A small group of dignitaries signed their names, with black felt pens, on a length of steel beam Tuesday afternoon. The event marked a small but richly symbolic moment in the history of what used to be commonly known as South Westminster.
The beam will help support a new $20 million freight truck hub for FedEx Canada that's expected to be completed within 18 months. Tuesday's ceremony, held on a small platform that, from above, would look like a tiny raft on a sea of grey Fraser River sand, heralded one of many major development projects on the go in this place once dominated by auto wreckers and unkempt lots.
Local politicians met with Grant Crawford, the vice-president of FedEx's international operations. He'd come from the company's world headquarters in Memphis, Tenn., to celebrate these early days of construction in a new 81-bay, 42,000-square foot hub that will occupy 16 acres of land at 10288 Grace Rd. that's owned by Wes group Properties.
In every direction, one sees construction, most notably the South Fraser Perimeter Road that is expected to be completed by the end of next year. The 40-kilometre, four-lane expressway will link highways 1, 17, 91 and 99 with the Fraser Surrey Docks, and Roberts Bank Superport in South Delta.
"From a logistical standpoint, it met all our needs," Crawford said of the new FedEx site. "It's a perfect spot for us."
Marvin Hunt, who has served as a Surrey alderman and then city councillor over the past 22 years, remembered when a golf driving range was located at the bottom of Scott Hill, amidst plenty of auto salvage yards.
The land, he noted, was considered to be "back-up" land for the port.
"We kept on going, 'When is something going to happen?'"
In 1990, SkyTrain arrived at Scott Road Station, but the area was nevertheless still hard on the eyes.
Former premier Gordon Campbell, who was serving as the mayor of Vancouver at the time, found himself in a bit of a furore over comments he made about the area.
"You've got trees and cars and dumps and, you know, old tires lying around. We've got people in houses," the Vancouver mayor said in 1991.
Roughly 10 years later, Surrey lobbied to have the Pacific National Exhibition relocated to a city-owned site near the station.
"Then that went sideways," Hunt noted.
"There's a lot of history here."
Hunt is pleased with the way things are progressing in South Westminster today.
"It gradually improves and develops as the whole community prospers," Hunt said. "There's a lot of money in here. It's very hard to quantify."
AN AREA WITH A LOT OF HISTORY
Indeed, there is a lot of history in South Westminster, which came under Surrey's jurisdiction in 1927. Its major landmark, of course, is the Pattullo Bridge, opened by Liberal Premier Thomas Dufferin Pattullo on Nov. 15, 1937. The bridge cost $4 million to build and was a toll bridge until 1952. More than 30,000 spectators came to see the opening ceremony, despite a sleet storm.
A short ways downstream from the bridge is Brownsville, which in the early 19th Century was the site of a small Kwantlen village called Kikait. Its last chief died in 1908.
Brownsville, incidentally, is named after Ebenezer Brown, a New Westminster liquor merchant who pre-empted some land near Kikait in 1864, and built a hotel. In later years, Browns's Landing marked the junction of Scott Road, Kennedy Trail and the Old Yale wagon road. Surrey farmers needed to find a better way to transport their produce to the market in New Westminster, and so a ferry landing was built in Brownsville in 1882.
The Kate de Knivett, or K de K ferry, was operated by Captain Angus Grant and named after his niece. Its first trip across the Fraser was on March 17, 1884.
It was replaced by the Surrey in 1889 until it, too, fell victim to progress with the opening of the New Westminster railway bridge on July 23, 1904. The bridge's lower deck was for trains and the upper deck was for wagons and cars, and it remained a toll bridge until the Great War.
Two major roads pass through South Westminster. King George Highway - which was recently renamed King George Boulevard - was opened on Oct. 16, 1940. Scott Road is older. Colonel J.T. Scott, a Royal City saloon owner, was hired to build a wagon road that would connect Brown's Landing with Ladner Trunk Road (back then, Mud Bay Road). Somebody else finished building Scott Road in 1875, but the colonel got the glory.
Just a little ways up Scott Hill, overlooking South Westminster, the legendary Canadian poet Robert Service - "The Bard of the Yukon" - lived for a short spell in a barn on the corner of Chickadee Lane and Smith Road, in the late 1890s.
One wonders if he ever wrote a poem about South Westminster...