COLUMN: Guildford Town Centre sparked development

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Guildford Town Centre is in the midst of a large-scale redevelopment. A newsletter published by the shopping centre brought to mind how vital Guildford has been in Surrey’s overall development, from sprawling rural municipality to vibrant and fast-growing city.

The area of Surrey where Guildford is located was once known as the Hjorth Road district, named after the road that is now 104 Avenue. Until the construction of the Port Mann Bridge and Highway 1 freeway in the early 1960s, it was a Surrey backwater. There was no commercial development. Properties were rural acreages, and there was just a scattering of residents.

However, the opening of the freeway made it far more strategic, and British developers Grosvenor-Laing believed that the area could support a shopping centre. The nearby freeway meant that customers could come from as far away as Chilliwack.

The plans for Guildford (the developers came up with the name, based on Guildford in Surrey, England) were very ambitious. The developers envisioned a completely new city within Surrey, and some of it came to pass. There was the shopping centre, but there were also plans for residential development and community facilities.

Many apartments were constructed quickly, but there was little in the way of community facilities for quite some time. Surrey had already gone ahead with an ice rink in Whalley (the first operated by the municipality).

Perhaps the most important thing about early-day Guildford was the fact that Woodward’s would be the anchor tenant. Newer B.C. residents don’t know what loyalty that company engendered.

The B.C.-based department store chain was one of the most popular retailers, yet its nearest store was in New Westminster. Many residents of Surrey and areas further out in the Fraser Valley had little opportunity to shop there, but wanted to.

It was perhaps the best sign that Surrey was becoming a city. If Woodward’s felt that Surrey was worth locating in, others would as well. And that’s just what happened. A few years later, Eaton’s came to Guildford, as the shopping centre expanded north of 104 Avenue. Surrey Place was built in Whalley, attracting The Bay and Simpson-Sears. No longer did Surrey residents have to cross a bridge to shop at major department stores.

Guildford was an instant success, with lots of shopping traffic. It just kept growing, and the surrounding area developed as time went by.

Prior to the opening of Guildford, Surrey residents spent a lot of money in other communities, often from necessity. It simply wasn’t possible to get everything in Surrey easily, and there were few large stores.

Guildford gave the community a lot of pride and self-confidence. It was central to the rapid development of North Surrey as a residential community, and it was the first Surrey retail complex to attract a large number of shoppers from other communities.

In four years, Guildford will mark its 50th anniversary, and that milestone shouldn’t go unnoticed. It’s been a very important part of Surrey’s growing up.

Frank Bucholtz is the editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.


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