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Custom Entry Ports in Surrey

Photo contributions provided by Jack Berry

The City of Surrey has a common border with Washington State of the United States. Therefore, border stations have always been important in Surrey's history.

Customs enforcement begins on the frontier

Before the year 1879 came to a close, a plea, like an echo from 20 years past, was voiced in the newspaper at New Westminster.

Smuggling – There is good reason for believing that no inconsiderable amount of smuggling is done in our frontier settlements bordering on the sea, where all possible convenience exists for carrying on much illicit trade with impunity, and we respectfully submit, whether the time has not come when the services of a Revenue Officer should be brought into requisition. It is quite certain that the legitimate trade of this city is suffering there from."

The districts near the border – Hall's Prairie and Mud Bay – had been dependent for years on supplies obtained at Semiahmoo and places along the coast. Trading sloops ventured up the Tah-ta-loo (Campbell) River. Among those engaged so engaged were neighbours at Hall's Prairie William Brown and AJ Watson, partners in a sloop. Others made Nicomekl their port of call. Among these were Charles Hunt and James Hatt, both coastal traders of the old mould, with native wives, who homesteaded on the river above Blackie's Spit. Settlers just south of the line were dependent on the Canadian side too. They freely grazed their cattle on the natural pastures of Hall's Prairie and at Mud Bay. New Westminster had subscribed money to finance the opening of the Semiahmoo Road, expecting thereby to profit from additional trade. This did not materialize to any great extent, as farmers lower down continued to take the easier routes to Semiahmoo and even to Victoria.

Yet another complaint:

We are informed that an organized system of smuggling is constantly proceeding at Mud Bay. Logging camps and settlers in the vicinity are supplied with all the goods upon which our citizens pay a portion of duty – free; besides, this contraband trade is diverting the trade and money of the settlers to the American side, to the great loss of the businessmen of this city. Most assuredly this illicit trade must be put an end to by having an officer at Mud Bay, or the smuggling trade will become chronic to the detriment of the revenue.

It was Colonel Moody's commercial fears of 1859 coming to pass, though on a much smaller scale than he imagined. A Customs office was opened in 1880, at Elgin, where the Telegraph trail and the Semiahmoo Road crossed the Nicomekl River, enabling the officer, William C McDougall, a timber operator and homesteader in the Mud Bay district, to monitor both land and river traffic. Thus was revenue enforcement re–established on the frontier side of Fraser River.

The first office opened was at Port Elgin on the Nicomekl River at the junction of the Semiahmoo Road. The Nicomekl was the most important route for bringing in provisions and shipping out produce. The Semiahmoo Road was the chief north-south link between New Westminster and Washington State. With increasing traffic on the Nicomekl, as well as the Semiahmoo Road, a customs office was necessary. In 1880 Elgin was designated as the customs entry port and from then on all traffic on the Nicomekl River and all traffic north over the Semiahmoo Road was required to stop and report. The first customs officer at Elgin was William McDougall, who served until 1886, when Harry D. Chantrell took over. Mr Chantrell worked at Elgin until transferred to the Douglas office on the newly opened New Westminster Southern Railway in 1891.

Elgin BC, Port of Entry

The first Customs Office

The first Customs Office operated in the small white building on the south west shore next to the Nicomekl Bridge. The Port of Elgin opened in 1880. It serviced traffic on the Nicomekl River and the Semiahmoo Road. It closed as a Port with the opening of the New Westminster Southern Rail line in 1891.

The Elgin Hotel

The Elgin Hotel, which opened in 1873, served as a Post Office and stage stop. Passengers rested and horses were watered before the long pull up the hill of the southern uplands. The community became known as Port Elgin but after the Customs closed the name was shortened to Elgin.

(see Elgin Port Elgin)

Douglas BC, Port of Entry

The New Westminster Southern Railway, a subsidiary of the Great Northern Railway, was opened with an excursion run on February 14th, 1891. As traffic increased an Order-In-Council authorized the establishment of an "Out port of Customs and a Warehousing Port and placed under the authority of New Westminster". This out port became known as Douglas, BC.

