Situated in the heart of the picturesque Fraser Valley on the flatlands between the Coast and Cascade mountain ranges lies the City of Abbotsford, British Columbia – known locally as the City in the Country. This bustling community is teeming with life, opportunity, and acts as the regional hub for many neighbouring Fraser Valley communities.
Just 63 km east of Vancouver connected by Highway 1, and only 5 km from the US border, Abbotsford is a unique combination of rural charm, urban poise, and cherished diversity; Abbotsford is not only the largest urban municipality outside of Greater Vancouver in the province, but is also home to the third largest proportion of visible minorities in a metropolitan centre in all of Canada, no doubt a strength that contributes to its designation as Canada’s Most Generous City in terms of charitable donations for the last 9 years running.
The history of Abbotsford begins with the People of the River, the Sto:lo Nation and both the Matsqui and Sumas people, who have occupied the lands encompassing the Fraser Valley for over 9000 years. The site of the City of Abbotsford served as both an excellent location for trade routes and transportation access, but also for its great supply of salmon, edible plants and seabirds. In 1827 after the arrival of European settlers, the Hudson’s Bay Company set up a trading post at Fort Langley to serve in the fur trade. Over the next 35 years, Abbotsford maintained its existence via its fertile soil and its advantageous location on the Fraser.
In 1858, gold was discovered in the Fraser Valley, and thousands of people came from all over the continent to seek their fortunes. In 1858, the British began to survey the land in order to establish a border with the United States. Britain’s Royal Engineers were offered land in order to settle the area, and in 1889 surveyor John Cunningham Maclure received a Crown grant for 160 acres of land. After owning the property for a mere 68 days, he transferred the title to his son, whom in turn sold it to Robert Ward after another 67 days due to incredible flooding.
It would be Ward who would become responsible for the town plot of modern day Abbotsford, following the Canadian Pacific Railway being granted right of way through those original 160 acres and establishing a station there. Ward filed a town subdivision plan on July 9th, 1891, naming the town Abbotsford after his good friend and CPR Western Superintendent, Harry Abbott. The CPR was completed in 1887, and prompted other prominent railways to follow suit, with the Vancouver, Victoria and Eastern Railways joining in 1909, and the Great Northern and the Canadian National Railway joining in 1913 and 1915, respectively.
Abbotsford soon after began earning its reputation as an inclusive and tolerant community. The Abbotsford Lumber Company, the third largest forestry employer in the province of BC employed Sikh, Chinese, Japanese and East Indian workers, encouraging more visible minorities to settle in the area.
In 1971, the village of Abbotsford and the District of Sumas amalgamated becoming the District of Abbotsford. In 1995, the new District would amalgamate again with the District of Matsqui to become the City of Abbotsford, now with a population of 141,397 people.
Topographically and geographically, Abbotsford in unique in that it’s home to the most fertile soil in all of British Columbia. In fact, over 70% of its land is dedicated to the agriculture and farming via produce, poultry and other industries like fertilizer production and even food storage. This is thanks, in part, to the communities’ oceanic climate – with an average annual temperature of 10.4°C and average precipitation of 1,537 inches. The climate of Abbotsford just lacks a minuscule amount of summer precipitation to not be classified as a warm-summer mediterranean climate.
The fertile soil is also thanks to the amount of water and hydration that the mighty Fraser River itself gives to the land – but that geography of the area hasn’t always contributed so positively to the area’s prosperity. Early settlers had to contend with the annual flooding of both the Fraser River and Sumas Lake. The leftover still-water would breed millions of mosquitoes, eventually getting so bad that livestock would die from blood loss and young children had to be kept inside. Schools were even closed for 6 weeks, meaning that outdoor manual labour was virtually impossible.
In 1878, the Sumas Dyking Act was passed as a way of dealing with the flooding problem, and in 1890, the Chilliwack River changed its course emptying into Sumas Lake, rather than the Fraser. The infamous Sinclair Plan, a reclamation attempt by the citizens of the area, began to pump the water from the lake in 1923, taking over a year to drain the lakebed. This plain would soon serve as an attractive and fertile crescent for settlers growing produce, crops, tobacco, and helped in growing the dairy industry.
Parks & Recreation
Honing its foothold as a major rural/urban hub, you’re never too far away from a park, trail or an opportunity to explore the great outdoors in Abbotsford. The City maintains 70 playgrounds in its 181 designated parkland locations. Park amenities include 4 off-leash dog parks, 34 baseball diamonds, 32 sports fields, two synthetic turf fields, 21 tennis courts, and two sand volleyball courts, amongst other spaces.
