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The History of Surrey's Municipal
and City Halls.

Surrey's Incorporation

Surrey Municipality came into being in 1879. It was incorporated as a District Municipality on November 10, 1879. The petition for Letter's Patent was presented to the Provincial Legislature with the signatures of 35 resident males in the District of the Province who had qualified at the time.

The Lieutenant–Governor–in–Council, by Letter Patent under the Public Seal of the Province, and upon a petition by the majority of male freeholders, free miners, pre–emptors, and lease holders, being respectively of the free age of 21 years and resident in any locality of an area (if on the mainland but not otherwise), not greater than 100 square miles, in which locality there shall be not less than 30 male residents aforesaid, may incorporate such locality as a Municipality. P35 The Surrey Story (Treleaven 1969)

According to the British Columbia Municipal Act in 1879, a municipality was to encompass no more than 100 square miles. Both Surrey and Langley came into being about the same time, and in defining their boundaries it was found that a half–mile strip had been left out of either jurisdiction. A poll of voters in the half–mile strip had been favourable to joining Surrey. The change in the eastern boundary was made with the surrender of the original Letters Patent and new Letters Patent were dated July 7th, 1882. The name of the newly constituted municipality now became; The Corporation of the District of Surrey.

In 1882 Surrey received revised letters patent and the Reeve and five councilors were elected in the afternoon of the same day in which it was announced there would be an election. There must have been only three hours for electioneering. Election History of Surrey Outlined. The Surrey Leader, Thursday December 17, 1970.

The addition of this half–mile strip made Surrey, geographically, the largest municipality in British Columbia at the time.

The First Years for Surrey Council

During the first year, 1880, the newly elected council met at the homes of Council Members. The first meeting, in January, was held in Joe Shannon's home in Cloverdale. The second meeting was held at Brown's Landing and the third meeting at Councilor O'Brien's home and this rotation to members' homes continued throughout the year. This created a problem as citizens found it difficult to determine when and where the next meeting might be held.

1881, the second year for the Municipality, saw two important initiatives; Councilors were to be elected by Wards, and a new Municipal Hall was to be built. Abraham Huck was a resident of Surrey Centre and council preferred this location as being most central. Abraham donated an acre of land for the building of a Town Hall. (See Surrey Centre) Because of his interest and involvement in local affairs Huck thought that civic business should be conducted from a regular municipal hall instead of private homes. Since there was no money available, he donated the small parcel of land for the first Town Hall.

Town Hall

The Town Hall was located on the site of the present Surrey Centre Elementary School and across the road from Christ Church. A Council motion established the size of the hall at 20 feet by 30 feet with a 12 foot high ceiling. The cost was not to exceed $400.00. In 1882, Municipal Council insured the building and its contents for $500.

John Pearson and John M. Reitz described the early hall:

The first Municipal Hall was built at Surrey Centre, about two miles west of Cloverdale. This was in 1881, at a time when there were not more than 33 white settlers in the whole municipality. The "Town Hall", as it was known, cost $400 and was situated on four acres of land purchased from Abraham Huck for one dollar. Surrey's Hall made early history by John Pearson and John M. Reitz Columbian Jan 16, 1962.

Surrey Fair Grounds

Alex Connolly is holding the plow, with Billy Dunn in front of the team. They are standing in front of the fairgrounds building with the Town Hall on the right, and the one room Surrey Centre School, in the centre, across the Old McLellan Road. p137 (Echoes Through A Century, 1982)

The Town Hall was used for all Surrey's business until the decision was made to build a new building with more room for accommodation. The old Hall at Surrey Centre was too small and overcrowded. In 1910 the Surrey fathers decided that it was time to build a new municipal Hall. Council put the proposal for a new Municipal Hall to the voters. A sum of $18,000 was allocated for the new building. A building committee of Reeve Tom Sullivan and Councilors R.D. Mackenzie and C.M,C. Carncross selected Cloverdale as the new site. Cloverdale was chosen as the site for the new premises, for in those days it was the only real town in Surrey. It was a railway junction community as two tracks of the Great Northern Railway plus the BC Electric Railway interconnected in town.

