Surrey was incorporated as a Municipality on November 10, 1879. The necessary requirements for incorporation were set out by the Provincial Government in the Municipality Act of 1872. The Lieutenant Governor–in–Council, by Letters Patent under the Public Seal of the Province, and upon a petition by the majority of male free holders, free miners, preemptors and lease holders, being respectively of the free age of 21 years and resident in any locality of an area 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.
There appears to have been about 35 resident males who qualified at the time. A petition was presented and accepted by the Provincial Government. By Order–in–Council dated November 10th, 1879, Letters Patent were issued for the formation of The Corporation of Surrey.
The eastern boundary of Surrey was line of the current 192nd Street. Langley's western boundary was the line of the current 196th Street. A half mile strip was not orgranized. To remedy the situation a poll of voters in the half–mile strip had been favorable to Surrey and a change in the eastern boundary of the Municipality was made. The original Letters Patent were surrendered and new Letters Patent were dated July 7th, 1882. The name of the municipality now became The Corporation of the District of Surrey. The area of the new district was 371.4 square kilometers.
Growth before the turn of the century was slow. The roads built through Surrey in the 1870s were little more than improved trails subject to seasonal flooding or blow downs by winter winds. The completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway into Vancouver in 1885 made it easier for prospective settlers to get to the west coast. The opening of Hall's Prairie Road, Coast Meridian Road and Crescent Road in the 1880s improved access to those localities. The completion of the New Westminster Southern Railway in 1891 did much to stimulate Surrey's growth. It provided access to Surrey's agricultural and forest lands so that products could be moved quickly and cheaply to the markets of New Westminster and Vancouver. A number of mills opened along the rail line stimulating local employment. By 1901 the population of Surrey had grown to 4,802.
The period of pre-war prosperity Canada's Golden Years saw an explosion of railway construction throughout Surrey. The opening of the New Westminster Rail and Road Bridge in 1904 stimulated the expansion. Railways serviced the Fraser Valley and ran south into the United States. All seemed to junction in Cloverdale; Surreys most important town center. By 1912 Cloverdale had become Surrey's administrative center, home of the district's doctor and policeman. The opening of the Great Northern sea-line route provided access to the beaches of White Rock and Crescent Beach and those communities began to develop as seasonal beach communities. The rush of railway construction in western Canada stimulated the forest industry as production of ties and structural lumber predominated. Some of the largest mills in BC operated in Surrey at this time e.g. Campbell River Saw Mill and the King Lumber Mill. Communities began to grow around the railway stations and settlement slowly increased. By 1921 the population of Surrey had grown to 5,814.
The post–war slump of the early 1920s ended and the later 1920s saw some population growth. Logging and lumbering continued apace but first growth timber was effectively logged out by 1927. The cementing of Pacific Highway (present Fraser Highway and Highway #15 to the border) in 1923 helped with access to central Surrey. However, the resulting increase in car and truck traffic brought demands for improved roads as well as competing directly with train service. Improved motor vehicles, an expanded road network, combined with the economic slow down in the late 20s and 1930s saw a marked decline in railway service and the closure of many. By 1931 the population of Surrey had grown to 8,388.
The economic slump of the 1930s was difficult for the people of Surrey. It was more difficult for farmers on the Prairies as the economic slump was compounded by years of prairie drought. By the mid-30s many prairie farmers were abandoning their farms and moving out to British Columbia where rain could be expected. Many took up land in Surrey as it was affordable but still had good road and rail access to the markets of New Westminster and Vancouver. Much of the land was in smaller parcels than those before the turn of the century. 2&1/2, 5, and 10 acres were common place. Small scale poultry farming, dairy farming or family farmers where father worked off the property was the norm. By 1941 the population of Surrey had grown to 14,840.
The war years saw a rapid growth of population and development in Surrey. The opening of the Pattullo Bridge in 1937 and the completion of King George Highway in 1940 improved access to the district. The war time housing shortages in Vancouver and New Westminster saw many families of service men moving out to Surrey where affordable housing was available throughout Surrey but especially in the resort communities of White Rock and Crescent Beach. A post-war population boom resulted with the return of the service men and a desire to get on with life after 10 years of depression and 6 years of war. Surrey was an area where housing was affordable but unfortunately most employment was located north of the Fraser River. The availability of high explosives and heavy earth moving equipment made clearing to the uplands much easier and affordable. By 1951 the population of Surrey had grown to 33,670.
