Category Archives: British Columbia

South Surrey stands to lose what it loves during urbanization

The last performance of Sunnyside Elementary School’s award-winning jazz and concert band program is next Thursday, June 22, 6pm at the school. There’s no more room at the school for drums, pianos, marimbas, and musical instruments you can’t put in your pocket. South Surrey is running out of room all over.


A corner lot by Sunnyside Elementary was finally bulldozed. In a day or two it was transformed from the left picture to the right picture. The lot will become three new big houses with tiny yards. The tree there, a big maple, I think, was well-loved for 50 years, at a guess. It had a tire swing and lovely climbing branches. I’m sure children sat there on summer days, but the inevitable forces of economics were unable to save it for future children.



It’s ironic that at the same time this lot was being bulldozed, the Sunnyside Elementary school’s music program was undergoing the same transformation. img_2147.jpg

For over 20 years, students passionate about music could find a mentor at Sunnyside Elementary. Next year, unless we get even more parent advocacy, this practice room will become a classroom, and their music teacher will be teaching at 7-9 other schools, normalized by the pressures of urbanization.


It’s hard to take pictures of a band program facing the bulldozers. How do I take a picture of something that’s not there? How do I document the absence of a school at the Kiwanis music festival for the first time in over a decade? How do I show what will be lost without demeaning the efforts of future band programs? The Surrey school district will ensure that Sunnyside grade 7 students can take band if they want, two days a week (100 minutes, if I remember right). That’s a far cry from the grade 5 through grade 8 students you usually find in the music room before school, during lunch and recess, during the first hour of classes, and after school.

Once the houses are built on that corner lot, more people will move in and they’ll be happy they could find a place to live. They won’t know about the tree swing, or the climbing branches that used to be there. But hopefully their children will have the choice to attend an award-winning band, practicing music with other students and a passionate teacher!

If you happen to be someone who appreciates music and the efforts of students and teachers who have supported Sunnyside’s program in the past, please write the administration (emails below)! We need to preserve this unique music program from demolishment, not just this year, but for decades to come.,,,,,,,,,,,


Surrey BC saves very few forests. Why?

What does it take to have a forest saved from development in Surrey, BC? Here are some of the reasons Grandview Heights must be paved; but there are several groups who are working hard to try guide development so future residents can have beautiful, sustainable, and healthy neighbourhoods.

Individuals and groups of people take turns standing up and being shot down. I’ve been hit by compassion fatigue, myself, seeing how huge the city’s development machine is. It’s hard to keep blogging when every letter or blog post is ignored or shot down. Even Surrey’s own environmental committee members have resigned in protest.

Luckily, when one group or person loses hope, someone else stands up to take their place. Far in the future, historical records will show that many residents did not want to ruin their air quality, water quality, animals habitat and green space. Here’s a small sampling of the hundreds of people who are trying to guide the city’s massive passion for unbridled development:

Sybil Rowe (read about her experience here)

Grandview Heights Stewardship Association

Surrey Students Now

Friends of Hazelmere Campbell Valley

Green Timbers Heritage Society

It takes thousands of people to force governments to make difficult decisions. I was recently in the first State Park of California, Big Basin Redwoods. It took an enormous “coalition of journalists, politicians, artists, businessmen, and scholars” organizing thousands of people statewide to protect those trees from logging.

Does Surrey have enough people to protect the urban forests? Maybe not. Though thousands of residents alternate attending meetings, writing letters, gathering signatures, and meeting with councilmen and city planners, will it ever be enough? It may simply be that there aren’t enough residents with enough wealth or influence to save Surrey’s forests. With the loss of over 28 sq km of wildlife habitat, Grandview Heights, once replete with lush, green forests, will soon be another Clayton Heights but on a larger scale. Relentless, overcrowded, cemented urbanization.

Dirtying the Air in Surrey BC

As I’ve watched thousands of townhouses bloom in my area of South Surrey (Grandview Heights), I wonder how our air pollution is doing.

View from Blackie Spit last week

How much of that brown haze am I breathing? 1000 people are moving into Surrey every month, and Surrey BC is cutting an average of 8,500 trees per year. Mature trees are one of the major air cleaners for cities. Mississauga has some excellent canopy data, and I combined data from that with data from Surrey’s tree canopy report to figure out what’s happening to our air.

