Holland Park becoming Surrey’s gathering place
Paul Hillsdon | On 02, Aug 2010
It was only two years ago when Holland Park was first unveiled as the City’s “premier urban park”. Since then, it has grown to become a concrete example of the new image the City is adopting as a progressive, forward-thinking, modern and urban place. The park has become quickly adopted by not just the local community, but the City as a whole, as evidenced through an increasing number of festivals. Being the first significant modern public infrastructure project in the City Centre, it has set the stage for the new Library and coming City Hall relocation. But how did it all happen, and happen so fast? How has Holland Park’s success impacted the other large parks in Surrey? Perhaps even more important though, what does the future hold for Surrey’s “Central Park”?
Down Memory Lane
As the former “City of Parks”, green spaces have always been the natural gathering places for residents in Surrey. Whether through sports games, children’s water parks, or festivals; whether at Green Timbers, Unwin, or Cloverdale Athletic, parks have long been the suburban version of the coffee shop – a place to hang with friends, bump into neighbours, and enjoy all that life has to offer.
Through the 90’s, the City actively pushed for Bear Creek, and later the Cloverdale Millennium Park, as the central activity hub of Surrey. Bear Creek, with its wide array of programming and services, from the Surrey Arts Centre, to the Bear Creek Train and Mini Golf, to the Horticultural Gardens, has long seem destined to be Surrey’s answer to Stanley Park. However, with a strong community push for reinvestment in Cloverdale, the City developed the Millennium Amphitheatre Park in the Cloverdale Fairgrounds, designed specifically to host the large community celebrations that had previously been held in Bear Creek. Cloverdale Millennium hosted the year 2000 celebrations and was also given the annual Canada Day festivities, in addition to the long running Rodeo and Country Fair. However, being at the edge of the City, and with a delay in additional community improvements, Cloverdale never became the hub that Surrey was seeking.
In the early 2000’s, when residents in Whalley began their own campaign to revitalize their community, Council took a renewed look at the area, deciding to reshape it into the new City Centre area. Under Mayor McCallum, Council endorsed a multi-pronged Whalley Enhancement Strategy, that focused primarily on cleaning up the area through civic reinvestment. Chief among these plans was the redevelopment of Holland Park, which was, at the time, a dark and rather derelict forest next to the rundown Surrey Place Mall.
Plans called for Holland Park to become the “premier urban park” in Surrey. With a plaza, it would act as a special events hub, designed to host farmer’s markets, arts and crafts markets, and the Surrey Jazz and Children’s Festivals. It was also to include horticultural displays for seniors and weddings, as well as walking paths, card playing areas, and a children’s playground for the local community. While the vision was grandiose, the funding required to make the project a reality was not delivered. City estimates in 2004 put the development of the master plan in the range of $5 million, while Council was only prepared to spend an initial $1.5 million.
By 2005, with Mayor Watts now leading the City, the project was put on hold as construction costs continued to escalate. The master plan was scaled back and split into phases. Construction finally began in 2006, and inched its way to completion, with a soft opening of the park in early 2008. 5 years after its first envisioning, Surrey’s first “urban park” was finally ready for its public unveiling. That opportunity came after Surrey was named the 2008 Cultural Capital of Canada.
As part of the designation, Surrey planned several community activities to celebrate and utilize the federal grant monies that had been won. The centrepiece of the plans was a three-day long, multicultural “Fusion Festival“. The event would also be the unveiling of the new Holland Park to residents and the region, symbolizing a new image for the City Centre area. The plan was a major success, drawing in 60,000 people from across Metro Vancouver, with over 75% saying the event was “above average or excellent”.
Holland Park welcomes the public
Since the blowout success of the Fusion Festival, the City has continued to invest in upgrades and ongoing programming for the Park. In 2009, the City attributed provincial funding for a civic Spirit Square to Holland Park, as well as spending money on building two new community plaza entries and a washroom building. Additionally, despite lacking over $300,000 in federal funding, the City found funding to put on a second Fusion Festival, albeit at a smaller scale.
2009 also saw the Downtown Surrey BIA embrace the redesigned park as the City Centre’s main gathering place, moving its annual Movies Under the Stars program to Holland Park, after previous, less successful turnouts at both Tom Binnie and the Scotiabank Plaza. 2009 also brought the Jamaican Festival outside from its former setup at the Portugese Banquet Hall. Both events proved be to big draws. In December, the City also held a small Tree Lighting Ceremony for the Christmas holidays, decorating the medium-sized tree at King George and 100 Ave. Similar events in other cities are typically a major source of civic pride during the winter season (i.e. Rockefeller Plaza in NYC).
An Olympic celebration
After the announcement that Surrey would be a Venue City for the 2010 Olympics, the City and Council moved fast to ensure legacies would be achieved. Other than the Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre, the biggest by-product of Surrey’s new Olympic status was the 13-day celebration set up at Holland Park. Funded partially through the cancellation of the annual WinterFest, the 2010 Surrey Celebration Site proved to be a magnificent festival that attracted residents from across the South Fraser. Thanks to the Olympics, Surrey’s celebration site was also able to share top name music acts with similar festivals held in Richmond and Vancouver. The 2010 Celebration Site proved that Surrey was serious about its newfound identity and cemented Holland Park’s spot as “the place” to hold civic festivals.
