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The History of Coast Meridian Road (168th Street)

The History of Coast Meridian road was edited from reports prepared for Mr. J.Brown's Social Studies 11 classes at Lord Tweedsmuir by Cori Fredrickson, in June 1975, and by Tammy Bartel, January 1977.

The basis for land surveys in the Fraser Valley was the original survey line of Coast Meridian (presently 168th Street) and the east-west town line or Townline Road (presently 96th Avenue). Both of these roads originated with the survey line. These lines were the basis for all land surveyed in the Lower Fraser Valley.

Map of Coast Meridian Road

In the year 1859, J.W. Trutch signed a contract with the Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works for the Colony of British Columbia, enabling him to assist the Royal Engineers in the survey the land which later became known as Surrey. The basis of his survey was a line which started where the international boundary cuts the shore of Semiahmoo Bay and then goes north along the 121st or coast meridian. This was the beginnings of Coast Meridian Road.

In slashing the survey line, Trutch's first problem was the high lands covered with heavy fir and cedar growth. Next were the Nicomekl flats which were very boggy and frequently covered with water due to flooding. As well as flooding, the flat lands were covered in hardhack which is a bush which stands six feet tall and has stems as wide as a pencil. This grew very thick and was very hard to walk through.

After conquering the problem of the Nicomekl lowlands, Trutch hit more high ground, then the Serpentine flats and more water. Trutch finally reached the flood plains beside the Fraser River. The initial coast meridian survey trail was poorly maintained and before 1897 no local government would assume responsibility for it prior to its improvement as a road. However, the trail was a very important asset to early settlers. Local settlers improved sections of it to provide better access to their holdings. However improved, it remained a trail.

After the incorporation of the Municipality of Surrey in 1879, the decision was made to improve the road. In a series of local contracts in the 1880s the Coast Meridian Road was built by local taxpayers or by local contractors and finally completed in 1886. The earliest roads were merely narrow passageways through the forest, which curved around such major obstacles as rocks, stumps or large trees. On high ground the route was usually fairly smooth and compact, making the going relatively easy. In the lowlands, however, the trail could be impassible especially in the wet season unless puncheons were laid down to create a road bed. Puncheons are the short flattened timbers or logs laid down in a corduroy fashion to prevent traffic from bogging down. In areas subject to flooding the puncheons would be covered with brush and mud or gravel to prevent them from floating away. Bridges were non-existent, and rivers were crossed on rafts.

Both the Nicomekl and Serpentine lowlands caused problems in later years. Wagons constantly got stuck in the boggy ground. When cars and trucks began to appear, bridges were completed and trucks could spread gravel on the surface more efficiently. In 1926 and 1927, Coast Meridian Road was tarred. It was first sprayed with tar and then covered with fine rocks and the tarred again. This wasn't the best way, but it was very beneficial to early motorists. Until recently the Coast Meridian had been improved very little since it was tarred. Compared to other roads it was a relatively poor road providing access to the farming community.

Coast Meridian Road was a very important asset to early settlers. Even though it had many disadvantages, such as flooding, it was still a means of getting around. In the past the road had been neglected in many areas. In some sections it was very bumpy and the pavement was cracked. Since 1975 the road has been repaved over most of its extent with portions being widened or raised. Coast Meridian Road or 168th Street remains an important road through the heart of Surrey. In the future it is gazetted as a major collector route.

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