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Fun, Families and Farms in Surrey

A piece of farm equipment left behind by pioneers at Historic Stewart Farm. Everyone needs to get out of the city (fantastic as it may be) once in a while.

 A piece of farm equipment left behind by pioneers at Historic Stewart Farm.A piece of farm equipment left behind by pioneers at Historic Stewart Farm.

Everyone needs to get out of the city (fantastic as it may be) once in a while. Just over half an hour drive from downtown Vancouver, the Surrey Museum and the Historic Stewart Farm make the perfect day trip. By combining history, nature and fun for children and adults, they’ll leave you feeling like you really got away without going very far at all.

Surrey is a study in contrasts. It is both the second largest city in British Columbia and a rich agricultural centre. Dotted with verdant farms, Surrey’s abundance is on full display at the different farmers markets and farm stands that operate throughout the summer months. Surrey also gives the opportunity to see the history of farming in the region at the Stewart Farm.

 Historic Stewart Farmhouse was a modest home in its time.Historic Stewart Farmhouse was a modest home in its time.

The centrepiece of the Historic Stewart Farm is a magnificently restored Victorian era farmhouse. The city of Surrey acquired the farm in 1984 and undertook painstaking renovations between 1984 and 1991, to return the property to its former glory. Today, the house, along with the pole barn and other farm buildings, forms the heart of Elgin Heritage Park.

 The farm sits along the picturesque Nicomekl River. The farm sits along the picturesque Nicomekl River.

Perched on the banks of the Nicomekl River, the site is the perfect place to spend a few glorious summer hours. Upon entering the house (donation suggested), we were greeted first by the smell of fresh baked bread and soon after by a very knowledgeable staff member dressed in Victorian era clothes. Farm ‘hosts’ will show you around, answer any questions, and then let you explore the former Stewart family home. Each room in the house represents in immaculate detail the way of life of a thriving farm family. [Note: For those of us used to apartment living, the idea of having that much space may seem somewhat disorienting.]

 Endearingly called Jim by the Stewarts, Ming Wah was their Chinese domestic servant. This is his room in the house.Endearingly called Jim by the Stewarts, Ming Wah was their Chinese domestic servant. This is his room in the house.

Surrounding the house are a small orchard, vegetable garden, barn, and beautiful walking trail that threads its way through a mix of woods and views of the Nicomekl River. After our walk, we found a picnic table to enjoy a riverside lunch. A birthday party, whose balloons we had spotted from the farmhouse window earlier, had just finished up. While we ate, an elaborately dressed wedding party took pictures in the barn, the assistant trailing close behind the bride to make sure her dress didn’t drag in the hay.

If you’re up for a more active visit, throughout the summer the Stewart Farm will be hosting events for both children and adults. There are day camps exploring the skills and ingenuity of life on the farm as well as scavenger hunts and fairs (like the Pioneer Fair taking place July 2nd). Adults can socialize and work on their own projects over tea and lemonade on the Stewart House porch or simply come for tea and scones (click for details on all the many offerings or call 604.592.6956). If you want a unique birthday party experience, farm staff lead games and crafts (as well as ice cream churning).

After our bucolic farm visit, we headed over to the Surrey Museum (free admission) in the centre of the city’s heritage area of Cloverdale. We started in the textile exhibit, where the weavers proudly displayed their Guild’s winning shawls from the annual Sheep to Shawl competition that had taken place at the museum in May. In the competition, teams work feverishly as they spin sheep’s fleece into wool and weave intricate shawls in a matter of hours. It’s serious business.

 A shawl created in just four hours during the Museum’s Sheep to Shawl competition. A shawl created in just four hours during the Museum’s Sheep to Shawl competition.

From there we headed into the Museum’s primary exhibits. Perhaps because Surrey itself is so young (officially becoming a city only in 1993), the collection looks deep into the region’s past but asks visitors to keep thinking what kind of city they want in the years to come. Exhibits acknowledge the long and prosperous history of First Nations in the region and then detail the sudden changes that came with European settlers.

 A gasoline pump from the 1940’s, as well as a BC Electric Railway Punch Clock.A gasoline pump from the 1940’s, as well as a BC Electric Railway Punch Clock.

The collection not only shows the changing people of the Lower Mainland but also the incredibly rapid changes to their lifestyle. Through careful selection of artifacts from their extensive collection, the Museum details the clearing of the land, the expansion of trade, and technological innovations of the time.

 Found in the museum vault and brought out occasionally for tours, this ladies’ jewel box radio, circa 1947, is fashioned after a cosmetic box and marks the end of the art deco style era. Found in the museum vault and brought out occasionally for tours, this ladies’ jewel box radio, circa 1947, is fashioned after a cosmetic box and marks the end of the art deco style era.

Most interestingly, the Museum looks ahead to the future, especially in the Kids Gallery, a whole wing dedicated to young and inquiring minds. Everywhere we went we saw families trying out the interactive exhibits that allow visitors to see firsthand some of the environmental challenges facing Surrey (and the rest of the world). Most importantly, they show that with the right choices a sustainable future is possible. Along with the other museum visitors, we experimented with electricity generation, water management, and renewable energy while musicians worked the player piano and re-enactors strolled through the museum in character.

 A family reading up on sustainability in the museum’s Kids Gallery. The bike on the left interactively shows how human power can generate energy.A family reading up on sustainability in the museum’s Kids Gallery. The bike on the left interactively shows how human power can generate energy.

Whether your day trip is just for fun or you feel like learning something, head to Surrey to experience the past and get excited about the future. And keep up to date on all things Heritage Surrey by visiting their Facebook page HERE.