The Port of Douglas

The Port of Douglas operated out of the New Westminster Southern Station on Boundary Road(Zero Avenue) where the railway cut it. The name Douglas originated with Ben Douglas who helped survey the road bed of the New Westminster Southern Railway in 1890. This picture, taken in 2001, is a private home but it once was the NWSR Station and Customs Port.

The original Douglas Customs was located at site of the GN depot situated on the international boundary about halfway between the Pacific Highway and Semiahmoo Bay. The office opened July 1, 1891 with H.D. Chantrell as sub-collector in charge. Within a decade the volume of business justified an increase in staff, and G.J. Trodden was hired in 1902. Much to the gratification of the staff, the telephone wire which terminated at the Blaine customs office was extended to the customs house at Douglas the following year. Years of Promise: White Rock 1858-1958

With the construction of the coastal Great Northern Rail line, the Port of White Rock came into being in 1908. This port and the Port of Douglas made the Customs Port of Elgin redundant. With the abandonment of the New Westminster Southern Rail line across the border in 1908, the Port of Douglas was moved to the south end Coast Meridian Road near the end of Beach Road/Semiahmoo Road. The small Douglas office was considered a preventive location.

The St. Leonard Hotel

The St. Leonard Hotel was located north of the present Peace Arch on what is now the Peace Arch Park. The picture is looking north up the end of Coast Meridian Road and the end of the Beach/Semiahmoo Road. The St. Leonard Hotel operated until 1932 when it was dismantled to make way for the expansion of the Peace Arch Park.

1908 Douglas Customs office

The 1908 Douglas Customs office was located on Coast Meridian Road near the end of Beach Road/Semiahmoo Road. This office operated from 1908 to 1929. The picture was taken in 1917.

Border looking south

This was the view after the Peace Arch was constructed, and before the Peace Arch Park was dedicated. Looking south down Coast Meridian Road(168th Street), the small Customs and Immigration building is on the right, the St. Leonard Hotel is in the centre and the Peace Arch is in the background. Private residences occupied what is now the park.

A second entry point was established on the New Westminster and Southern Railway(NWSR) after it opened in 1891. The new port was named Douglas. With the construction of the coastal rail line in 1908, the Port of White Rock came into being, with offices in the Great Northern Railway Station. The Port of Douglas on the NWSR was moved in 1908 as a result of the abandoning of the line and was relocated near its present location to handle traffic on the Coast Meridian Road.

With the opening of the Pacific Highway in 1913 a new port of entry Pacific Highway was created. Traffic was diverted from the old port, and Douglas languished in obscurity. Its use became confined chiefly to friendly communications between Blaine and White Rock. Renewed traffic came through the port with the dedication of the Peace Arch in September, 1922, and the opening of the Peace Portal Golf course in 1931.

(See Peace Arch and Peace Portal)

In 1925, the Dominion Government appropriated $15,000 for a site and building for Douglas Customs near the Peace Arch to replace the current inadequate and insignificant offices. Interwoven with the departmental move was the proposed scheme advocated by Sam Hill, the International Memorial Association, and the Automobile Club to publicize the Peace Arch and park. It was also asserted that a secondary tourist highway was necessary to relieve the pressure at the Pacific Highway Customs and Immigration Offices. Years of Promise: White Rock 1858-1958

Further increases resulted with the opening of the Peace Arch Highway in 1932-34. With the opening of the King George Highway in 1940, Douglas once more became the premier port of entry.

Douglas Customs office

This is the Douglas Customs office that operated from 1929 to 1952. This picture was taken in the late 1940s when the King George Highway brought traffic to this port.

In Dec. 1947, the Federal Government released plans to expropriate land from Peace Portal Golf Course to build a new customs and immigration office and upgrade the border crossing. The expropriation took 2.4 acres from Peace Portal property.