Looking northwest

This photo is looking northwest from the BC Electric's Substation, with Burrows General Store located south of Milton Road and the 1912 Municipal Hall north of the road.

The site chosen for the hall was the site of Cloverdale Public School. The one room school was hauled one block east to a new school site, the site is just west of the current Cloverdale Traditional School. The same year, 1912, a new five room Public School was built alongside the old one room school which continued to be used as a classroom.

Municipal Hall 1912

Mr. C.H. Chow was selected as architect and he prepared a design for a handsome, solid looking building with a certain old-world dignity. The bricks were supplied from the local Surrey brick plant, while the stone came from no further away than the hill overlooking Cloverdale itself. The building, which included steam heat installation, was erected at a total cost of $13,285. Part of this cost was defrayed by the sale of some land at Port Mann to a speculator.

Surrey Police, Court, Office in hall in 1912

1912 Municipal Hall

The new hall held all of the Municipal Offices of the Day. The Council Chambers, Municipal Clerks' office and the Police Officer and the Court Room were on the main floor. In time the Police Office and Court Room would be moved to the basement along with the Jail, the furnace and coal storage, and any additional storage. Space was also made for any other department the Council deemed necessary to service the District. In addition the School Board and a caretakers' suite were located upstairs. The caretaker would clean the facility and make sure that the fires were lit.

Upstairs in the east side of the building living quarters were provided. These were first occupied by a Mr. R. Brown, an engineer under contract to the municipality. Then Mr. C. Lemax, the Municipal Clerk, lived there for a time after his appointment in 1916. During the 1920s a museum collection was started in the basement by Claude Harvie, the Municipal Engineer. The two lawns in front of the building were used by council members as bowling greens, and many an argument in the Council Chamber must have been solved over a friendly match.

On September 9, 2004, Vicky Parr interviewed Mary Hawksworth Helem who was the daughter of the caretaker and was able to describe the layout of the 1912 Hall.

Mrs. Hawksworth assumed the job as caretaker for the municipal hall which came with an apartment. She cleaned the offices, kept the furnace stoked and arranged for any necessary upkeep. She lived with her daughter Mary (Helem) and Mary described the layout of the municipal building.
"The municipal hall had offices, a court room, a police department, a large council room and two washrooms on the first floor. Located upstairs was the school board office and the apartment, which had a big living room, a bedroom at the front and a long kitchen. There was a big pantry and a coal furnace downstairs and a coal and wood stove upstairs."

Surrey Council and most of the Surrey Staff

This 1921 photo shows the Surrey Council of the day and most of the Surrey Staff in front of the 1912 Hall. The advantage of the new Municipal Hall was the centralization of civic affairs in one building; the Clerk, the School Board, Public Works, Council Chambers, Magistrate's Court and the Surrey Police.

Municipal Hall and Works Yard

The Municipal Works Yard was located directly north of the 1912 Municipal Hall. All municipal vehicles were stored here as well as maintenance equipment. Surrey maintenance, the School Board maintenance, the Surrey Police and any other service equipment the Municipality provided or used was stationed here. Note that the cars are angle parked on Milton Road (current Highway 10.

Aereal view Oct. 1963

This aerial photo was taken in October 1963, just before the Municipal Government moved to the new Hall near King George and Highway 10. The works yard is seen behind the 1912 Hall and across the street is Surrey Co-op buildings.

Moving the Old Town Hall

The old Town Hall continued in use in Surrey Centre. The property was used for fairs and celebrations and the old hall was used for displays and exhibitions. With the establishment of the new fairgrounds in Cloverdale, the phenomenal success of the Cloverdale Rodeo, and the improved oval and grandstand the focus of attention moved to Cloverdale. The Fair Board had used the Town Hall as part of it Fall Fair facilities, but as the new Fair Grounds in Cloverdale gained pre–eminence, the old hall fell into disrepair. In the 1930's it too was moved to the Cloverdale Fairgrounds and in time it formed the west wing of Surrey's Centennial Museum.

