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The City of White Rock borders Semiahmoo Baymarker and is surrounded on three sides by the City of Surrey, British Columbiamarker (to the south lies Semiahmoo Bay and the Southern Gulf Islandsmarker in the Strait of Georgiamarker).

The dividing lines between the two cities are Bergstrom Road (136th Street) to the west, North Bluff Road (16th Avenue) to the north, Stayte Road (160th Street) to the east, and 8th Avenue to the south. This area south of 8th Avenue from Stayte Road westward to where 8th Avenue meets the water is the Semiahmoo Indian Reservemarker and lies within the bounds of the City of Surrey (though governed separately).

The Surrey neighborhoods of Ocean Parkmarker and Crescent Beach lie immediately to the northwest.

White Rock has a moderate climate, with average temperatures of twenty-three degrees Celsius in summer and six degrees Celsius in winter. Pilots accustomed to flying around the area often refer to it as 'the hole in the sky', referring to the fact that White Rock is often bright and sunny, while the rest of the Lower Mainlandmarker is covered by cloud.

White Rock is named for a distinctive large white boulder found on its beach near the promenade: a glacial erratic that migrated south during the last glaciation. The 486-ton granite boulder was kept white by shellfish-eating seabirds, whose guano covered the rock, so much so that sailors in the 19th century used it as a beacon. However, it now remains white through frequent applications of white paint by the city parks department, as it has been a popular graffiti target for over thirty years.

Current mayor Catherine Ferguson was elected in November 2008.

Oral history

The white rock in White Rock
The large, white rock figures prominently in narratives of the local Coast Salish native peoples. One legend holds that the white rock marks the landing spot of a stone that was hurled across the Strait of Georgiamarker by a young Indian chief. It was said that he and his bride would move from Vancouver Island to wherever the rock landed to make a home together. It was their descendants who became the Semiahmoo first nation. ('Semiahmoo' is the Coast Salish word for 'half-moon', describing the shape of the bay.)


The Straits Salish people dominated the region from Boundary Baymarker in the north to Birch Bay in the south (in the U.S.). Semiahmoo First Nationmarker permanent encampments were known to exist between 1791, the first white contact, and the 1850’s, the beginnings of white settlement. These were at the extreme east and extreme west on the water of the present site of the City of White Rock. The Semiahmoos also constructed "forts" as lookouts for raiders from the northern first nations; one is located in the Ocean Park area.

The Oregon boundary dispute culminated in the Oregon Treaty of 1846, which settled the outstanding border issues between Great Britain and the United States. Previously, these issues had been put on hold through a shared occupancy agreement of the Oregon territory by the two nations in the Treaty of 1818. The International Boundary Survey Commission in turn began in 1857 to set the boundary between the United States and British North America, roughly along the 49th parallel which runs straight through Semiahmoo Bay and Boundary Bay to Point Roberts, Washingtonmarker.

A 180-degree panorama view of the Promenade and Semiahmoo Bay, from the pier.
The Semiahmoo Trail still exists in White Rock and South Surrey, which runs from the site of the Boundary Commission Camp at the estuary of the Campbell River, overland to Mud Bay north of Crescent Beach. A survey map of 1865 calls this the 'Telegraph Trail'. During the real estate boom of the 1980s and 90s, the City of Surrey kept the trail as open as possible, extending it from 20 Avenue all the way to the Nicomekl River. On 148 Street, there is a specially constructed "Semiahmoo Trail" pedestrian overpass keeping the trail intact.

The modern history of White Rock is directly tied to the railway, linking British Columbia to Washington state, which runs along the shore of Semiahmoo Bay to the border. The rail is currently owned by Burlington Northern - Santa Fe (BNSF) and runs alongside the promenade at the beach. This was originally the Great Northern line, and it opened up both White Rock and Crescent Beach to tourists coming from Vancouver and New Westminster in the early 1900s. The White Rock border crossing (at Douglas, B.C., and Blaine, Washington) was officially opened in 1908, and the Peace Archmarker at the Douglas/Blaine border crossing constructed in the 1920s.

In 1913, the present railway station was opened, and the Fox and Hunter Shingle mill began operation. The Campbell River Mill also opened somewhat to the east, bringing a minor boom in the local economy. The now famous pier was opened in 1914 to provide a deep water mooring facility.

In the 1950s, White Rock began to feel isolated from the rest of the (then) District of Surrey, where development was being concentrated elsewhere (North Surrey, Cloverdale). On April 15, 1957, a special warrant from the Government of British Columbia created the City of White Rock within its present boundary. In the 1950s, Peace Arch Hospital opened and continues as a major employer in the city and health facility for the region.

Development continued to be concentrated by the waterfront until the 1960s and 1970s. Many small cliffside dwellings became affordable housing to those who could not pay the cost of living closer to Vancouver. White Rock gained a reputation for being a 'retirement centre'.

The development of Highway #99 and the opening of the Deas Island Tunnel (now the George Massey Tunnelmarker) created a second boom for the White Rock area, providing relatively easy commuter traffic into Vancouver. No longer so dependent upon the railway, development crept up the hillside. In the 1980s, the City of Surrey began developing its "South Surrey" area as a 'town centre' comparable to Guildford, Cloverdale, and Newton. The Semiahmoo Mall opened in Surrey on the north side of 16 Avenue (the south side of which is North Bluff Road within White Rock).