With a population increase of 1000/mo, I estimate 300 new cars/month. The EPA says the average pollution from one passenger car is 4.7 tonnes/yr. That’s 16,920 more tonnes of air pollution from cars every year in Surrey, BC.

Surrey went from 10,441 ha of tree canopy in 2001 to 8,542 ha in 2013, which means the trees went from cleaning 846 tonnes of air pollution to 692 tonnes of air pollution each year. That’s 154 tonnes less air pollution cleaned every year.

The health impacts of air pollution are huge. Surrey BC may think they’re getting money in their pockets by letting developers build houses with ridiculously small amounts of tree canopy (2.6% tree canopy in new residential developments compared to 24% in 2009), but the long-term cost isn’t worth it.

Motor vehicle-related air pollution is believed to be responsible for between 900 and 4,500 cases of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and bronchitis each year in Australia, and between 900 and 2,000 early deaths.27

Surrey BC government is systematically removing the lungs and air filters from our city. What a sad thing to do.

Guest Post: Growing up in Grandview Heights, by

I met this wonderful woman while our kids were at ice skating lessons together. She agreed to write a blog post for me! She grew up in South Surrey, Grandview Heights in particular, and has a very important viewpoint to share. Read on! (The original is at her new blog)


The high rises that are modelled on the City of Surrey’s logo are not the high rises I grew up with or would ever care to grow up with, even today.

For me, the Douglas Fir trees towering on the horizon along 24th Ave, as I navigate my way South on 176th street, are the high rises of my childhood. I can remember driving back from the Okanagan and seeing that tall, welcoming passage of evergreens looming in the distance, a symbol of the “homestretch”.

These iconic trees, are the “WELCOME HOME” banner painted across the skyline, the roots of a healthy, happy community and the grandeur that I believe still exists within Grandview Heights despite the urbanization that is consuming vast hectares of its rural properties.

 My old stomping grounds, the green dots representing previous homes my family owned including the property at the corner of 176th street and 24th Ave that my father still owns. The blue dot is the elementary school I attended. 

Nestled within South Surrey, Grandview Heights has a rich history,  and the Douglas fir trees along with the mighty Redwoods are a huge part of it.  The trees provide our natural ecosystem with so much stability, diversity, and strength, and attracted to the area , it’s very first settlers. Logging, incidentally, really helped pave the way for our great city.

Grandview Heights was originally a logging region. The Royal City Planing Mills established an operation east of Elgin near the Nicomekl River to log the areas south of Kensington Prairie. In
1886, a logging railway was built east through Grandview Heights. At the west of the line, logs were dumped into a ditch and floated into the Nicomekl River.

Grandview Heights has always been sparsely populated. A 1910 map shows the Royal City Planing Mills and the Government owning about half the land in the area.The subsequent development was small lot agricultural. The area was opened up through the construction of the Pacific Highway, which opened on August 3, 1923 and connected to the border crossing at Douglas. A number of very modest buildings were constructed throughout the area during 1920s and 1930s. After the end of the Second World War, further subdivision occurred for the development of large estate lots.

The settlement of Grandview Heights began with David Brown, who arrived in Surrey in 1878 and took up residence at the corner of the Clover Valley and North Bluff Roads (176th and 16th).  Brown’s sons Peter and David were avid tree collectors and donated the land for what is now Redwood Park.

There’s a little bit of history preserved within the forest of Redwood Park and I remember going on many class field trips there when I attended school at Grandview Heights Elementary.

Grandview Heights was named at the time the school was being built. As Alex McBeth, was helping to shingle the roof he could see Semiahmoo Bay, Blaine and all the country side around. He said, “What a grand view!”, and someone suggested that as the name of the school Grandview Heights.

One teacher at GHE, in particular, was able to really mentor his students, myself included, to be more mindful of the environment. His name is Mr Lynn Pollard and I believe he is still mentoring children today with the Young Naturalists’ Club of BC.

Growing up with the trees, and in my little naive, unsuspecting rural bubble, I never dreamed that these stomping grounds would one day be paved into someone else’s urban residence.