Moving Town Hall

In 1938, Municipal Engineer Claude Harvey, along with other interested residents, realized the original hall had an historic value. They succeeded in having it moved to a corner of the Cloverdale Fair Grounds at 176th Street and 60th Avenue. It served as Surrey's Museum for over 50 years and is currently the Cloverdale Seniors' Centre.

Relocated Town Hall Court and Museum 1960

The old Town Hall became the central piece of the Surrey Centennial Museum. Inside, it appears as it did in 1881 when it was first used by Council, although any furniture is missing.

The Ward System

Ward 7

Prior to 1887, a Ward System was adopted by Surrey. This system was based on assessed value, with the Municipality divided into local areas. Each ward had to contain the same total assessed value, as nearly as possible. This led to some very large wards which were predominantly agricultural, and smaller wards in the north and in White Rock. Eventually there were seven wards in the municipality and each one elected their own councilor. The Reeve was elected at large, over all of Surrey.

Surrey was one of the last municipalities to give up the ward system but finally in 1957, wards were legislated out of existence.

Locating Surrey's Cenotaph

Cenotaph dedicated 1921 Cenotaph dedicated 1921

After the horrors of the First World War the need to remember those who gave their lives in the defence of Canada and the Empire became prominent. Subscriptions were raised and a cenotaph was built and positioned on the south-west corner of the 1912 Hall. It became the center for remembrance services and patriotic plays.

Ceremony to mark the end of World War I Ceremony to mark the end of World War I

Both of these pictures show the ceremony to mark the end of World War I in Cloverdale. Lyall Currie was John Bull and Harry Parr was Uncle Sam.

The 1912 Municipal Hall: additional capacity needed.

In Surrey, in 1926 there were 3,852 voters; in 1949, 15,720; 1954, 22,145 and in 1970 there were 43,800 voters. These numbers reflected the number of people on the voters' list and not the number who got out and voted. As the population grew, so did the demands on Surrey Municipal Hall. The old Hall could not meet the administrative and service needs for Surrey.

All of the services that the Municipality supplied were located in and about the 1912 Hall. The maintenance office was located directly north of the hall. All the municipal services and Council activities were centered on the hall. The growth of population during the war years and in the 1950s made expansion a necessity.

The RCMP arrive in 1951 and the 1912 Hall is expanded to accommodate.

In 1953, an Annex designed by John Furiak, Superintendent of Works, was built by municipal works crews. This temporarily met the needs, but the continued growth of the District brought increased demands. As early as 1957, Council began considering the need to expand facilities. It was felt that the Cloverdale site was too small and a larger site was necessary.

During the century the population had grown slowly and steadily, but a population boom had begun in the late 1940s and reached a peak in the 1980s and 1990s. 1921, 5,814. 1931, 8,388. 1941, 14,840. 1951, 33,670. 1961, 70,838. 1971, 96,601. 1981, 147,138. 1991, 245,173. 2001, 347,825.

A decision on a new municipal hall.

In November of 1960 Surrey Council voted to build a new municipal hall on municipally-owned land at New McLellan Road and King George Highway. (Hwy #10 and King George) The decision on the site was to be put up to referendum. The projected cost of the new hall was to be nearly $500,000 and would be built out of revenue surplus funds. The projected start date for construction was September 1, 1961. The referendum failed.

Leader Dec. 22, 1960 – A decision on a new municipal hall will have to be made by the 1961 Surrey Council. That was the comment by Reeve George Hahn, at Council meeting, after official returns on the municipal election was read by returning officer Roger Chester.
Electors rejected the proposal in a referendum asking whether they were in favour of building a new hall on municipal property located at the intersection on New McLellan Road and King George Highway. The vote was 1,960 in favour; 3001 opposed.
The Reeve stated that he felt the project would have been turned down, no matter where the site was located. However, he suggested that urgent need for more space in carrying on the business of the Municipality must be faced by the new Council.
He referred to the 47 RCMP officers who are stationed at Cloverdale, with the present police offices overcrowded. The new wing which was built for Surrey Museum is being used as a courtroom. Reeve Hahn stated that there is an urgent need for welfare administration offices, as well as generally overcrowded conditions in all departments in the present Municipal Hall.

