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The Heritage story behind Indian Fort Drive

This heritage story is an edited version of an email written by Jim Foulkes for a young resident of Indian Fort Drive in Surrey. He hoped to explain to him the Historical significance of the street where he lived. Jim is an engineer with a strong interest in aspects of Surrey's History and was awarded the honour of Civic Treasure by the City of Surrey for his work in preservation of Surrey's history.

Indian Fort Drive

I will attempt to explain the Heritage story behind the name of the street you live on. That street is one of only a few recognized (if not protected) indigenous sites we know about in Surrey. It was a known defensive position used by the Semiahmoo People.


The site is situated between two very deep gullies running towards the Ocean. Uphill from the cliff face itself was; a refuge, a lookout, a hiding place, a battle fort on the hill top where the normally beach-side hunter gatherers could run to, to escape canoe-borne attackers. These would be from mostly more Northerly Coastal areas of BC and they would be looking to capture slaves etc. Attackers would come around by water from what is now Point Roberts to enter the food-plentiful Boundary Bay area. As you can see from the cliff top, lookouts would have a splendid view of their approach. Having spread the alarm to those near the Beach, they would be soon joined by the majority of the mostly non warrior type people. Stragglers might still be caught and be taken as slaves as they were too valuable as workers to be killed. Usually having captured enough to satisfy their needs for the time being, (realizing that they had to feed and transport them back) they would leave the rest of the natives' safe in their""Indian Fort".


I only described the three sides of the""Fort" that Mother Nature had made over time. The cliff side made by the crashing of the sea waves over thousands of years, and the two ravines eroded by small creeks draining off the large flatter area east and behind the cliffs. During heavy rain storms or in fast spring snow melts, water would pour down the cliff side, cutting deep into the cliff-side forming steep ravine walls.


The fourth side had to be made by the Indigenous People themselves. At a certain distance back from the edge of the cliff drop-off, leaving enough space on the level ground to house all the members of their tribe for an emergency period, as well as space to provide adequate food and water, a defensive dyke was built. This was done firstly by digging a ditch from one ravine to the ravine on the other side of the level area. The soil and gravel was not wasted but piled up to form a dyke higher than the original level area. The deeper they dug the ditch, the higher the dyke became. Remember that the natives of this area did not have steel to make shovels, so scratching the earth out with sharp fire-hardened sticks, clam shells, or thin rocks was very difficult. But if your life or freedom depended on it, you tried every way possible, and it was a communal effort to complete and maintain the "Fort" before an attack was under way. In spite of their efforts, but mostly for lack of stronger tools, the ditch and dyke together did not alone form a high enough barrier to prevent attacking warriors from the more aggressive Northern tribes from climbing over the dyke after sliding down into the ditch. To keep them from climbing over the dyke the natives dug holes and set small trunks of straight, sturdy cedar trees into the holes and firmly tamped the gravel around them to hold them in place so no attacking warrior could push them out of the way.


Now with four sides of the "Fort" protected with steep inclines which any warrior would have to climb to gain access to the people inside, we have a "defensive position". If you have ever tried to climb up the very steep cliff from the beach to the top of the hill you can physically feel the drain on your strength as you fight the pull of gravity. Now picture in your mind that there are four sides to this "Fort" on a hill and each side will have many armed defenders throwing rocks, logs, burning brands or even shooting arrows at you with their hunting bows. It was a much safer and simpler task to search out the relatively defenseless stragglers and take them prisoner.


You mentioned arrow heads, and I suggested that the most likely area that these would be found would be at a bow-shot distance east of the "Fort". With the other three approaches to the defences almost impossible to organize an attack of sufficient size, the probable approach would be from the "dyke" side. Here the gate might get left open, the wall might be in poor repair, and more serious attackers could be grouped together. Now concentrated bow and arrow defence would have to be used or the non-warrior type defenders would have little chance in a hand-to-hand battle. Arrows missing their targets would today be found with only the hand-made heads remaining. Surrey's new Museum has some fine samples of these on display.


In the 1980s I read about this "Indian Fort" Road and started to investigate the source of the strange name. People pointed me to an early pioneer who told me he had seen the remnants of the old 'dyke' before it was bulldozed. I personally explored the area before any construction started on the present houses which are inside the old "Fort" enclosure. As you confirmed, there were substantial layers of shell and fire darkened and cracked "fireplace" stones. All indicative of what would remain in the level area after natives had been sequestered there during an attack period. Any remains of the wooden wall would long before rotted away but charcoal, bones, shell, and arrow heads last for centuries.


It is more than two centuries since the first substantiated explorers, of which we have written records, came to this Coast between 1791 and 1793. It was to these men's records that I went to find a witness to what the name "Indian Fort" might have been attributed to. I searched through the logs and maps of the Spanish and British captains who first came to this place. Vague descriptions did not at first provide details but finally I discovered an on-board artist, accompanying a Spanish ship, had painted a detailed drawing of an "Indian Fort" (of a neighbouring tribe) as a background in his painting of the Spanish coming ashore to visit. It was then simple to see that this tribe would also be subject to slave raids as did the Boundary Bay Native people and why should both tribes not share the same defensive technique?


So you see, there is possibly a lot more to the name INDIAN FORT DRIVE than at first meets the eye. I hope you can share this knowledge with your friends. When any of you come across some untenable piece of native–altered rock, old charcoal Indian campfire remains, or something so irrefutable as to its origin as an arrowhead or stone maul, I hope you will share that information with me.


Thanks for your time. Cheers! Jim

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