Highway Hell for Heritage Home
photo credit: Sharon Doucette
When Charlotte Wawryk scrubbed the porch of her award-winning
heritage home earlier this week, she knew the black soot would quickly
"Give it a couple days and come back to see it," she said, referring to the scum left by the emissions of diesel-fueled trucks that motor along River Road, the busy ribbon of concrete located below her otherwise remote property.
The homeowner's work to clean the deck was done in anticipation of a ceremony Monday honouring her 96-year-old house with Delta's Heritage Award of Merit, a timely designation equally political and preservationist in nature.
Wawryk's yellow-hued abode, officially dubbed the Alfred Jensen Residence in recognition of the cannery manager who first lived there in 1912, is located near what will likely be the future path of the South Fraser Perimeter Road.
For this family, life may never be the same once the proposed highway funnels trucked goods to and from local ports at 80 kilometres an hour, or more. The black soot that coats Wawryk's porch will only get worse.
A couple years back, in an effort to clear the path for the high-speed connector, Gateway project officials came knocking with talk of a buyout, but Wawryk and husband Gunter Post balked.
This family is not moving out.
"It's not an option - not then and not now," Wawryk said Monday. "I think originally they looked at a map and put an X on properties that could be bought out.... We didn't even start negotiations, because how do you put a price tag on all this? There's not another property like this in all of the Lower Mainland. A lot of people would pay millions to live here."
As she talked to the Now, Wawryk gasped as she noticed a red-tailed hawk soaring near the massive old oak tree in her front yard, where a fountain stands in the middle of a small circular driveway. On both sides of the house, deep ravines cut through the landscape down toward the Fraser River, framing a greenbelt located beyond the backyard and a stately home filled with antiques.
"I think (Gateway officials) look at this area as scruffy, industrial and so on, but I don't think they knew or understand the heritage that is here, the history."
From River Road, vehicles climb a steep, curved driveway to get to this idyllic slice of North Delta; if and when the South Fraser highway is built, it's unclear how they'll access the property.
"We'll need a helicopter pad," Wawryk said with a laugh.
At her invitation, Gateway officials assessed the house and property in person and, as a result, some kind of reconfigured driveway will be built, at Gateway's expense.
"They've reconsidered," Wawryk said. "At first they said no because of the two ravines, and they weren't really thinking about an alternative road, an access road. We've seen some preliminary sketches (but) whether they're just humouring us or really considering it, I'm not sure."
Such decisions are crucial for Wawryk and her family, who moved into the home 17 years ago after scraping together the necessary $300,000 - no easy task at the time for a couple with two young kids. Over the years, they've taken good care of the house and yard, thanks in part to Post's job as a professional painter and his off-hours passion for landscaping.
"It's a magnificent piece of property, well looked after and restored," said Delta Councillor George Hawksworth, who on Monday, as civic representative, awarded Wawryk a heavy iron plaque to be hung at the entrance to the home.
"We have to treasure buildings like this and keep them."
Whatever happens with South Fraser Perimeter Road, Hawksworth said, its impact must be minimized on properties like this.
The timing of the award, given by the Delta Heritage Advisory Commission, suggests a statement move, that in the face of such transportation mega-projects, North Delta's heritage is worth saving.
"Anything that helps, yes," said Hawksworth, "but it's not part of any agenda I'm aware of. But if it works that way, good, fantastic."
Before the highway is built, environmental assessments must be completed and other issues resolved. Residents have been told it's a done deal, that 40 kilometres of four-lane transport-truck traffic from Tsawwassen to North Surrey is inevitable.
Looking back at the timeline of events, Wawryk isn't sure exactly when she first spoke to Gateway project officials about her home and the future of her neighbourhood.
"It's been such a nightmare that you want to forget but can't forget, because it's an ongoing nightmare."
- Delta's Heritage Award of Merit will be presented prior to its next regular council meeting, Monday, February 25 at Kennedy seniors rec centre in North Delta. Friends of Heritage awards will also be given to Ken Atkey and the Kiwanis Club of Tsawwassen-Ladner.
Meanwhile, North Delta is the focus of a new display prepared by the Delta Heritage Advisory Commission and Delta Museum and Archives. It is on view at Sungod rec centre until Sunday and from February 25-29 at Kennedy seniors centre. Artifacts for the next phase of the display, April 12 to June 27 at North Delta rec centre, are welcomed. To get involved, call 604-946-9322, extension 225.
© Surrey Now 2008