The referendum failure caused a debate as a newly elected council decided to build the new hall at Cloverdale on municipally owned land near the Fair Grounds. Later, in March of 1961, Council decided the location should be at the corner of Old McLellan and Pratt roads in Cloverdale (Hwy 10 and 180th Street). Delegations from Newton, Whalley, and Port Mann spoke against the Cloverdale location with respect to ease of access.

Dissension over the site of the new hall led to appeals to the Minister of Municipal Affairs. Deputy Minister Brown was asked to investigate the dispute and recommend a solution. Consultation between the Department of Municipal Affairs, Surrey Council and the North Surrey Municipal Improvement Society became known. Deputy Minister Brown offered two solutions to Surrey's problems: that North Surrey secedes; or that a radical reorganization of the representation of Surrey's electorate be made. Mr. Brown mentioned no other alternative and said, in fact, that there was none. Columbian Aug 10, 1961.

In the Surrey Leader of November 30, 1961 the issues were outlined.

Commercial rivalry between Whalley and Cloverdale, with Newton sitting on the sidelines for the time being, is felt by J.E. Brown to be the underlying cause of municipal unrest in Surrey. This was the main finding of the Deputy Minister of Municipalities, who last month conducted a public inquiry into Surrey's affairs. He recommended against the division of Surrey; and urged, in the strongest terms, that membership on council be increased to ten and he issued an order in respect to the site for a new municipal hall.
In respect to Number two (Municipal Hall site), in order to place all the members of Council on an equal footing in regard to this question and to remove the focal point of the current wave of disunity, I propose to take the unprecedented step of ordering, subject to the appropriate approval, the relocation of the proposed hall to a site outside a radius of a mile and a half from the point or points or area of highest assessment with each of the recognized commercial centres, namely Whalley, Newton and Cloverdale. That was his order. His recommendations on the hall site were that it be placed well outside any of the existing commercial areas, and that it be as close to the geographic enter as is reasonably possible.

Possible Hall sites

This was the sketch as part of J.E. Brown's report for the Public Inquiry on the site for the location of the new Surrey Municipal Hall. The new Municipal Hall must be built outside of three existing commercial areas that were competing for the site. Site D was the recommended site.

In November 1961, Surrey Council voted to build the new municipal hall on the Panorama Ridge site, four miles west of Cloverdale near the junction of No. 10 Highway (New McLellan Road) and King George highway. The twenty acre site, owned by the municipality, lies on the north side of No. 10 and east of King George Highway. Reeve Nesbitt said the Cloverdale site plans would fit the Panorama Ridge site without changes and the contractor was ready to start work.

With the Municipal Hall leaving Cloverdale, provisions had to be made for other services such as the Works Yard.

The municipal council authorized purchase of 20 acres for a new works yard, shops and storage. Municipal manager Percy Livingstone told council that he had taken an option on 10 acres at $13,000, and that another 10 adjoining can be had for $1,000 an acre. Semiahmoo Sun April 11, 1961

1963 was a pivotal year as Civic Government moved to Hwy #10 and 144th Street, a much more central location for the rest of Surrey. At the same time plans are put in place to renovate the 1912 Hall to accommodate the Surrey Police and Magistrate Court which have been in temporary facilities since 1951.

Aerial view of newly opened Municipal Hall

This aerial view is of the newly opened Municipal Hall on Panorama Ridge.

Municipal Hall opens Monday – Surrey Leader: Sept. 13, 1962

On Friday September 4th, the old municipal hall in Cloverdale, built in 1912, will close its doors. Welfare offices in Cloverdale and Whalley will also be closed. This will give the staff time to move to the new hall where they will be open for business on Monday.

