - 1928