Abbotsford also features a 25,000 square foot skateboard and bike park in a streetscape style, as well as a second 4,000 square foot hybrid facility. Abbotsford is also home to a state-of-the-art sports facility known as Rotary Stadium, a 4000 grandstand seating capacity multi-purpose venue. Exhibition Park also boasts a BMX track, and multi-use buildings for residents and guests to enjoy encompassing over 60,000 square feet (including the Ag Rec Building, Show Barn, and Agrifair Arena).
Should hiking, biking, geocaching, horseback riding, or all-round exploring be your thing, Abbotsford includes over 100 kilometers of trails that all play a huge role in supporting the City’s dedication to active and healthy community. The Discovery Trail system connects the east and west sides of the community passing through areas of thick forest, marsh, lakes, and meadows, while Albert Dyck Memorial Park features a man-made lake perfect for wakeboarding and water-skiing – it’s also used in many national and provincial tournaments – and a 1.7km gravel trail. The Dyke Trail system is located in Sumas Prairie passing through the agricultural lands of Abbotsford, with 4 individual tracts of multi-level trails. The Sumas River Dyke Trail measures 8.10km, while the Arnold Dyke Trail comes in at 7.36km. Meanwhile, Bateman Park is renowned for its viewing opportunities of spawning salmon, birds of prey, and a designated off-leash dog section.
Arts & Culture
Such a close knit community is no slouch when it comes to expressing itself. Abbotsford is well known for its vibrant artistic and cultural community, in part due to its abundance of minority groups and cultural richness. Abbotsford features historic sites documenting its First Nations founders, early immigrant pioneers, the Gur Sikh temple – the oldest Gurdwara in North America – as well as Clayburn Village, a heritage conservation area that dates back to the early days of the Village of Abbotsford’s inception.
Performance Arts and theatre can be experienced at one of the City’s four cultural institutions. The Abbotsford Centre, a 7000 capacity hockey arena, can also house concerts and cultural events up to 8,500 people. The Matsqui Centennial Auditorium is a 386-seat theatre-style venue that’s perfect for more intimate events. It’s 30×36 stage and state-of-the-art lighting and tech make it a local gem for performing arts. The University of the Fraser Valley theatre department hosts many community events. The Abbotsford Arts Centre is a 700-seat facility that houses full concerts, theatre productions and speaking events; and the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association is known to host and promote many cultural and community events like the popular Art & Wine Walk and Jam In Jubilee series.
The area is also home to many arts-based groups like the Abbotsford Arts Council who host and cross-promote a slew of great festivals. Local favourites include Berryfest, BC Hopfest, and AbbyFest – which celebrates the diversity of the area.
Education & Economy
The City is home to 46 public schools, all presided over by the Abbotsford School District. Uniquely, the City is also home to a virtual school, the Abbotsford Virtual School, that offers more than 30 semesters online courses. It specializes in animation and modelling geared towards the video game production industry.
There are four private schools in the area – St. John Brebeuf Regional Secondary, Mennonite Educational Institute, Abbotsford Christian School and the Dasmesh Punjabi School, as well as 8 post-secondary institutions, including the University of the Fraser Valley, religious institutions like Columbia Bible College and Summit Pacific College, Career Gate Community College, Sprott Shaw College, Vancouver Career College, Métis Skills and Employment Centre, and CDI College.
Abbotsford is known as one of the fastest growing rural communities in Canada, and benefits economically from its fertile geography and vibrant urban community. Over 70% of all land in Abbotsford is dedicated to agriculture in some way, helping the local economy achieve a 62% rate of residents who work in the city itself. Only 38% commute elsewhere for work, while the new $55 million health care centre, the Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre is the region’s largest employer, with about 2,500 employees. Prisons are also a large employer in the area, as Abbotsford is home to three federal prisons which each staff 200-500 officers and support staff workers.
Transportation & Healthcare
Abbotsford is home to the Abbotsford International Airport, where major airlines schedule regular flights thanks to the close proximity of the City to Vancouver. Public transportation is provided by the Central Fraser Valley Transit System and all passenger rail service direct to Vancouver runs from neighbouring Mission, BC via TransLink’s West Coast Express.
Major road access to Abbotsford includes the Trans-Canada Highway, the Abbotsford-Mission Highway and the Fraser Highway. Access to the US is via the Abbotsford-Huntingdon/Sumas border crossing.
The region benefits from the presence of the 2008-built Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre, the first new hospital built in BC on 30 years, and the first in Western Canada to feature a distinct cancer unit as well as to feature LEED Gold designated environmentally friendly standards. The hospital services about 330,000 people and includes services like 24/7 emergency services, surgery, medical imaging, cardiac services, maternity care and a neonatal intensive care unit, pediatrics, and dialysis services.