Since 1951 the RCMP and the Courts have been housed in rental or temporary facilities, but in 1963 the RCMP and Justice took over the entire 1912 building. The municipal jail was located in the annex to the east of the original building.

Additions necessary to the new Municipal Hall

New Municipal Hall 1963

Has burgeoning Surrey municipality already out grown its four year old municipal hall? Surrey Columbian: May 17, 1966.

Rumours of overcrowding in some departments and shortage of working space generally have been current at the hall in recent months. Expansion of the engineering department is an immediate requirement. Two other departments are known to be cramped for space; the assessment department and the welfare department.

Hall expansion. Leader: Aug 26, 1971

Surrey Council has authorized an addition of a third storey to Municipal Hall. Contract price is $345,918. The contract was awarded to Hogan and McDonald construction. Planning will be moved up to the third storey, with other departments provided with additional offices in the changes which result. No elevator will be installed at this time. Original plans for the municipal Hall call for a 5 storey building with an elevator.

Hall addition 1978

The hall expansion which has cost $580,000 will now cost an additional $60,000 due to unfavourable soil conditions encountered at the southeast corner of the addition. Hall expansion cost accelerateLeader Oct 25, 1978

The expansion involved:

  1. Re–design of the clerk's office, manager's general office and relocation of the vault.
  2. Addition of showers on the lower main floor.
  3. Layout changes in the main lobby area introduced by the interior design.
  4. Upgrading of acoustical installations and sound proofing.
  5. Additional installations to accommodate TV requirements

The Surrey Leader July 1, 1981 Surrey Council committed itself to building a new municipal government complex, with the initial phase of this expansion to cost $4,880,000. Phase 2 will cost an additional $832,000. The plan chosen is to expand out with one storey wings. Most of the expansion will be to the north, with phase 2 having expansion towards Highway No.10. Expansion will take in most of the present parking lot, which will be relocated. There will be two wings, divided by a civic street. This street could be used for displays, presentations and public information. Phase 2 would provide an outdoor civic square in front of the present municipal hall. This would be used for ceremonies, special events, formal entry, staff and public recreation. The final observation on phase 2 is that it would allow for renovation of the municipal council chamber.

Weekender Oct. 31, 1982. The Municipal Hall addition will go ahead this year. Surrey Council accepted Bird Construction co. Ltd's low bid of $3,873,843 to build the Horizontal addition.

The newly renovated Municipal Hall has the look of a shopping mall, but it isn't that at all. Actually, it is the new wing of Surrey's Municipal Hall. The skylights, old fashioned lamps, trees and park benches combine to make it a very attractive hallway. The addition is even designed like a shopping mall, with each municipal department having a big sign, reception area and front desk along the walkway making for 'one-stop` municipal shopping on one floor. New Municipal Hall a people place. The Leader Wed, April 4, 1984

New Hall Mall New Hall Mall

New Hall Mall

Re configuration and renovation of the 1912 Hall.

Renovation of the 1912 Hall Hall and annex

By 1973 the old 1912 Hall could not accommodated the RCMP who had outgrown the facility.

By 1973, the RCMP had outgrown the original 1912 building and the annex at 17671 56th Avenue was demolished and a new RCMP building at 17695 56th Avenue was completed and opened in 1973. This new building had structural problems from the outset.

The RCMP beat a hasty retreat this week from its headquarters. The problem is a sagging mid–section which has produced cracks in the inside walls nearly an inch wide and up to eight feet long, buckling ceiling tiles and walls, and floors which have settled in a saucer shaped curve. The center cell block, a heavier part of the building, sank at a different rate than the rest of the building.
In parts of the building, even outside bricks are cracking and shafts of sunlight pierce the gloom periodically in the identification section darkroom. The way it is going here was a possibility that if it settled too much further, the main beams could crack and the upper floors could come down, said Inspector Jim Stewart.

