In a quiet, informal ceremony at Surrey Centre Cemetery, the Surrey Historical Society installed a gravestone on a family grave that had gone unmarked for 84 years.
The cemetery, located on Old McLellan Road in West Cloverdale, has served as the final resting place for more than 6,000 community members over the past 130 years, including many of Surrey’s pioneers and veterans. Until the small ceremony in mid-April, the family grave of African-American settlers Henry Houston, Amy Florence and their children Jesse, Roy and Benola, had been one of many unmarked graves in the Surrey Centre Cemetery.
Walking through the older parts of the cemetery, a visitor will find plaques and markers with the names of some of the first settler families to live in Surrey: Kells, Johnston, Boothroyd, Bose, and now Scott.
Surrey Historical Society member Jim Foulkes, who led the research into the Scott family ahead of the installation, said he traced the family back to where Henry Houston Scott was born in Texas in 1854, nearly a decade before slavery was abolished in the United States.
Foulkes carefully emphasized that they have “no way on Earth” to prove that Scott was a slave, though he did find records that Scott applied twice for compensation within a special American court that was for former slaves.
What his research did show was that Scott met and married his wife Amy Florence in Texas, and after slavery was abolished the couple moved to Oklahoma and received a land grant.
Foulkes has records that suggest the Scotts had 10 children in total. When they moved to Canada in 1912, they brought their three youngest — the remaining seven were old enough to have established their own lives by then.
The family purchased a seven-acre piece of land when they arrived in Cloverdale, a community where there were very few African-American families at the time, according to the Surrey Historical Society (SHS).
SHS member Roger Bose remembered Henry Scott’s son, Jesse, as a farmer, a commercial painter, and an insurance broker.
“Jesse used to come to our farm on a regular basis, every two weeks or so, and get a load [of hay] for his cattle,” said Bose. “What I remember about Jesse is the twinkle in his eye. I never saw the man without a smile on his face.”
Henry Scott cleared a road from Bose Road (64 Avenue) and Pacific Highway (176 Street) up to the Scott farm, which is where 181A Street would be today. Today, a handful of fruit trees from the Scott family’s farm are still visible at a small, unnamed park near the intersection of 64 Avenue and 181A Street. One of the Surrey Historical Society’s upcoming projects is to work on installing a historical plaque at the site.
Henry Houston Scott passed away soon after his wife’s death in 1934. According to Foulke’s research, their three children that immigrated with them to Canada never married. Their son Jesse continued to work on the family farm, as well as play professional baseball. Roy worked at the lumber mill before taking a job as a porter on the Canadian Pacific Railway. Benola Myrtle, the family’s youngest, died in 1971, and was the last to be laid to rest with her family in the Surrey Centre Cemetery.
“This is a very important part of our history here,” SHS president Michael Gibbs said at the April 12 installation. “There’s a lot of stories in this cemetery, but I don’t think there’s another family that [may have] started off as slaves… They never had a lot of money. They never finished the house that they lived in, and they never could afford to put a stone on their own grave.”
“We’re honouring them today,” he said.