In front of the Surrey Museum sits a humble log cabin…
It’s one of the oldest structures in Surrey, with a roof made of hand-split cedar shakes and log walls that interlock without the use of nails. There’s nothing unique about this cabin. It’s much like any pioneer cabin built in the late 1800s, but it is the last of its kind and serves as a reminder of who we are, where we come from and what we’ve done to get here. Thousands of new residents flock to Surrey each month, and in a way, we’re pioneers too… All of us who come to Surrey from somewhere else with dreams of a bright future. All of us who are dedicated to building a better life. All of us who look at this land and think, “This is where I want to be.”
That’s what Eric Anderson thought when he first laid eyes on the stunning wilderness of the West Coast. The young Swedish man had been working on whaling ships since the age of eleven and at twenty, found himself in Vancouver Harbour. Who knows what made him jump ship that day. Maybe he’d had all he could take of life on the sea. Maybe there was just something in the air.
Anderson set out in search of a new life and he never looked back. He trekked through unmapped wilderness for several days, crossing the Fraser River and arriving in what would eventually become Surrey. Along the way he received directions and help from local First Nations People. He found a clearing near the Nicomekl River and began to build a cabin, the same one that today, stands in front of the Surrey Museum.
Like anyone carving out a new life, Anderson knew it wouldn’t come easily. He purchased hand tools at the general store on Murrays’ Corners and over many months, finally completed his shelter before the winter of 1873. But Anderson needed money to develop and improve his claim, So he walked to Chilliwack to find work as a farm labourer, returning each spring to work on his Surrey claim.
Of course, what’s a good pioneer story without a bit of romance? Anderson wanted someone to share this new adventure with. While in Chilliwack, he met and married Sarah McClinton and in 1879, they loaded up their wagon and journeyed to their Surrey homestead.
Most early pioneer cabins were eventually converted to tool sheds or animal shelters, and replaced by larger wood-framed homes. The Anderson Cabin, a designated heritage building, is the only pioneer cabin of this era remaining in Surrey today. Its presence is a reminder that in order to build an amazing life, you’ve got to start somewhere!
The story above is just one of the many told by Surrey Heritage Services’ The Re-enactors, a troupe of professional actors who recreate the lives of early Surrey settlers. They create scripts based on archival records and research, and give free interactive performances at venues and events throughout the city. Find out when they’ll be performing next and maybe you’ll even get a chance to ‘meet’ Eric Anderson!
Photo Courtesy of the Surrey Archives