Many homeowners within this community have already experienced the devastating effects of the urbanization of this once rural area. They’ve witnessed trees ripped from their horizon and felt first hand how developers and big box companies can swoop in and hook their talons into some of the prime real estate surrounding us.

The same real estate that has been shared for the past many years with the majestic eagles, gliding overhead, who take up residence high atop the trees they depend on, to nest. (More on the South Surrey Eagles…not the Hockey team!)

The same real estate my children’s great granddad had built a beautiful brick home on, by the sweat of his brow. The home that would later be knocked down and bulldozed to make way for a 97 unit townhouse complex where his daughter-in-law now lives. Units so close together, it seems the only way to maintain ones sense of privacy is to draw the blinds tightly closed so as not to peer into a neighbours bedroom while drinking coffee at your kitchen table in the morning. Where the echoes of your neighbours voices can be heard as though you were sitting right next to them. Sheepishly avoiding eye contact as you head out for the day, knowing so much about them, while not knowing them at all. And perhaps our sense of pride in our community lessens as the neighbourhood morale wanes.

With real estate prices soaring within an aging community looking to retire, coupled with a demand for affordable housing by younger families just wanting to get their foot in the door of this serene-yet-trendy living, we are seeing large parcels of land getting bought up and more & more development proposal signs littering the landscape. And in keeping up with our metropolitan neighbours, we’ve committed ourselves to the metaphorical knife of cosmetic surgery, in our slogan “the future lives here”.  The Grandview Cornersshopping district and the numerous high density “cluster-type” townhome complexes, have left the area forever altered and almost unrecognizable.

Before development

After development

Grandview’s face lift will no doubt be met with some resistance as it leaves scars fromcanopy loss that may take years, even decades, to recover from.

These gentle giants should be given much more consideration amongst the development that has taken place in our cherished little community.

While I grieve for the loss of the many trees that once stood tall and proud in this area, I’d be remisced not to mention that I conveniently work in the Grandview Corners area, a mere 5 minute commute from home. And of course I fully intend to take advantage of the new aquatic center with my kids when it’s complete.

That being said, I would like to see the Ciy of Surrey live up to it’s promise to keep Surrey green (and not with greed or envy) and preserve wherever possible these beautiful giants in our ever-changing architecture.

Only slightly further east of this rapid development taking place is where I lived in my 2nd & 3rd childhood homes. And while they no longer remain in my families possession, I still feel the roots of those old growth trees surrounding the land and feel the nostalgia when I drive along 24th Avenue and past 174th Street, peering down the lane at the homes on one acre parcels that will hopefully remain as such.

And I wonder …Are we still the city of parks? Or are we focussing now on a new slogan which involves building up high rises and high density urban style living? The alteration of Surrey’s Logo from a fuzzy, tree_chewing beaver to the metropolitan design of the future has me questioning

With Arbor Day just around the corner, I would like to see what the city has to offer in terms of replanting trees in neighbourhoods that have experienced significant canopy loss(to see Arbor Day activities  in Surrey click here).  Maybe we can provide Grandview with some much needed “re-leaf“  planting, nurturing, and preserving trees growing up in Grandview so that my kids can also enjoy growing  up in Grandview.

I want to thank the Grandview Heights Stewardship Association as well as Alisa Ramakrishnan for inspiring and encouraging people like me to be more involved and not take a back seat with regards to the developments taking place all around us. Change is happening and can still happen. I’ve heard comments about tree loss from others saying “It’s a bit late now, isn’t it?” and others who see what’s happening and think it’s appalling, however don’t feel as though they have a voice to be heard. Look around! We still have so much to preserve and to develop. This place has all the potential of being a perfect paradise to retire or raise a family in and we need to ensure we have done all we can to accommodate the future that will inevitably live here, while maintaining the happy, healthy tree canopy that we love so much.

Saving forests during development (and not)

One of my friends said she really likes my before and after pictures! So here’s another one. This is the area around 162nd St and 28th Ave in Surrey BC, from 2005 and 2014.

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 6.24.27 AM
Image from 2005, from COSMOS


Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 6.24.45 AM
Image from 2014, from COSMOS

Let’s look at how they developed this farmland.