The structural problems of the new Police building made the re-occupation of the old 1912 Hall necessary while repairs were made.

Surrey Municipality is going to spend a quarter of a million dollars to save the police headquarters building from collapsing. During the shoring up process, police will move back into the old municipal hall immediately adjacent. This will hold up the renovation of the 1912 building, which is to be established as Cloverdale's new Library. Undated clipping, Surrey Leader.

Municipal Government complex in Cloverdale

By 1980, the Municipal Government complex in Cloverdale contained the Provincial Court House on the left, the Cloverdale Library in the 1912 building in the centre, and the RCMP offices to the right.

Cloverdale Library Repairs to the east wall

In 1976, Municipal Council made the decision to renovate the original 1912 building to become the Library. Repairs also had to be made to the east wall which had subsided as a result of the structural problems of the adjoining RCMP building. The 1912 building was officially opened as the Cloverdale Library on Saturday, December 11, 1976.

The library functioned for twelve years in the building before relocating to the neighbouring Justice Building when the Provincial Court was relocated.

Senior Centre

In 1988, Surrey Provincial Court had moved east on Highway 10 to 17850 56th Avenue. The Provincial Court building behind the 1912 Hall on 176 A Street is to be renovated as Cloverdale Library. This will provide a modern facility with space for a collection that will meet the needs of the people of Cloverdale. The original 1912 building is renovated to become the Senior Centre. This will provide increased space compared to the old center at 58th Avenue at 176A Street.

In 1990, the 1973 police building was demolished and the RCMP headquarters moved to part of the new Justice Complex in the Municipal Government complex. The former police office site is the present site of the Surrey Museum.

Surrey Museum

In 2006, the new Surrey Museum opened at 17710 56 A Avenue on Saturday October 15. This was the site of the Police Headquarters from 1973 to 1990.

Surrey Centennial Museum

The old Surrey Centennial Museum site at 176th Street and 60th Avenue has become the Cloverdale Seniors' Centre. The larger facility with ground level access better meets the needs of the senior community.

Surrey Archives Surrey Archives

The original 1912 building, now vacated by the seniors, has been renovated to become the Surrey Archives. The Archives had been located in cramped quarters within the Surrey Centennial Museum. In November 2006, the 1912 Municipal Hall opened as the Archives after the nearly century-old building underwent a considerable rehabilitation and renovation process. Suspect wiring was removed and replaced, the granite foundation was restored, Internet and media connections were installed, and a new HVAC system was installed to provide greater environmental controls and air conditioning.


The cenotaph which used to be on the southwest corner of the 1912 Municipal Hall was refurbished and relocated east of the Archives in a central location within the Archives, Museum, Library complex.

Plans for an expanded Municipal, Justice, Police Complex

Concept of a new Government complex

In 1988, the concept of a new Government complex was adopted. Along with Surrey Municipal Hall, Surrey School District Offices, Boundary Health Unit Office, was to be added a Provincial Court building, a Pre-trial Remand Centre, and a new RCMP headquarters. The picture depicts that concept as outlined in 1988.

Surrey OKs $9 million renovation Peace Arch News Dec. 3, 2003

Surrey has approved $9 million in upgrade the City Hall. Upgrades include adding 25,000 square feet of office space, allowing for centralization of departments; including parks, realty services, engineering and traffic operations, and library administrations. It includes repairs and upgrades to the tower, and new or renovated council chambers with capacity for 200 people, and more parking.

Surrey's City Complex.

Map of Surrey Civic Complex

visionary city hall

In her 2008 State of the City address Mayor Diane Watts spoke of a future Surrey City Hall.

We have limitless potential to create a visionary Downtown Core. To do this, the City needs to demonstrate its own commitment by moving City Hall to our City Centre. By relocating City Hall, we will be demonstrating our faith in the future of our Downtown Core to investors, sending the message that not only is Surrey's City Centre a good investment, but it is also the future of the region.

In the future Surrey's City Hall might look like the tower pictured.


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