The Fight to Save Surrey’s Hawthorne Park

Hundreds of protesters, including David Suzuki and members of the Kwantlen First Nation, rallied by Surrey City Hall on Sept. 16

Shayne Olsen, Dianne Bigg and Kim Waite display their signs for preserving Hawthorne Park at Surrey City Hall. (Alyssa Laube)

Some of the protesters at the rally to save Hawthorne Park grew up playing on its fields, while others came upon it later in life as a place to birdwatch and admire nature. Advocates like David Suzuki, who has never visited the park but values it for its environmental importance, had a place at the rally too, whether it was in front of a mic or from the crowds.

What united the protesters in front of Surrey City Hall on Sept. 16 was the desire to keep the city’s green spaces green. The city itself voted in favour of building a road through the 22-hectare park earlier this summer, hoping to create room for light rail transit. By removing the park and building the road traffic along 104 street would become less congested, and there would be a direct route between the city centre and Guildford for citizens to use.

But it’s evident that many of the citizens don’t want that. At the rally, dozens of activists held signs bearing statements like “Parks, not pavement,” and “If you take our trees then you take our air! Save Hawthorne.” There was a staggering diversity in the crowd as well, with a 10 year-old Surrey boy named Miguel Rodriguez from the Children’s Production Network taking the stage along with members of the Kwantlen First Nation, David Suzuki, and campaign director Steven Pettigrew.

“We don’t need a road. We don’t want a road,” says Rodriguez. “We need to do it for the children like me.”

In the crowd, retired birdwatchers advocated for the importance of saving the park’s wildlife, kids talked about wanting a green future for themselves, and middle-aged, working-class women asserted that the city doesn’t need more roads—it needs a place to raise a family and enjoy nature.

“We’re not doing this for ourselves, once again. We’re doing it for the next seven generations,” said Michael Kelly Gabriel, son of Kwantlen First Nation Hereditary Chief Marilyn Gabriel, before an audience.

Suzuki began his speech by describing the demolition of the park as symptomatic of exponential growth, which he deems problematic.

“We’re using up [future generations’] rightful legacy all in the name of economic growth. This, I believe, is suicidal,” he said, in his speech. “We can’t change the laws of nature, but the laws we create can change. They must change to fit the laws of nature.”

In response to the push to save Hawthorne Park, the City of Surrey vowed to increase its total parkland space—including 200 trees, facilities, and habitat areas—and continue public consultations.

Still, the campaigners need to prove that 10 per cent of the City’s electorate oppose the demolition of the park in order to save it. A total of 30,000 signatures had to be collected by Sept. 22 in order to meet that end.

At the time of writing, it is uncertain whether or not the Save Hawthorne Park group achieved that goal, but they’re certainly passionate enough to avoid giving up.

“If the tractors roll in you’re going to join us in front of them—there are hundreds of you who said you’re going to do that,” said Pettigrew. “This is an election issue … [municipal politicians] represent us and they need to listen to us. They need to remember that they are elected by us.”