Green areas were saved, purple areas are undeveloped so far, the blue area is a new pond, red x-s were cut
Green areas were saved, purple areas are undeveloped so far, the blue area is a new pond, red x-s were cut

They kept three areas of forests, cut down a couple other forests, and put a detention pond in. This is an example of mixed density single family homes. The high density homes ($800,000-$1.3 mil each) have lots of pavement and impermeable surfaces compared to the low density homes ($1.1mil-$3.4mil each).

But look how they saved forests during development. Not bad, really. Could be worse, right? This is the sort of thing they should do when developing with even higher densities, like townhouses.

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 6.49.27 AM
Area around Morgan Crossing (24th Ave and 160th St), 2005
Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 6.49.03 AM
Same area, 2014

This is an area near those other images, this one with high density housing. These townhouses cost less ($300,000-$900,000) than the single family homes, and the few treed areas were completely removed. Development isn’t finished here — everything you see will be ungreened, except the private school in the upper middle. There’s a small park planned outside my image, on the bottom.

The urban area is mostly from the Morgan Heights NCP 1 and Sunnyside Heights NCP2 which I was able to easily figure out thanks to the Grandview Stewardship Association (thank you). Disclaimer: I’m now a member of GHSA ’cause they’re awesome. About NCPs (Neighborhood Concept Plans) — they’re quite malleable, as you’ll see if you compare the NCPs to what actually happens.



Urbanization of forested land near Sunnyside Elementary

The city of Surrey just had a great open house about some parks they’re planning near the new Sunnyside Elementary School (159th St and 28th Ave). They have the information boards and a survey available online! Do take a look and fill out the survey. Actually, the survey is a word document and might be hard to fill out…you could try my adobe acrobat version (Wills_Brook_questionnaire) and email it to them if it’s easier.

Here’s a great picture of what was here and what’s going to be here! Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 6.39.39 AM


When land is at a premium and the city doesn’t have funds to buy up valuable forested lands, developers work with the city to try to save some trees. A few are indeed being saved…it’s certainly better than 100 years ago, when they chopped down absolutely everything.

Here’s a picture of the parks they have planned for our area, just FYI.

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 6.45.37 AM

Pre-1900s pictures of giant trees in Surrey

Update: Gary Cameron just informed me that there’s one left! A giant redwood in North Surrey! From what I can gather, it’s in the middle of a development application, but it’s slated for protection. What a relief!

And here’s an amazing stump he showed me:

Exterior view of Cedar Stump from Queen Mary Boulevard, 2004 Donald Luxton and Associated, 2004.
8920 Queen Mary Boulevard, Surrey, BC. Exterior view of Cedar Stump from Queen Mary Boulevard, 2004. Donald Luxton and Associated, 2004.

Original post: All (?) the giant trees are gone from Surrey, but there are some pictures of them. I searched Surrey Archives for “tree” and here are some of the neat pictures of ancient trees in the PNW! The captions are from their database.

View of Martin Saarela (faller) standing next to tree. Lived on Bose Road east of the Bose Farm. Tree felled on Bose Farm, 74" in diameter. pre-1960
View of Martin Saarela (faller) standing next to tree. Lived on Bose Road east of the Bose Farm. Tree felled on Bose Farm, 74″ in diameter. pre-1960


Jimmie Dicil, Bert McIntyre and Joe Ralph stand next to stump of fallen tree at Pike and Townline Road. 1895
Jimmie Dicil, Bert McIntyre and Joe Ralph stand next to stump of fallen tree at Pike and Townline Road. 1895
Jimmie Dicil, Bert McIntyre and Joe Ralph sit atop stump of fallen tree at Pike and Townline Road. 1895
Jimmie Dicil, Bert McIntyre and Joe Ralph sit atop stump of fallen tree at Pike and Townline Road. 1895
Mr. I. Donald standing beside felled giant tree. 196_
Mr. I. Donald standing beside felled giant tree. 196_
 Felling a tree - South Surrey. 1906
Felling a tree – South Surrey. 1906
Loggers stand in front of large cedar tree near the Duckabush River. pre-1930
Loggers stand in front of large cedar tree near the Duckabush River. pre-1930