The cement complex of Immigration as primary and Customs as secondary was completed in 1952. Construction had been slow to begin with as the contractor was having labour troubles. The south end immigration building was the first to be completed. As the rest of the building slowly progressed, the customs office was temporarily moved into the new south building while Immigration carried on in the old wooden building. When the north end was completed in 1952, Customs moved into it and Immigration into the south end. The old wooden building was torn down. It had operated from 1929 to 1952. The new Customs and Immigration building at Douglas was opened on April 18, 1952.

Canada Customs and Immigration

This is the new Canada Customs and Immigration building on opening day April 18, 1952. Immigration was located in the south end and was responsible for primary examination. Customs was in the north end and was responsible for secondary examination.

Douglas BC looking south

The new Canada Customs and Immigration building was opened on April 18, 1952. This aerial shot, facing south, shows the new complex in relation to the Peace Arch Park and Peace Portal Golf Course.

It wasn't long before it was found out that the canopy between the two buildings funneled the westerly winds something fierce. Also it was discovered that northbound travelers could pass contraband to friends who were parked and waiting for them on the south bound side of the building. As a result and eight foot high wooden partition was constructed down the centre of the canopy. The wind still blew through an eight inch gap left at the bottom and a two foot gap at the top.

As the Port of Douglas got busier, more office space was required as the long canopy between the two buildings was closed in and turned into office space. In 1963 Customs worked out of the new offices. Customs administration staff took over the south end Immigration Office. Immigration personnel took over the old north end Customs office. It was 1963 that Customs Officers took on the outside duties of Immigration Officers. Immigration Officers reverted to inside office and interrogation personnel.

In 1963, as well, the Custom's Excise Officers' Association was changed into a Union under the Public Service Alliance of Canada. It was now possible to grieve about working conditions. Ever since the port opened up in 1909 traffic officers had been working outside in all kinds of weather. Exhaust fumes had now become a big problem. In time traffic booths were erected.

Checking busses and bus passengers in a complex that was only designed for automobile traffic posed problems. On a busy day everything had to be done open to the weather. In the 70's a bus shelter was constructed on the south bound side of the building which meant busses had to be re-routed at the top of the hill and driven up against south bound traffic before they could park under the shelter.

A bus depot

A bus depot for checking passengers was located on the west side of the complex. You can see evidence of this shelter in the south bound lane of the Douglas complex. It didn't operate very long before a bus depot was built in conjunction of a new long room at Pacific Highway.

The low concrete canopies at either end of the building were a traffic hazard. Many a trailer or truck had their tops bashed in because the driver ignored the height limitation signs displayed on the canopy posts. So the concrete canopies were removed.

Douglas Immigration office

This is the Douglas Immigration office operating in the late 1950s or early 60's. Peace Portal Golf Club is shown on the right across the fence.

Customs service

From 1952 to 1963 the northern offices housed the Customs service. From 1963 to the present Immigration services operate out of these offices.

Customs Inspection stalls Douglas Immigration Office

After the primary inspections those persons who had imported goods to declare pulled into a Customs' Inspection stall to complete their declaration. If secondary immigration inspection was required, prospective immigrants would proceed to the immigration office where officers on duty awaited.

Douglas Customs office

This is the Douglas Customs office for customs and secondary inspections. This picture was taken at night in the early 1960's. Ernie Rice is the officer on duty.

Immigration service

From 1952 to 1963 the southern offices housed the Immigration service which was responsible for primary examination. From 1963 to the present, Customs services have operate out of these offices and have been responsible for primary examinations.

south bound lane

This picture of the south bound lane shows the 1952 complex. Offices occupy the connecting section between the original buildings.

Wooden arch for Primary Inspection

This picture was taken in 1973 as the new wooden arch for Primary Inspection was nearing completion. The old cement canopy can be seen behind it just before it was demolished. The difference in height and lanes available for service is remarkable. Peace Portal Club House can be seen on the right.

Primary inspection

The long wooden arch that was constructed in 1973 was high enough to let any reasonable sized vehicle pass underneath. Crash proof traffic booths were added which also provided heating and air conditioning for the primary inspection officers.