The spectacular Olympic launch to the year had a spinoff effects for the park. Now in the summer season, Holland Park is quickly approaching a full weekly schedule, with almost a new event or festival each week! July brought the third annual Fusion Festival to the park, once again proving to be a smash hit with residents. It was also the first year that Surrey’s Gay Pride festivities were brought to the park, an event which was previously held at Tom Binnie. August 1st will herald the return of the Jamaican Festival, and, on each Saturday night of August, the Downtown Surrey BIA will again be presenting Movies Under the Stars.
Suffice it to say, thanks to the leadership and foresight of the City through the past decade, Holland Park has truly become the pre-eminent urban park in Surrey. Civic investments in programming have encouraged community organizations to bring their own festivals into the park, further evolving Holland Park’s status as the premier venue for special events.
The City has played a careful balancing act with civic events, ensuring that Holland Park did not absorb all the annual festivals. Canada Day remains at Cloverdale Millennium, while the Children’s Festival and Earth Day activities are still at Bear Creek. Meanwhile, the growing Santa Claus parade is held in Historic Cloverdale; Surrey Remembers, the annual Remembrance Day activities, are held at the Surrey Museum; Flavours of Surrey, an agricultural celebration of local food, is held at the Historic Stewart Farmhouse; and WinterFest remains at the Central City Plaza.
Short of WinterFest, the Surrey Urban Farmer’s Market (held in the plaza in front of North Surrey Recreation Centre), and the Whalley Community Festival (held at Mosaic Park behind North Surrey Rec), most of the annual events in the City Centre have shifted to Holland Park. With the closure of Mosaic Park for construction of the new City Hall, it will be likely to see the Whalley Community Festival move to Holland Park next year. Meanwhile, when the new community plaza at the City Hall is completed, expect to see WinterFest move to that publicly-owned space, as the Central City Plaza remains under private land – unless of course, it is moved to Holland Park. The Farmer’s Market will, and should, go wherever it can maintain the most foot traffic, which, unless a new entrance to the SkyTrain station is built to attach to the new City Hall, will likely remain at its current location, until the Rec Centre is torn down.
That said, the future looks bright for Holland Park. It is foreseeable that more community organizations will move their annual celebrations to the park during the summer. With a growing Asian and Philippino community in North Surrey, a cultural festival similar to the Jamaican event could be started. Umoja, a community organization that aids new immigrants from Africa which is based in Whalley, could also lead an ethnic festival. Kla-how-eya, an Aboriginal services organization also based in Whalley, which has previously expressed interest in developing a permanent Native culture centre in the area, and has participated actively in providing a First Nations presence in other City-run festivals, could also begin its own event.
Other summer-based options could include a weekend long “Art in the Park” type festival, celebrating and showcasing regional artists and their crafts. If a temporary stage were set up, it could be imaginable to see a theatre or music company put on an outdoor show, similar to Bard on the Beach or Theatre Under the Stars, held annually in Stanley Park. Perhaps the Surrey Civic Orchestra could perform an evening, similar to popular concerts run at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. There could also be a partnership between the Surrey Art Gallery, Surrey Parks and Rec, and performance troupes such as the Arts Club, or smaller groups, such as Fighting Chance Productions, to bring live theatre to Holland Park.
With stronger marketing, the December Tree Lighting Ceremony could attract greater crowds, and if merged with WinterFest, could become a family-friendly weekend activity for the holiday season.
There’s also the possibility of hosting a public New Year’s Eve celebration at the park. As of yet, Vancouver still does not have a similar event, leaving a huge gap in the regional events schedule, especially on such a grand occasion. Central City Plaza held family-friendly, non-alcoholic “First Night” celebrations in 2005 and 2006, but were cancelled due to small demand from the public. The 2006 event drew in only 5000 people, in part due to charging $10 tickets to pass through the entry gates. Most City of Surrey events are provided free of charge, a deciding factor in their success and popularity. If money was found, either at a civic or regional level, Surrey could conceivably grasp this opportunity and become the place to be for New Year’s Eve.
The City has previously launched fireworks from the Central City Tower, most recently during the Olympics. A night long festival, with family-friendly options, could easily be set up in Holland Park. In the years to come, after the new City Hall and community plaza is built, an alcohol friendly viewing site could be erected in that area, which would also have great views of fireworks from Central City.
That’s a wrap
The future seems undoubtedly promising for Holland Park. In the course of eight years, it has transformed from a seedy, moribund old forest into a bright, welcoming, evolving urban gathering place for the whole city. In doing so, it has become a beacon of hope and a symbol of change for Surrey, similar to the Central City tower. With just a couple more events and daily activities, it is poised to become one of the most popular parks in the region and will cement its place in the history of both Surrey and the City Centre area. The City has played its part and will certainly continue doing so in the years to come. However, the future of Holland Park now turns to us, the community. It is our responsibility to take up the mantle, to build upon its early successes. How will you do so?