Community photos tell the story of Surrey during the 1950s

Girls at the 1951 Cloverdale Rodeo. Another Surrey moment in time captured by photographer Neville Curtis. - IMAGE NC223K COURTESY SURREY ARCHIVES
Girls at the 1951 Cloverdale Rodeo. Another Surrey moment in time captured by photographer Neville Curtis.

His camera recorded shining rodeo queens being ushered down Main Street, ceremonial throws at curling tournaments, and the uncertain first steps at kids’ dance recitals.

Photographer Neville Curtis was an eye on Surrey during a different era – the 1950s and early ‘60s, when the 33,000 inhabitants lived in what was still very much an agricultural community.

His photographic legacy – some 7,000 negatives donated in the 1970s – constitutes a rich visual record of what life was like more than half a century ago.

The Surrey Archives collection is gradually being digitized – staff started in 2011, but the job is only 30 per cent complete. There are currently 1,300 Neville Curtis images in the archives’ online database available for public viewing, with more to come.

About 100 photographs will be featured this Saturday at the second in the Surrey Archives’ spring program series, Neville Curtis’s Surrey, running April 19, from 11 a.m. to noon.“In his role as a local photographer, he appears to have been quite passionate about capturing community events and celebrations,” according to archivist Ryan Gallagher, who will be giving the presentation.

[NC508B - Opening night at the Valley Curling Club, Cloverdale, 1954. Surrey Archives]

“Cloverdale was the geographic focal point of many of his photographs, though he also took a fair number of images of Langley.”

Born in Manchester, England, in 1892, Curtis and his family came to Canada in around 1911, and moved to Surrey in 1925. His father operated Curtis Dry Goods, a grocery store on Cloverdale’s Main Street. Curtis worked at and later owned the store.

He also managed the B&K Feed Store in Cloverdale, between 1925 and 1953.

He became a freelance writer and photographer fairly late in life. He was in his 60s when he worked for a number of newspapers in the Lower Mainland, including the Vancouver Sun, the White Rock Sun, Surrey Leader and Langley Advance.

He passed away in 1969.

To Gallagher, the photographs provide a glimpse of the people, places and events of Surrey in the 1950s, allowing people to observe the activities of Surreyites during a particular moment in time.

“His collection has a lot of shots of commercial buildings, homes, and portraits and a few landscapes,” he said.

“But what really stands out is that many of the photographs show people taking part in an activity: at the rodeo, taking part in parades, awards ceremonies, recreational gatherings.”

The Surrey Archives spring program series continues with two more public presentations in May.

[NC214F - Young girls on stage as part of the Jaycee Follies dramatic performance, Surrey Archives]

The city’s history comes to life in vivid images from the archives’ collection in Surrey In Colour, on May 3, featuring hand-coloured photographs and art pieces that document Surrey’s history. And on May 10, local historian Derek Hayes speaks about the cartography of the Fraser Valley in Historical Maps of B.C.

The sessions are $10. Pre-register by calling 604-502-6459.

The Surrey Archives is located at 17671 56 Avenue, in the heart of Cloverdale. It’s open Tuesday to Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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