Surrey mayor envisions turning city roads into new canal waterways

Jun 19 2019, 6:24 am

Could canal waterways help accelerate economic development within Surrey’s emerging downtown core?

That very idea was suggested by Surrey mayor Doug McCallum last week during a panel on the future of Surrey city centre, organized by the Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association (DSBIA).

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McCallum told panelists and attendees that water-filled canals could be constructed on a street with less traffic volumes, and that the idea first came to him when he visited Qatar. He has brought up the idea to the City of Surrey’s engineering department, and it was not dismissed, he says.

Elizabeth Model, the CEO of the DSBIA, is not rejecting the idea either.

“Mayor McCallum has an interesting concept and as I have travelled so much and seen cities being built with canals… I understand his ideas but it really depends on the ease and functionality,” Model told Daily Hive.

While such an idea may seem outlandish to some, as canals are most often associated with cities such as Venice, contemporary canals have proven to be popular tourist attractions.

The existing canal at Waterfront Park, on the edge of Okanagan Lake, in downtown Kelowna is a highly popular tourist destination, with hotels, high-density residential, restaurants, shops, casino, and watercraft recreational activities further shaping the area.

Kelowna Waterfront Park canal

Boats in the canal at Waterfront Park in downtown Kelowna. (Shutterstock)

During the 2014 civic election in Kelowna, a now-defunct political party included a canal project in their campaign platform. Streets in downtown Kelowna would be turned into canals in a bid to attract more tourism and urban development, with the cost estimated to be approximately $100 million per city block.

San Antonio also has its four-km-long River Walk — a popular tourist attraction in the city centre that sees about 11.5 million visitors per year. The urban waterway system is lined with restaurants, bars, and shops, with water-based activities that include pleasure boat rides.

According to San Antonio’s tourism bureau, visitor spending within the River Walk creates an overall economic impact of $3 billion annually and influences 21,000 jobs in San Antonio.

River Walk in San Antonio, Texas. (Shutterstock)

But Model says there is also potential for Surrey’s frontage with the Fraser River, in the area known as Bridgeview. She wants to have public input for the long-term planning of the area.

“This area has incredible potential being on the Fraser River. We just have to see what New Westminster has created with their portion of river frontage; it’s lovely and a place makers dream,” she continued.

During McCallum’s first tenure as mayor in the late 1990s, he lobbied the provincial government to move the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) from Vancouver’s Hastings Park to Surrey. At the time, the PNE’s future was in question due to the expiration of its lease on Hastings Park.

The provincial government was fully prepared to move the PNE to Surrey, as it had purchased a large Fraser River fronting industrial site just east of the Pattullo Bridge for the attraction’s new home. There would be a new amusement park, indoor and outdoor event spaces, a hotel, and a casino. But the plan never materialized; the provincial government later decided to sell the Surrey property, transfer its ownership of the PNE to the City of Vancouver, and retain the PNE at its historic location.

There was also an attempt by McCallum to have the Molson Indy relocate to Surrey, but the event faded away in Metro Vancouver due to insufficient sponsorship and the construction of the Olympic Village on a portion of its track in False Creek. The Vancouver race moved to Edmonton City Centre Airport starting in 2005, and was cancelled in 2012.

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