October 13, 2018
To begin with, White Rock and South Surrey are on the traditional territories of the Semiahmoo First Nation. They’re two separate communities that share a peninsula, divided by the ‘zipper’ of 16th Avenue/ North Bluff Road. White Rock’s population of 20,000 is minuscule next to South Surrey’s behemoth 96,130. I was surprised to find out that White Rock was once a part of Surrey and became its own municipality in 1960. It’s worth mentioning that South Surrey is literally just part of Surrey but likes to differentiate itself for geography’s sake or snobbery… or a combination of both.
When Fraser Valley Lifestyle Magazine asked me to write about what life is like in my new community, I was both excited about the chance to sit and reflect on its dynamics…and nervous about saying the wrong thing as a newcomer. Perhaps I DON’T know these multifaceted communities well enough to write an authoritative reflection … but maybe an outsider’s view might be a more objective one? I figured it’s worth a good try.
I wanted to first consult with some REAL locals, so asked the 2,120 active members of South Rock Moms Facebook Group “What’s the difference between South Surrey + White Rock?”. The moms responded in a lively and sometimes heated conversation that resulted in 170 comments.
I knew that there was an ongoing “it’s complicated” relationship status between South Surrey + White Rock. I never predicted that the response about what makes the two communities different would be SO passionate.
Surprisingly, a common sentiment among the South Rock Moms was that when self proclaimed OG White Rock locals hear “I live in White Rock” their immediate reaction is “Do you live in REAL White Rock? Or are you just generalizing?”. Many long time locals shared the opinion that it’s “silly’ to distinguish South Surrey from the rest of Surrey at all– they should just accept that they’re part of it. It quickly became clear that Surrey still has a PR problem it’s unfortunately struggling to overcome.
Moms shared that the area’s identity crisis is deep-rooted. They told me about women who insist their babies are born at Peace Arch Hospital, instead of at Surrey Memorial so they can have WHITE ROCK on their birth certificates instead of SURREY. Wow.
We moved here a year and a half ago from my hometown of Port Alberni for my husband’s work. When I was preparing to move, I admit that I was guilty of telling people “I’m moving to White Rock” to avoid the negative reactions I got from people when I told them, “I’m moving to Surrey”.
Now that we’re settled in over here, I LOVE South Surrey’s beautiful beaches, amazing weather, proximity to the ferries, Vancouver and other Fraser Valley communities. We chose to buy a house in SS because prices were a BIT more affordable, not to mention its exciting energy and strong sense that “things are happening here”. I’m now finally PROUD to tell people we live in Surrey.
Long time resident and social media maven Jenny Bray coined the popular & controversial term to describe this area. I like it. To stay updated about local events, check out Jenny’s South Rock Buzz website & social channels.
Thank you SO MUCH to those members who shared their experiences and opinions with me — many of these ideas are from moms who’ve grown up here and understand the history of the two communities.
Most of SS used to be remote rural acreages, known as “The Flats” or “The Sticks”. Crescent Beach is more similar to WR, which has been a popular summer destination for years. However, it’s not a stretch to say that Crescent Beach is more of a local’s hangout while White Rock Beach is more touristy.
SS seems to be an ever- expanding suburban sprawl, and WR still has a bit of a small town feel + heritage charm.
SS is a popular hub for newly arrived commuter families, while WR has an older population who have lived there for years
SS has free parking for everyone. SS residents have to pay $$ to park in most of WR, which has affordable annual local parking passes ONLY for its own residents.
SS has significantly higher car insurance than WR.
SS has two public pools, countless elementary schools, three (soon to be four) secondary schools and a learning centre, while WR has two elementary schools which are part of Surrey School District.
In SS, most road names have been replaced by numbers, while in WR most roads still have their historic street names.
SS has many big box chain stores, restaurants and factory outlets, while the majority of WR businesses are small + locally owned/ operated.
SS has lower property taxes and better water quality, compared to WR’s notoriously high property taxes and poor water quality (from wells).
SS has new automated garbage trucks and cans are provided by the city; WR has old manual garbage trucks and cans are provided by the homeowners.
Update: I’ve been requested to add that SS apparently has a nude beach (below 1001 Steps), while WR does not. I said I’d add this to the list! Ha ha.
One thing’s for sure– both South Surrey and White Rock have changed SIGNIFICANTLY in the past ten years. It seems like South Surrey is completely unrecognizable from what it was 10 years ago with its sea of new townhouses and strip malls. In contrast, White Rock will be extremely different 10 years from now with its crop of new high rises and tidal wave of gentrification.
I can’t fail to mention that living in this area includes dealing with long term construction zones, crowded schools with portables, frustrating gridlock traffic and insanely high real estate prices.
It’s become challenging for local families to be able to find affordable rentals and housing. My co-worker quipped, “Drive 20 mins away, save a few hundred grand” about houses being cheaper out in Cloverdale and Langley. I was surprised to hear from SOURCES that more local seniors than ever are struggling to pay their rents, and property taxes.
On a personal note, the expensive parking for South Surrey Residents is one of my huge pet peeves about White Rock. Our son plays softball in WR, and we have to pay $4 per car to watch his games— twice a week. My hubby comes straight from work, so this amounts to our family having to pay $16 every week of the softball season, just to watch our 6 year old son play. I’ve heard some whispers about the possibility of affordable annual parking passes for SS residents to park in WR, and I’m ALL for it.
Next up, Tyler Ingram from A Dad’s Adventures (a White Rock resident) asked me to add that SS is part of the GVRD water system. WR water comes from 4-5 wells and quality varies based on the location- ie. his has a high level of arsenic in it. He also asked me to add that the money made from WR parking goes to BNSF Railway for the leased land along the waterfront. Residents can pay $46/year for a parking pass. Parking is free along Marine Drive until 10 am every day. Winter rates are now in effect too.
Finally, I also learned from Semiahmoo First Nations Chief Harley Chapell that the local First Nation has been on a boil water advisory for the last 15 years. This will hopefully end this upcoming Spring, thanks to recent agreements with the City of Surrey.
Yes, things have changed SO rapidly here– it will be fascinating to see what happens with these two communities in the next 10 years. Despite the community challenges, one thing’s for sure– South Surrey/ White Rock is one of the most attractive places on the lower mainland to live and raise a family. It has extremely low crime rates and also gets some of the best sunny weather, year-round. I sometimes refer to it as ‘California of the North’.
(Yep— There’s literally a big white rock)! The tourist-friendly West Beach restaurants, pier, beach, and white rock, along with the quirky and less busy East Beach are the first places we take guests to introduce them to our beautiful seaside community. I partnered with Explore White Rock and Kid Approved BC last summer to write Top 5 Summer Things To Do with Kids in White Rock.
This feels like more of a special ‘locals’ area and is one of the area’s best kept secrets. It also happens to be my favourite place to go when I’m feeling stressed and want to decompress.
Crescent Beach Swim Club celebrated 100 years this year, and offers swimming lessons, sailing, tennis, and tremendous amounts of small town charm.
My personal pick is walking down Christopherson Steps, along the beach, and lunch at Hooked (order their real mint leaf tea and fish + chips or their Cobb salad). And then walking back up again.
Known for its big box chain stores, the Shops At Morgan Crossing does not disappoint. I love the Banana Republic and Gap Factory Stores, as well as the Lululemon. Another favourite is Mink for coffee and chocolate fruit fondue.
Delicious locally sourced eats with an ocean view… and the warmest patio on the strip during the upcoming colder season! Try the charcuterie board or eggs bennie brunch!