During a recent Vancouver luncheon I scanned the diners at our table and realized that they’d arrived for the day via many modes of transportation: ferry, seaplane, Sky Train, SeaBus, bus, car and bicycles. Few cities are so easily accessible for day-trippers. Although this small group had arrived from Bellingham, Vancouver Island and Whistler, it reminded me of how many summer day trips are right on our doorsteps – floatplanes not required.
For example, Langley Camera Club recently chose The Glades for a photo shoot meetup on a rare dry spring day.
Blessed with scattered high clouds, Sunday morning sun, balmy temperatures and a welcome from Jim and Elfriede DeWolf, it was the perfect introduction to a Surrey park I’d long intended to visit.
The Glades, (561– 172nd St.), is unquestionably a “garden park.” Fountains in a mini-lake, tables and chairs tucked into a hidden bower, fiddleheads, skunk cabbage, spring flowers spilling from a barrel, 1,600 mature rhododendrons (many 20 feet tall), delicate azaleas and the hallmark of a successful sprawling garden grove – birdsong. Unseen among lofty treetops, but clearly in residence, nature’s stress-busting sounds and colourful artistry collaborated to make our two-hour scheduled invitational quickly vanish.
Purchased in 1956 by Lydia and Murray Stephen, the original five-acre parcel sported blackberries, alder trees, and turn-of-the-century tree stumps. Dreaming of recreating Scottish rhododendron gardens of his youth, Murray cleared and prepared the land until his passing in 1970.
In 1994, the DeWolfs, recognizing the property’s potential, purchased it.
In 2002 The Glades became a “life estate” when the DeWolfs gifted it to the City of Surrey. This created a secure partnership dedicated to making the original dream a reality, while expanding the rich Surrey parks heritage.
Here are a few more of my family-friendly excursions which won’t break the bank, are easily accessible and have generous (and often free) parking.
Dart’s Hill Garden Park, (16th Ave. and 170th St.), also began as a labour of love.
Purchased as a horticultural “weekend getaway” project in 1943 by Vancouver residents Edwin and Francisca Darts, the couple spent weekends clearing the land and nurturing what eventually became an award-winning fruit and nut tree orchard, and successful experimental garden.
Francisca, a delightful down-to-earth woman, once told me she was determined their labour of love wouldn’t just default into a condo project when she was gone. To protect the beloved hobby lands to which she and her late husband eventually retired, she donated the gardens to the City of Surrey. Mrs. Darts continued to live there and was actively involved until her death in 2012 at age 96. The Garden, now 22.5 acres, is operated jointly by the City and the Darts Hill Garden Conservancy Trust Society.
Public hours for The Glades and Darts Hill Garden Park vary. Check their websites for details.
Surrey is justifiably proud of its City of Parks reputation. Neighbourhood and city parks are free, and open to the public. Donations at some sites are appreciated.
Green Timbers Urban Forest, a scenic second-growth forest at 14698 – 96th Avenue, offers over 10 kilometres of nature trails, a stocked fishing lake, picnic areas and the Surrey Nature Centre. Check the City website for Nature Centre hours, but bald eagles, woodpeckers, ducks, salamanders and other shy wildlife don’t keep office hours, so keep your eyes peeled and your camera handy. Green Timbers Heritage Society, a group of dedicated community members, are credited with advocating successfully for this cherished site.
Historic Stewart Farm (13723 Crescent Rd.) brings pioneering life into focus. Located on the banks of the Nicomekl River, the house was built in 1894 by John and Annie Stewart.
Costumed docents welcome visitors and host popular teas, workshops and various special events listed on the city website. Garden volunteers care for the heritage gardens and admission is free courtesy of the Friends of the Museum and Archives Society. Picnic tables encourage relaxation and children are encouraged to play on the lawns and explore the farm buildings and orchard.
An unapologetic plug here for the Friends of the Museum and Archives Society. It costs $10 per year to join, and by doing so you will be encouraging the Society to continue to ensure both the Stewart Farm and the Surrey Museum are free to the public. Forms are available at the Surrey Archives building next to Cloverdale Library, or at the farm.
Redwood Park (17900 – 20th Ave.), a much-loved celebration of natural history, is also a legacy project. Situated overlooking rolling Hazelmere farmlands, this impressive park features a tree house, trails, picnic areas and a popular children’s playground.
In 1893, twin brothers, Peter and David Brown, were gifted this large, logged tract of land by their father. Instead of farming the property, the reclusive, eccentric brothers chose to import and plant their favourite trees from around the world.
From the tree house home they built and shared, they were masters of all they surveyed. The current tree house is an unoccupied replica – unless you count the inspired spirits of the original owners.
Blackie Spit (3136 McBride Ave.) is located at the mouth of the Nicomekl River. Flanked by distant mountain views, the spit extends into Mud Bay. Migrating and wintering waterfowl and shorebirds call it home. Harbour seals rule the sand bars, and conservation is ongoing.
Mud Bay Nature Trail Walk takes about two hours to complete, and a nearby off-leash dog park is popular with four-legged friends and their owners.
Campbell Valley Regional Park (on 16th Ave., east of 200th St.) is one of my Langley favourites. You’ll have to share the Shaggy Mane Trail with horses and riders around much of the park perimeter, or you can choose 29 kilometres of trails, plus a boardwalk, to lure you through other aspects of the park. This is also a dog-friendly park. Picnickers are encouraged, a picturesque one-room pioneer school house is nearby, and blue herons cruise the vicinity playing catch-me-if-you-can with your camera.
A variety of small parks are scattered throughout the city, and many major events take place at Holland Park in north Surrey. For a full list of City of Surrey parks go to www.surrey.ca.
Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is a former Black Press Managing Editor. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.