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Thirty-seven curves from Langley

October 17, 2014

This is Fry’s Corner about 1931, the site of Clayton Post Office as established in 1889. Here the concrete pavement of the Pacific Highway leaves the northern alignment of the Clover Valley road, winding westward onto the old Yale Road on the run to the Fraser River Bridge.

Pacific Highway - Fry's Corner

It is apparent from the photo that the Yale Road to Langley, which leads off to the right at this curve, was unpaved.

From the report of the district highway engineer for 1930:


"During the month of June the Yale Road from Fry’s Corner to the eastern boundary of the district was treated with dust-oil, with very good results greatly appreciated by the travelling public."


A newspaper report in 1924 noted the exclusive status of the concrete highway.


"The Pacific Highway is wholly in the municipality of Surrey, and gives to Surrey the largest mileage of pavement of any other municipality in the Fraser Valley. It is about 25 miles long. The only other piece of pavement in the Fraser Valley is the short piece of pavement between Langley and Murray’s Corners."


Trans-Provincial Highway concrete paving near Langley 1922Trans-Provincial Highway - Langley BC to Murrayville - under construction 1922The paved section east of Langley City was on the portion of the Yale Road, sometimes called Begbie Crescent, leading up to Murrayville, where concrete was laid in 1922.

The concrete-paved Pacific Highway running from the international boundary to Fry’s Corner, and continuing to Fraser River Bridge, was without peer on the south side of the river for more than 10 years after it was first paved.

After travelling for many miles over rough roads and having bumped up onto the 18-foot wide concrete road, the drive to the bridge, swooping around curves, up hill and down,  must have felt like riding a magic carpet.


Beginning in 1930, perhaps a year before the photo above was taken, the highway east from Fry’s Corner to Langley was being upgraded.

"Approximately 4 miles of this section were reconstructed on new alignment, and of the thirty-seven curves in the old road only four now remain, 4% being the being the maximum curvature. Gradients were reduced from 10 to 5 per cent."



More than a few of those curves would be on the rise up and down Clayton hill. Nevertheless, 37 curves is a lot over the 4  miles to Langley.  To this day, however, the route still bends a bit on both sides of Hall’s Prairie Road (184 St).

John Hardie Sprott, long-time road superintendent for the Fraser Valley, spoke in 1913 of the early days of road-building:


John Hardie Sprott"I must not omit to remark that dynamite and stumping powder were then an unknown quantity, consequently for the removal of roots and stumps, the mattock, crosscut and axe played the most important part; of course, as few of the stumps were grubbed out as could be possibly helped and were mostly close cut and the road graded over them, and wherever large trees happened to stand directly in the line of grade a deflection was invariably made to avoid their removal. This explains why so many of the old roads are so sinuous and crooked in appearance, it being done to lessen the cost of construction and enable the money to go so much further."


The concrete-paved Pacific Highway was itself not without problems.  The section south of Cloverdale, built by Palmer Brothers, was upset during heavy frost. Crews from the Washington State Highways Department, experienced in this remedial work,  brought in equipment, drilled holes in the pavement and pumped in concrete to level the slabs.  They did this free of charge to their provincial colleagues.

1919 Vancouver Island Highway  - screening - tamping - spading concrete1919 Vancouver Island Highway - curing concretePalmer Brothers built the first section of concrete highway in British Columbia, on Vancouver Island in 1919, from Craigflower to Parson’s Bridge.

Exposed concrete sections of the Pacific Highway disappeared during the 1970s and 80s.

Short sections remained in use at Vic’s Grocery – top of the hill near Coast Meridian Road –, and on the parallel to the King George Highway leading to the  old Fraser River Bridge (as shown below, now paved over.)

Pacific Highway to Bridge Road   Pacific Highway to New Westminster bridge

A portion of the old pavement on Peterson Hill, preserved by benign neglect, may yet become a park thanks to the efforts of heritage advocate Jim Foulkes. 

The Pacific Highway was renowned internationally for decades and indeed, as much as farmers admired their produce and shopkeepers their display windows,  for most of its early history if this district had an identity at all beyond its borders, it was that of its famous highways and the features thereof.

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