South bound primary

The 1973 wooden primary inspection point and the 1952 complex is pictured from the south bound lane. This complex is scheduled for demolishion and replacement with a more modern complex that meets high traffic needs.

Douglas BC

Canadian (Douglas) entry redevelopment project

At this time there is only one design image of the Canadian (Douglas) entry redevelopment project. This picture shows the design concept of the new port facility.

New Douglas Port at Highway 99 border

The new Canada Customs facility at Douglas BC was officially opened in August 2009. It replaced the complex opened in 1952. The new facility was announced in 1999 and approved in 2004. The two storey facility expands the lane-check capacity from seven to ten lanes. The dedication of two of the ten lanes to NEXUS use is expected to translate into reduced wait time for travelers. The 3090 square meter building has space for 245 staff in counter, administration and enforcement operations. The Port of Douglas is one of the busiest in Canada, processing more than two million vehicles and three million travelers every year.

Pacific Highway, Port of Entry

The abandonment of the NWSR section from Blaine to Douglas BC left that route open as a source of smuggling and illegal entry. There was a need to provide an alternate route for the transportation of goods from the ferry link on the south Bank of the Fraser to the international border. Pacific Highway was designated on July 1, 1913. This route followed Yale Road (present Fraser Highway) and then the NWSR route south to Brown Road and continued south to the border. The initial Pacific Highway Port was a Customs Preventative Station with Andrey K. (Andy) Westland in charge assisted by C.A. McConkey.

1913 Port tent

In the summer of 1913 there were no buildings at the port of entry and business was carried out in a tent at the side of the road. The officer in shirtsleeves is Andy Westland. A wooden building was opened that same year to provide a proper office. This small office operated for nine years.

Pacific Customs 1920s

The cementing of the Pacific Coast Highway by 1923 brought a great deal of road traffic through the Pacific Highway Customs port. This picture was taken in the late 1920s.

Pacific highway gates

In the early years of the Pacific Highway Border crossing, the port closed from 12 midnight to 8 am. At the closing, gates were locked across the highway. They were bashed in so many times by border runners they were eventually dispensed with in favour of electric eye sensors.

In September 1923 the Pacific Highway was officially opened after being improved and cemented. With increased traffic the Port office was enlarged and the upper floor increased in size to a two bedroom suite. This building served until 1935 when it was torn down to make way for a new customs and immigration building.

Pacific Highway Office Pacific Highway Office

This Customs and Immigration Office was built in 1937 to accommodate increasing traffic along the Pacific Highway. It was the second office at this location and was an important secondary port of entry along the border between British Columbia and the State of Washington. This office was demolished in 1986.

With the new customs and immigration building opened in March 1937, Pacific Highway became the main point of entry. By 1944 it was the third largest port in Canada. As traffic increased a new Pacific Highway customs clearance warehouse and bus terminal were added in 1953. Truck bays for border clearance were located behind the warehouse.

Warehouse Truck bays behind warehouse

With the economic boom following the Second World War, Pacific Highway Port was one of the busiest in Canada. A new customs clearance warehouse and bus terminal were added in 1953 to clear truck and bus traffic. Auto traffic was handled by the building opened in 1937.

Pacific Highway looking south Pacific Highway looking north

The pictures above show the Pacific Highway Border Crossing in 2005. The picture on the left shows the traffic lanes from the north end looking south. The picture on the right is looking at the same complex from the south end looking north. The administrative offices are in the back.

White Rock, Port of Entry

The Port of White Rock was opened on March 15, 1909. Neil Matheson was sub-collector in charge and W.E.(Fred) Johnson was the night officer.

W.E. Johnson described how the Port of White Rock was chosen.