In 1979, friends Tom Kirstein, a chartered accountant, and Chip Barrett, an architect, organized an annual sandcastle competition, which became internationally famous. It took advantage of the long, sandy beach exposed at low tide, giving enough time for enterprising souls to construct elaborate displays. Prizes of up to $10,000 were awarded, and crowds of 150,000 were estimated at the competition's height. In 1987, the contest ceased because of security costs, and the inevitable party-spoilers. In 2008 a group of local high school students, Sara Woodward, Jorden Abernethy, Daniel Fowler, Michael Vanderpolder, Tasha Svenson, and members of the community, Spenser Bolen, Michael Nolan, Trixie Nolan, and Lisa Nolan successfully launched a Sandcastle Competition revival. This event drew 40,000 guests and over 70 teams to the competition. The next Sandcastle competition is planned for 2010 - you can follow the communities progress towards the 2010 competition at

The City of White Rock as viewed from the White Rock Pier.
The 1970s were the beginning of the White Rock-South Surrey area as a suburban, bedroom community within the Lower Mainland. The real estate market heated up and many younger families moved into the area attracted to homes aimed at the young professional market. By the middle 1990s, the race for real estate and upscale housing was on. Now in the opening decade of the 21st century, many parts of the community resemble the homogeneous development seen across much of North America. Many of the cliff-side cottages gave way to large homes, and the spectre of million dollar real estate became a reality for the formerly sleepy community.

New development in uptown White Rock within the Town Centre is centred on the controversial Miramar Village, built by Bosa Properties. The previous council amended the Official Community Plan to allow this project with its buildings exceeding the previous 12 storey height limit. Bosa was granted an additional two stories on its tallest tower in return for accommodating Kwantlen University College, which soon after backed out of the agreement. In the November 2008 municipal elections, three new members of City Council and a new Mayor were elected, most of whom ran on a platform favouring lower building heights.

The City of White Rock's fire department was located 1/2 block north of its city limits until a new firehall was built across from City Hall in the early 1990's.

White Rock sunset.
White Rock Beach with the famous pier.

The Peninsula Village development on 24 Avenue in Surrey in the late 1980s brought development farther north and put strains on existing small businesses within White Rock. The Grandview Heights development currently under construction on the east side of Highway 99 at 24 Avenue continues the trend of suburban sprawl characterized throughout the Lower Mainland. While the city of White Rock itself is ten blocks to the southwest of this 6.5 km, big-box retail project, the community's centre of gravity will shift again as the area continues to change dramatically.

In 2007, the White Rock Little League team made it to the Little League World Series.


Transport in the city is largely based on the automobile. Highway 99 is a freeway that links the White Rock area with Vancouver to the north and Interstate-5 across the US border at the Douglas border crossing to the south. The King George Highway (Highway 99A) links the Douglas border with Surreymarker and New Westminstermarker. Johnston Road (152nd Street) is a corridor that links White Rock to Guildford and the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1).

White Rock's limited bus routes are served mainly through the White Rock Centre transit exchange. From here, the #351 and 354 buses used to connect White Rock directly with downtown Vancouver, but now runs as far as Bridgeport stationmarker, with intending passengers for Vancouver now having to change onto the Canada Line. The exchange is also home to almost all routes in the White Rock/South Surrey area. Only one route in White Rock does not run through White Rock Centre, that being the #352 Ocean Park/Bridgeport stationmarker express route. In addition, the 321, 345, and 394 buses provide service to North Surrey, notably to Surrey Centralmarker and King Georgemarker Skytrain stations, with the 375 service running through White Rock Centre from just north of the Peace Archmarker border crossing to Guildford Town Centre. Other community bus routes, the C50, C51, C52, and C53 service local communities within White Rock and South Surrey.

BNSF Railway has a single-track main line through White Rock that runs along the entire length of the White Rock Beach promenade. The city itself has no train service, however this rail line is a major corridor for goods being transported between the ports of Vancouver and the continental United States as well as the Amtrak Cascades passenger service between Seattle and Vancouver via Bellingham, Washingtonmarker. The Canadian National Railway and the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) also have trackage rights along this line. Goods transported on this corridor include Canadian softwood lumber, coal, paper products, and general merchandise. The CPR runs regular potash trains along this line to the Canpotex export terminal in Oregon.



  • Every year in July, the city hosts the Tour de White Rock, bicycle road race that attracts over 150 local and international riders. In 2005, the event was part of the Canadian Cycling Association's national Road Race Series.
  • Every year during the first weekend of August, the community celebrates the Spirit of the Sea Festival on White Rock beach. It usually includes a parade, fireworks, music stages, a sandcastle competition, and various other beach related activities. The festival began in 1949.

White Rock in TV and film

Scenes in the 2007 movie Juno were filmed in White Rock. Portions of the 1965 film The Railrodder starring Buster Keaton were filmed in White Rock. Much of the 1982 movie Big Meat Eater was filmed near and around the White Rock waterfront. USA Network's detective comedy Psych is also filmed in White Rock, though the series is set in Santa Barbara, Californiamarker.


External links

Surrounding municipalities

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