A century later, electric rail dream endures
UPDATE: The Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society invites the public to the Surrey Museum Saturday, March 24 from 1-2 p.m. Hear the latest on the society's their ambitious plans for the new BC Electric Car Barn, station and heritage tram line in Cloverdale.
The Interurban was a modern suburbanite commuter’s dream.
For four decades, it was possible to step on board an electric passenger railcar in Cloverdale, and ride in comfort to New Westminster, downtown Vancouver or even Chilliwack in less time than it would take to drive there today.
In its heyday from 1911 to 1950, the British Columbia Electric Railway, or BCER, transported people, goods and gossip between Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, with four round trips a day. The Interurban moved passengers and freight through Surrey for four decades, connecting communities from Chilliwack to Burrard station.
But, as the Surrey Museum’s BC Electric: More Than Just A Tram shows, the line introduced more than just reliable transit and transportation corridors to the Fraser Valley.
The completion of the BCER in 1910 brought electricity to the communities and settlements along its path, spurring growth in whistle stops like Newton, Sullivan, McLellan, Cloverdale, Hall’s Prairie, Anderson, Abbotsford, Sumas, Yarrow and Chilliwack, ushering in rapid and profound changes in agriculture, industry and the way people did business.
[IMAGE COURTESY OF THE HENRY EWERT COLLECTION
Cloverdale Station c.1912.]
At the centre was Cloverdale, a transportation rail hub, the new seat of local government, and the primary shopping district for Surrey’s settlers.
Surrey Museum staff also delved into the collection to find pre-and post-electric objects such as toasters, vacuums, a hot plate and an electric egg candler used by dairy farmers. Telephones at home and shop were another new arrival in the valley.
The line was completed in 1910, but surveyors set out nearly a decade earlier. The shovel that broke ground on Aug. 25, 1902 is on loan from the New Westminster museum.
The museum turned to an important local resource, author and train expert Henry Ewert, who shared his own collection of photographs depicting each of Surrey’s Interurban stations.
There are also photos depicting the restoration of BCER Interurban 1225.
In the early 1950s, the Interurban was winding down – a victim of North America’s growing love affair with the automobile. Most of the rail cars were burned at the rail yard under the Burrard Street bridge in Vancouver, and destroyed.
Some cars were bought up by museums in the U.S., including BCER 1225, which ended up at the Orange Empire Railway Museum in California.
The FVHRS acquired the car in 2005, and since then members have spent more than 17,000 hours restoring it to its original glory.
This summer, it will be back on the rails on the original BCER line between Cloverdale and Sullivan.
Fittingly, just last week crews started laying the foundation of the new home of the Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society, which plans to relocate its operations from Sullivan Station to 5554 176 Street, just steps from the original Cloverdale BCER station.
Once complete, and the operations moved over, volunteers will begin offering limited passenger runs on weekends, possibly as soon as August, opening an exciting new chapter in enduring story of the Interurban.
– BC Electric Railway: More than Just a Tram, runs to March 24 at the Surrey Museum.
The following video is an overview of the work of artist Brian Croft, who presented "Riding The Rails With a Paintbrush", at the Surrey Museum last month as part of this exhibit. It features insight into the process involved in his work Cloverdale, 1913.