“It’s the jewel of Sullivan,” says Michael Gibbs.
He’s talking about Sullivan Park as we walk through the green space on a sweltering day. The old Sullivan Station bakes in the sun just beyond a new gravel parking area.
“This parking lot is a very recent addition and very welcome,” Gibbs notes, both satisfaction and delight in his voice. “The parking has been a huge issue. To see that lot go in is, I think, recognition of how important this park is to people.”
Gibbs has invited me for a walking tour through Sullivan Park. Sullivan Park sits at the corner of 64th Avenue and 152nd Street and is five minutes down 64th from Sullivan Heights Park.
Gibbs, the commissioner for Surrey Heritage Advisory Committee (SHAC) and past president of the Surrey Historical Society, says the new lot opens up more usage possibilities for the park.
“We need to continue the development of this park. We want to make this into a ‘historic precinct’ for Sullivan,” he explains. “It has Sullivan Hall. It has the homage to the railway [Sullivan Station]. It now has a new parking lot. And it’s a very important recreation space for area residents, including a very important centre for softball.”
Gibbs wants to start a weekend farmers market in the park. He recently put together a proposal for a market and brought it before SHAC. Now he’s just waiting to hear back about how, if at all, that project will move forward.
Gibbs also wants the City to acquire Sullivan Hall.
“What is the future of the hall?” he asks. “It’s very historic. It was the public face of the community. And, if I can be selfish for a minute—forget about the politics of SHAC, or the self-interest I have for Heritage Rail—for me, I don’t want to lose these halls.”
Gibbs says that’s why he is just as passionate about the 1881 Town Hall, the hall at Strawberry Hill, and the halls in both Port Kells and Hazelmere.
“These places were the town centres back in the day. Little communities grew up around them. People grew up around them,” explains Gibbs. “These buildings were the beating hearts of the communities.”
Gibbs says Sullivan was a sawmill town, but was also an important hub for produce as it lies at the edge of the historic farming areas of Surrey. He looks over to little Sullivan Station as he notes how the railway wouldn’t carry lumber out of town, but local goods. “This railway carried produce from the farms—vegetables and milk.”
We walk down through the park over to an area near the tennis courts as Gibbs talks about the railway and the history of the area. His passion for both is present on each word.
Gibbs wants everyone to buy into his idea of what Sullivan Park could be.
“The basic plan is to work with parks, work with engineering, and work with Heritage Rail to give a sense of purpose to the old station. I also want to work with local businesses and farmers to promote a market.”
Gibbs says Heritage Rail—the Fraser Valley Heritage Rail Society—wants to refurbish Sullivan Station and begin to use it when they run their trains from Cloverdale to Sullivan. But first the railway must raise funds to put in a siding so the train can actually stop at the station. Right now the station is fenced off and there is no access.
After that, he says FVHRS wants to extend their route into Newton.
“If you look at the Newton town plan, you’ll see the station is still there. This idea’s been toyed with for a few years.”
A new plan for Newton was put out by the City earlier this year in July. It replaced Newton’s previous multi-year plan.
The report notes a potential expansion for the FVHRS could be into Newton, but it would require a new station be built at the corner of 71st Avenue and King George.
“To enable this future service extension, a future heritage rail station and spur line would be required in the BC Hydro railway right-of-way south of 71 Avenue,” the report states. “As the heritage rail station would be very close in proximity to a future rapid transit station, it would also provide a regional connection (on weekends) and expand tourist opportunities for the City.”
Gibbs says any delays will revolve around costs to prepare the railway crossings into Newton and costs to build a new station there.
Gibbs and I walk up from the belly of the park and onto the paved parking lot that rests beside Sullivan Hall.
“I just love this park,” he says, “and I love this hall…. If you strip away all the modern accoutrements, it’s a pretty standard hall, but it has a fantastic history.”
He ties up his tour with a final thought about the park.
“The development in this area has been—and continues to be—dramatic. The amenities here have been recognized. It’s popular,” he explains. “We need to bring in some other activities and elevate its status as a historic precinct that would be a destination for Heritage Rail, a destination for the community programs at the hall, and for baseball and the general park.”
Gibbs hopes Sullivan Park can shine brighter than it already does.
“This park gives you a sense of solitude—right smack in the middle of the city,” adds Gibbs. “It’s a beautiful park. It’s an amazing place. And, as I said, it’s the jewel of Sullivan.”