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The Decline of the Railways 1911–1940

The Emergence of Road Transportation

The age of the automobile began to dawn in Surrey about 1911. The number of residents owning cars was growing as a result of Henry Ford's Model T. Surrey was being influenced by a revolution in land transportation as were most other North American communities. The demand for more and better roads to meet the needs of the automobile would soon change the character of Surrey through changes in its transportation pattern. Increased motor vehicle traffic would bring a complete end to water transportation and a marked decline in railway services.

As the use of automobiles, trucks, and buses increased, the Provincial Government recognized the need for road improvements and it began the construction of new trunk roads more suited to motor traffic. At first the improvements consisted largely of straightening, widening, grading, and graveling existing main roads. Later new, direct link, trunk roads were constructed.

While motor vehicles also required better surfaced roads, they provided the means to build them. Motorized equipment allowed greater ease and cheaper costs in building new and better roads. Gravel had come into widespread use by 1913 as trucks made the hauling and spreading of it possible. In 1912 Surrey Municipality purchased its first two trucks and in 1920 it purchased a mechanical loader for use on the roads.

New Surrey Trucks 1920 New Municipal trucks

Surrey purchased the trucks in 1920 and 1922 and delivery took place in Vancouver. Trucks such as these were basic in road construction.

In Surrey trunk roads were constructed to provide a more direct route to the International Boundary, or to the developing resort of White Rock. Between 1912-13, the former Clover Valley Road was improved and opened south to the border at Blaine. This gravel road was finished and formally opened on July 12, 1913, being renamed the Pacific Highway. In 1923 the Pacific Highway was graded and cemented from the Border to Old Yale Road. The latter road was also graded and cemented the same year, thus providing a high quality all–weather highway between the International Boundary and New Westminster. Old Yale Road was also cemented eastward to Chilliwack.

Pacific Highway at North Bluff

Looking along North Bluff Road. This picture was typical of the quality of local roads. This picture was taken in 1918.

Local side roads showed the greatest increase in mileage during this period. As these roads were built by Surrey Municipality, they usually took longer to be improved as there was less money at their disposal. Yet local road grids continued filling in, as settlement continued to increase.

The phenomenal rise in importance of automobiles, trucks and buses in the transportation system of Surrey was responsible for the filling in and improving of the road network during the 1920s and 1930s. Movement of freight and passengers shifted noticeably to road transport. In South Surrey a daily jitney service from White Rock to New Westminster via Cloverdale and the Pacific Highway was begun in 1922 by I.W. Neil, Norm Philip, and Lyle Rolf. Following the paving of Pacific Highway in 1923 the service was increased by the addition of two touring cars: a 1913 Pearce Arrow, converted to a nineteen-passenger bus; and a 1915 Packard, converted to a seventeen-passenger bus. The Green Stage, as the bus line was called in 1923, operated two return trips daily to New Westminster and Vancouver. On May 23, 1924, following the acquisition of two White Buses, the service was expanded to four return trips daily and the line was renamed the Green Stages Ltd. In 1925 the company acquired a run from Port Haney through Port Coquitlam to Vancouver via the Lougheed Highway. Both these runs brought the Green Stages into competition with the B.C. Electric Railway bus services: the Pacific Stage Lines(PSL). As a result of the competition the BCER acquired financial control of the Green Stages Ltd., and as of July 1st 1926 the services became the Pacific Stage Lines. The PSL continued to operate the franchise up to the creation of the Greater Vancouver Transit Authority.

Motor-truck competition also made inroads into the freight traffic in Surrey this continued into the 1920s and 1930s as roads were improved and paving was extended. The Crescent Transfer(later the White Rock–Crescent Beach Transfer) which provided a freight service to New Westminster was started by R.(Pop) Taylor in 1920.

Clovervalley Road

This photograph was taken by Leonard Frank in 1920. It shows a car on Coast Meridian Road about where 26th Avenue crosses. The scene is looking north towards Cloverdale. This would be considered a good road at that time. Note that the car is driving on the left. British Columbia did not change to driving on the right until 6:00 am on 1 January 1922.

Source: Historical Atlas of Vancouver and the Lower Fraser Valley – Derek Hayes

By the early 1920s, improved motor vehicles and an expanding road network were bringing an end to railway dominance. As a result of the competition for passengers and freight, several rail lines built prior to 1910 were abandoned. On the New Westminster Southern (NWSR) from Brownsville to Blaine service was significantly reduced after 1909, abandoned in stages and was officially abandoned in 1918. The Victoria Terminal Railway and Ferry Company (VTRF) line from Port Guichon to Cloverdale virtually abandoned passenger service when the City of Victoria removed its subsidy and when the Canadian Pacific Railway began direct service between Victoria and Vancouver and it was officially abandoned in 1931. The Vancouver, Victoria, and Eastern (VVE) line from Cloverdale to Huntington was officially abandoned in 1929.

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