Transportation improvements in the 1960s resulted increased population growth and development in Surrey. The completion of the George Massey (Deas Island) Tunnel in 1959 and the completion of Highway 99 to the border by 1965 resulted in a development boom on the west side of Surrey (along with Sunshine Hills in Delta) and in South Surrey/White Rock. The opening of the Port Mann Bridge in 1964 along with the four lanes of the new Trans Canada Highway (#401 or #1) saw the Development of the Guildford/Fleetwood areas and the Guildford Town Shopping Center. Improved transportation allowed easier access to those jobs north of the Fraser River. However, there was slow progress in developing employment opportunities within the municipality. The population of Surrey in 1971 was 96,601.
The 1970s saw continued growth and development based on the transportation improvements of the 1960s. Development of housing in west Surrey, south Surrey/White Rock and in the Guildford area spoke to the rapidly increasing population. The end of the baby boom saw a slump in student elementary enrolment in the 1970s compared to the growth in the 1960s. However, secondary enrolment remained high. In 1950 there were 5 secondary schools, in 1960, 6 secondary schools and in 1970, 8 secondary schools. Steady growth put heavy pressure on schools to accommodate the rising number of students. The adoption of the Regional District's plans for Surrey espoused the concept of development of five town centers. This gave some direction to the districts' growth. The population of Surrey in 1981 was 147,138.
Road improvements in the 1980s continued to spur Surrey's growth. The widening of King George Highway south of Newton and to 64th Avenue, and the opening of Clover Valley Road (176th Street) as part of Pacific Highway south from Highway 1 to Fraser Highway brought increased development to the Newton District and to east Cloverdale/Clayton. The increasing popularity of the Newton Industrial area with its lower land prices was helping to increase the number of workers south of the Fraser River. The commercial development in Langley District along the Surrey border stimulated similar commercial developments on the Surrey side. The average family size was dropping and by the mid 1980s it was just above two children per family. The population of Surrey in 1991 was 245,173.
The population growth of Surrey in the second half of the 20th century had been remarkable. In the 1990s in particular, the focus on the development of town centers had continued. Encouragement in the development of more industrial parks, e.g. Cloverdale, Port Kells, South Westminster, Bridgeview/Port Mann, helped to develop more employment within the district. By the mid 1990s around 80% of employment was now south of the Fraser River. Surrey's geography has helped to influence her development. Fully one-third of Surrey's land mass is protected as park land, agricultural land or green space - hence the name the City of Parks. In keeping her development to the uplands, it is hoped the future of agriculture on the lowlands is assured.
Surrey's development as a major player in the Greater Vancouver Region District saw the municipality officially become a city on September 11, 1993;thus The City of Surrey. In 1994 Sky Train arrived in Whalley. Four stations; Scott Road, Gateway, Central City, and King George provided improved access north across the Fraser. The rapid population growth resulted in new commercial developments outside the traditional town centers. This resulted in a degree of decay and the need for redevelopment of the commercial cores of Cloverdale, Whalley, Newton, and neighbouring White Rock. Redevelopment plans, and council attempts to stimulate development and renewal have had varying success. Average family size had continued to decline and by the late 1990s it had fallen to less than 2 children per family. The population of Surrey in 1996 was 304,477.
The 10 years from 1995 to 2005 has seen very rapid growth. A pro-development council has encouraged rapid growth well beyond the bounds of the traditional town centers. Residential developments in the Guildford/Fleetwood area, east and west Cloverdale/Clayton, west and east Newton, and South Surrey have been remarkable. Increased development of Industrial Parks in Newton, Sullivan, South Westminster, Port Kells, Cloverdale, and Campbell Heights has increased the amount of available employment within Surrey. The population of Surrey in 2001 was 347,825. The percentage change from 1996 to 2001 was 14.2%. By 2005 Surrey's population is estimated to be over 400,000 with over 1,000 people a month moving into the City.
The character of Surrey's population is also changing. 50 years ago the bulk of Surrey residents' ethnic background was European based. Of the 347,825 people in 2001; 228,040 were born in Canada, 114,725 were foreign born, 67,690 immigrated before 1991 and 47,040 immigrated from 1991; 2001. Most of these new immigrants come from East and South Asia. The rich cultural mix should bode well for the continued growth and development of Surrey.
From 1998 to 2008 Surrey's population had grown by over 100,000 residents. Even though the economic downturn of 2009 might slow growth, the 10,000 newcomers each year is expected to continue.
The age stucture of Surrey is also changing:
The 40% of Surrey's population under 40 bodes well for the City. The youthful population signifies that the City is well position for the future.
The cultural and linguistic diversity of the City is apparent in the statistics of language:
The population of Surrey in 2008 is estimated at 462,500.