Car-free Fun on Barnston Island

Take a step back in time and escape city life on Barnston Island

Credit: Teresa Goff

It’s the farmland, fields and wide expanse of car-free roads that make Barnston special

Step back in time to Barnston Island, home to less than 200 residents, where there isn’t a car in sight

The free five-minute ferry across Parsons Channel in the turgid Fraser River is more a passage through time than across water.

Even the ferry is reminiscent of another era. It operates on an as-needed basis and consists of a barge, pulled by a picture-perfect tugboat, that holds up to five cars.

Family Cycling in a Car-free Environment

Aside from one small park, all of Barnston Island is private land. Not a single parking space is available, which makes for a perfect place to cycle since cars are nowhere to be seen (or heard).

The perimeter road is an easy 8 kilometres and flat enough that our six year old rode without complaint. In the three lazy hours we spent on Barnston, we saw just one car but many cyclists; some were visitors like ourselves and others a few of the less than 200 island residents.

The island used to be home to a collection of small dairy farms but now commercial growers of cranberries, a milking operation for Avalon Dairy and an award-winning Herb Farm are some of the agricultural businesses.

At Painted River Farms, you can buy organic beef by ringing a bell next to the gate. For a quarter, you can buy a bit of feed from a reconstituted gum machine to give to a herd of Boer goats who are protected by an electric fence and Cricket, the llama who keeps them safe from coyotes.

Roberts Point, a small park at the northwest tip of the island, is a good place to stop for a picnic and view of the Fraser, but it is the farmland, fields and wide expanse of flat road, free from cars, that make Barnston special.

In fields not far from the road, cows graze on green grasses. A horse bends down to eat, framed by the sea of yellow flowers at its feet and the red wooden barn to its right.

Above, a broad expanse of blue reaches skyward, backed by the snow-capped peaks of mountains. Stands of aspen, Douglas fir and cottonwood encircle meadows of wild roses.

Planes from the Pitt Meadows Airport circle the sky. Log booms bounce against the island’s embankments. Cycling around Barnston Island is like riding a ring around a time that no longer exists.

Riverside industry is easy to ignore but on some parts of the island, barges filled with sawdust marked with the SeaSpan logo are visual cues to the industrial sounds that don’t quite drown out cicadas and song birds.

A Short History of Barnston Island

Barnston Island is part of British Columbia’s Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), a collection of 47,000 square kilometres of land reserved for farming and administered by the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC).

The Katzie First Nation, which derives its name from the Halkomelem word for a type of moss, also call Barnston home. With a little less than 50 full-time residents, the Barnston Island reserve is one of two sites permanently occupied by the Katzie Nation.

In 2004, some of the island’s landowners applied to the ALC to have 85% of land outside of the Reserve removed from the ALR for development. The bid was unsuccessful.

Getting to Barnston Island

Barnston Island is less than 40 minutes from Downtown Vancouver and easy to access by Highway 1, but more than a few wrong turns resulted in us driving through Surrey suburbs before finding the parking lot at the foot of 104 Ave. in Surrey, next to the new Surrey Bend Regional Park.

The easiest route is to follow 176 St. off the highway to 104 Ave. and then turn right and follow the road to its end, right next to Surrey Bend, a new Regional Park that is less than a year old. With 860 acres, Surrey Bend is the largest publicly owned natural area in the city of Surrey and it was created less than a year ago.

With Barnston across the water, and Tynehead Regional Park on the other side of Highway 1, Surrey Bend creates an eco-sphere that protects wildlife habitat while providing trails for urbanites eager to escape concrete and cycle further than the 8 km ring road on Barnston.

Teresa Goff is a freelance writer and broadcaster. As the mother of one very allergic boy and one very energetic boy, she has learned how to make food out of nothing at all while playing lego and doing two art projects at once.