The Great Northern Railway began building a new route for their road from Blaine Wash., to the Fraser River, following the water level route along Semiahmoo Bay through the area known as White Rock. The intention of the railway company was to erect a building on the Canadian side of the international boundary on the new route on the water front for the accommodation of Canadian Customs Officers. However during this period the Department of Customs and Excise had in Ottawa one, John McDougal, who had through long experience had found out that customs offices in the west were, to use his own words, Merely back doors for American towns. He therefore conceived a plan to overcome this by compelling railway companies to erect their buildings for customs purposes at a point not less than one mile north of the border. In order to secure a suitable site for the building it was necessary to come to a spot some two and one half miles north of the border to a spot known as White Rock so named previously because of a huge white rock standing on the edge of Semiahmoo Bay. Upon completion of the new line a customs house was opened and thus the Outport of White Rock was opened on March 15th, 1909. The Outport of Douglas on The New Westminster Southern Line was closed and given the status of a preventative station reporting to the Chief Port of New Westminster through the Outport of White Rock. It should be noted here that the effect of moving the Customs House to White Rock resulted in the beginning of a settlement at this spot and is now a city of some size which previously was covered with forest and had a most a few scattered shacks with a few settlers and logging camps. Upon meeting Commissioner John McDougal a few years later he questioned the writer of these notes and being informed of the growth of the community, he declared that he was the father of White Rock which was quite true to a large degree for had it not been for the passenger trains and freight service afforded the community and because of the fact that all trains stopped at White Rock for Customs examination, White Rock growth would have been none existent for many years to come.
W.E. Johnson's description provided by Jack Berry.

When the new Great Northern Sea Line route opened in 1909, the main rail traffic was diverted from the New Westminster Southern Line. W.E. Johnson packed up the Douglas customs office furniture, equipment, supplies, etc. onto a speeder, took it back through Blaine where the old line met the new line and then down the new line to White Rock.

White Rock Station 1909 The first White Rock office

The first White Rock office was one of a cluster of temporary buildings located along the railway near the foot of Oxford Street. When these buildings were replaced the buildings were moved. One half went to Crescent Beach to be used as a waiting room, the other half to New Westminster to be used as a baggage room.

White Rock Station 1914

In early 1913 the new White Rock Station opened. The railway offices were separated by a breezeway from the customs and immigration facilities. The Port Offices were located at the eastern end of the building and contained office space and a detention centre.

By 1918 White Rock was the most important of Surrey's three ports of entry. The total duty collected out stripped the other Surrey Ports of Entry. By 1915 GNR was running five trains a day from Vancouver and New Westminster to White Rock and three trains each way between White Rock and Seattle.

After 1927 freight traffic was reduced as a result of the closure of the Campbell River Lumber Company saw mill. The depression years also reduced traffic. However, by 1947 there were four passenger trains a day leaving Vancouver for Seattle, and four on the return from Seattle to Vancouver. There was an undetermined number of freights. White Rock was a very busy Port of Entry.

In 1949 the breezeway separating the GNR depot from the customs and immigration offices was enclosed to provide additional office space for customs. Both Canada Customs and Immigration continued to operate out of the station offices until passenger service ended on the Great Northern. The GNR, and later Burlington Northern ended the service on April 30th 1971. May 1st was the day Amtrak was formed and they dropped the service. By February 15, 1973 service was reinstated with one train a day. However, it did not stop in White Rock and Customs and Immigration became the responsibility of the terminus centers.

The late 1950s and early 1960s saw demands for the removal of the water front tracks in White Rock. Customs and Immigration inspection of freights and parked trains awaiting a passing train effectively blocked access to the beach. Great Northern, in face of the controversy, made the decision to remove the marshalling yards to Blaine and to sell the station to the City of White Rock.

The loss of passenger service and inspection of freights resulted in the closure of the White Rock Port of Entry in 1971.

BNR train at White Rock

This BNR train is in front of the White Rock Station. In 1971 customs and immigration officers were taxied down to Bellingham, Washington to board the north bound train to check it en route.

When the White Rock Station was decommissioned a small station was built near the Douglas office where the tracks cross into Canada. This is where freights are checked for manifests, seals and illegal riders.

Next Page: The Peace Arch and Peace Portal Golf Course

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