Sounds like an epic film, eh? Not quite. But it’s waaay cooler.

POSTED BY PINKY

According to local mythology, there was once a handsome sea god who fell in love with a beautiful mortal from the Cowichan tribe. The maiden herself the daughter of a chief, both families were against the marriage. So the chief hurled a white boulder and told them they could settle wherever it landed.

And that’s how the Semiahmoo (Half Moon) tribe was born, named after the bay. And the sea god, his mortal maiden, and their new tribe all lived happily ever after.

Okay, I just added that “happily ever after” bit because unfortunately, the truth isn’t really all that romantic. The rock is actually a glacial erratic carried here from the Coast Mountains after the last ice age. I know, bummer for the romantics, right? But I think it still sounds pretty cool.

Another blow, if you can call it that, comes from the reason for its colour. Years of graffiti had robbed the rock of its original white colour, so the City of White Rock was forced to lime it white.

But what’s great is how this huge 486-ton chunk of white glacial deposit attracts thousands of visitors every year.

Having gone there with my sister and brother-in-law (I’m really lucky to have such great in-laws) on a drizzly autumn afternoon somehow left me with a wistful feeling I get when I sense a connection with a place. Maybe it was just the weather. Regardless, it was nice to see White Rock as the residents see it before we visitors come.

My son has been here on a warm summer day and I think I prefer my autumn visit over competing with the rest of humanity for precious square-footage. But that’s just me and my preference for cooler temperatures.

Nowadays, people gravitate mainly to the promenade and pier; however, there’s more to this charming bayside town than meets the eye.

Another Railroad Town!

I had recently posted another story explaining my fascination for railroad towns. But White Rock felt different. It reminded me more of Sausalito or the San Francisco Bay area. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s set against a bay rather than a river. Or maybe it’s the northern west coast weather that they share, as it also felt a bit like being in pretty Carmel-by-the-Sea along California’s Monterey Bay.

Walking towards the pier, we reached what used to be the railway station. Built in 1912 by the Great Northern Railway, it was larger and busier than most small-town stations because aside from having been used as offices for the Customs and Immigration staff, it also housed a baggage room, a waiting area, a ticket office, and interestingly enough, a “lock up” or small prison complete with barred windows.

However, passenger train service to White Rock eventually stopped in 1971. The building was then donated to the City of White Rock and today houses a small museum that highlights the area’s natural, First Nations (native Americans) and settlement histories. It also includes the original ticket office, rotating exhibits, and a gift shop.

Bronze statue of The Passenger in front of the old train station

And Another Steamship Town!

Thinking that White Rock might become a major seaport due to the real estate boom at the time, the original pier was opened in 1914 as a dock for coastal steamships. Day-trippers brought in by the ships would come to picnic and swim, an interesting account being how one captain required his ship’s orchestra to routinely play “Aloha Oe” each time they leave the bay. You can almost hear it playing in the distance.

From the 1920s until the 1970s, buildings along the shore included the Royal Canadian Legion dance hall (it burned down in 1935), the questionable Panda Club that was built in its place, and the restaurant that took over the Club, which also burned down in 1970.

By the 1980s, the pier had deteriorated to such unsafe conditions that the community launched a series of all-out efforts to save the historic pier, which proved to be instrumental in White Rock’s new lease on life as the major attraction that people enjoy today.

Hillside Neighbourhood 

Take a quiet stroll through this historic town. There’s ample parking along the waterfront’s main road, Marine Drive. Leave your car there and climb the stairs up the hillside to explore some of White Rock’s earliest neighborhoods.

View of the town from the pier

Off Marine Drive, for instance, is tiny Elm Street, one of the few streets that’s remained very much as it was 100 years ago. 

For Next Time

So close to my sister’s place, I would love to return on my next visit. Perhaps on a sunny day, run a few laps of the 2.5-kilometre promenade along the waterfront. Swim or picnic along the beach. Sneak in some retail therapy at White Rock’s many charming shops or luxuriate in a bit of pampering at a day spa. Then end the day with a taste of the region’s local wines in a tapas bar, take a long, leisurely meal in one of the town’s restaurants, and stay the night in one of its charming B&Bs.

Now this may sound far from the exciting epic that White Rock, B.C.’s name might suggest, but it certainly has the makings of my idea of an epic chill.

For the latest info on White Rock’s restaurants, B&Bs, and attractions, you can check out http://www.inwhiterock.com


White Rock, British Columbia is just an hour’s drive southeast from central Vancouver and 2 hours from Seattle, Washington.

Main Photo: The 470-metre stretch of White Rock’s pier