George Zaklan rests on a bench at Bear Creek Park near the new stone marker that features his map of Surrey’s “stump farmers” of the 1930s and 1940s. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

George Zaklan rests on a bench at Bear Creek Park near the new stone marker that features his map of Surrey’s “stump farmers” of the 1930s and 1940s. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

SURREY NOW & THEN: ‘Stump Farmers’ of 1940s mapped on new heritage marker, including exiled families

‘I remember no fences, towering trees and trails going in every direction,’ longtime Newton resident recalls

At Bear Creek Park, Surrey’s “stump farmers” are recognized on a new heritage feature that includes the names of some Japanese-Canadian families forcibly interned and exiled 80 years ago.

A century ago, people who farmed land in Surrey had to deal with enormous tree stumps after the area was logged. With dynamite, some of the stumps had to be blown up so the land could be used for agricultural purposes.

Now, some of those “stump farmer” family names are featured on a new stone marker installed at the park, along with a map based on one originally drawn by George Zaklan, a longtime resident of the area.

The marker reveals “newcomers to this Salish land” who arrived from all parts of the world, as the engraved words explain.

“This map illustrates the many cultural backgrounds of families who lived in this area around 1940. They called themselves ‘stump farmers,’ a title earned through efforts to establish farms amid enormous tree stumps left after the area was logged,” the marker reads.

“All residents of Japanese descent were forcibly removed, dispossessed, interned and exiled 1942-1949. Few were able to return to Surrey.”

Zaklan, 90, grew up on a farm in Newton, on 84 Avenue, and still lives there.

“I remember no fences, towering trees and trails going in every direction, scattered schools every six miles or so,” Zaklan said as he sat on a bench near the stone marker, which can be found on the path that snakes southwest from the Surrey Arts Centre parking lot, west of the North Surrey Football clubhouse.

“I’m very pleased with it, it’s very handsome,” Zaklan said of the marker. “It conjures up visions of people of the past.”

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“PHOTO”

PICTURED: Map of Surrey’s “stump farmers” found on a new heritage marker at Bear Creek Park. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

The Zaklan family name is found on the map along with dozens of others, including Cindrich, Lundstrom, Golik, Kekich, Kawazoye, Jorgensen, Inouye and many more. The map is a reminder of the Township Survey System used in those days (visit surreyhistory.ca for a history lesson about that).

A member of Surrey’s Cindrich family, Annie Kaps said it’s a pleasure to see the marker erected at Bear Creek Park.

“This has been a long time in coming to fruition, as it was an undertaking started many years ago when George Zaklan and I visited former parks manager Owen Croy at the old city hall,” Kaps noted.

“Through the years of always being put on the back-burner, finally with the assistance of Ryan Gallagher (Surrey’s Heritage Administration Manager), we’ve seen it evolve from a suggested reader board to a cairn with a map, accompanied with some simple words of explanation honouring the ‘stump farmers.’ The use of George Zaklan’s map was a simple way to ensure that everyone would be equally acknowledged. This was a collaborative effort. It’s a great tribute to our pioneers.”

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Stump farming was dangerous, according to newspaper accounts of the day.

In 1955, the Vancouver Sun reported two men were killed while using dynamite to clear tree stumps from a field, after a charge went off in their faces as they went to investigate. The pair had been working in Shinji “Mike” Taku’s strawberry field, “south of the Trans-Canada highway between Johnson and Rankin roads.”

Kaps remembers the day when her father was blasting stumps and an errant blast cut off the power to Vancouver, as the transmission line was at the north side of the Cindrich acreage.

“Another time,” she recalled, “Bolivar Hatcheries arrived at the farm to ask that blasting be held off, as they had a current hatch of chicks and they were afraid the eggs would be addled.”

• RELATED: Rare ‘rock tree’ and giant stump are oddities on city’s heritage list.

Not far from Bear Creek Park, at 8920 Queen Mary Boulevard, a heritage-registered “Red Cedar Stump” is what remains of Surrey’s old-growth forest, of a tree estimated at 500 to 1,000 years old.

Kaps says the huge stump is on land once owned by the Kekich family.

“As a child, I recall the Kekich family using the hollowed stump to house farm implements, seeing the shovels, hoes, rakes. It was never used for animals,” Kaps noted last June. “Always thought that, if it were across the street on the Cindrich farm, we kids would have found it a lot of fun for ‘run sheep run’ or ‘hide and seek.’”

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“PHOTO”

PICTURED: Stump pulling in Surrey circa 1910. (Photo courtesy of Surrey Archives)

At the Museum of Surrey, the current “Broken Promises” exhibit features Japanese-Canadian Surrey stories specifically, and the map on the new Bear Creek heritage feature is included in the exhibit, on view until April 24.

Zaklan’s map is also found in his 2006 book, “The Life and Times of Marta and Dragan Zaklan,” and also in Surrey’s Canada 150 legacy book project, “Surrey: A City of Stories,” by K. Jane Watt.

Surrey’s Heritage Services staff worked with the National Association of Japanese Canadians to ensure accuracy and proper representation on Zaklan’s map, according to a 2021 report to the city’s Heritage Advisory Committee.

“Because of the dispossession of Japanese Canadian families starting in 1942, few of the residents listed on the map were able to return to Surrey after their internment,” the report notes.

An unveiling ceremony for the heritage marker is still in the works.

“Hosting the ceremony in 2022 will be meaningful,” the heritage report notes, “as it is the 80th anniversary of the beginnings of the internment of Japanese Canadians by the Canadian government, an event that drastically changed the lives of Surrey residents of Japanese descent and the landscape of Surrey as a whole.”



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

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