Neighbourhood History Walk: Civic Plaza – Exploring Memorials in the Civic Plaza Neighbourhood

Self-guided activity

Figure 1. Civic Plaza Neighbourhood Memory: A view looking west
at the Central Fraser Valley Fair from one of the midway rides. The fair site
is Civic Plaza today. September 11, 1968. The Reach P22325.


Edukit Series: Neighbourhood History Walks

There’s literally history in the streets! Abbotsford’s streets, neighbourhoods, and place names are tied to history, linking community geography to the people and events that shaped the city as we know it today. The Neighbourhood History Walks series provides interesting anecdotes and insights that make a stroll through your community a fascinating history lesson!

This Edukit: Exploring Memorials in the Civic Plaza Neighbourhood

In this edukit, discover the history around the area in Abbotsford known as Civic Plaza. This lesson focuses on memorials in the neighbourhood that were created and named by settlers to the area.

This lesson plan combines place-based learning methods with content from The Reach Gallery Museum archive and permanent museum exhibition Voices of the Valley. Participants are encouraged to expand their walking tour learning experience by creating a memorial based on community members whose service has not yet been commemorated by a monument in Civic Plaza.

This Edukit uses Historical Thinking Concepts to encourage participants to use primary resources and to develop historical literacy.

While this activity is designed to appeal to the whole family, it fulfils Curricular Competencies for high school students grade 9 – 12. 

PLEASE NOTE: For this activity, we recommend partnering an adult with a student from the same household that is already practicing social distancing together. When the City of Abbotsford Parks are open, members of the public are encouraged to follow current health advisories including physical distancing. For a full list of public health practices and other resources please visit the Public Health Website.


This activity was designed with Placed-Based Learning in mind and also fulfills Curricular Competencies in BC’s New Curriculum for the following subjects and classes:

  • Social Studies: Social Studies 9, 10; Explorations in Social Studies 11; 20th Century World History 12, Social Justice 12.

To see relevant connections between this activity and BC’s New Curriculum, see downloadable PDF “Placed-Based Learning and Curricular Competencies Related to Neighbourhood History Walk: Civic Plaza.”



Through this activity participants will:

  • Discover how memorials teach us about the history of a place, the values of a community, and some of the people who served it.
  • Identify memorial sites in the Civic Plaza neighbourhood (Abbotsford Cenotaph, Air Wing Memorial, Unity Statue, and The Golden Tree) in order to understand their past and present significance to Abbotsford.
  • Connect with local history by enjoying a walk in the Civic Plaza area to integrate learned knowledge with participants’ lived experience.



  • A PDF-viewing application, such as Adobe Acrobat, installed on your computer
  • A printed copy of “Self-guided tour for the edukit Neighbourhood History Walk: Civic Plaza” or a downloaded copy onto your phone (for easy access while walking)
  • A map app, such as Google Maps, downloaded onto your phone (optional)




The Reach Gallery Museum acknowledges that the City of Abbotsford is located on S’olh Temexw. [pronounced: suh-oll TUMM ook]

S’olh Temexw is the unceded, ancestral shared territory of the Semá:th First Nation and Mathekwi First Nation. These two First Nations are part of the Stό:lō Nation, the People of the River. The Stό:lō people have occupied this territory for more than 10,000 years. We acknowledge their sovereignty in the territory now also known as the Fraser Valley.

For more information, check out:



Memorial | Civic plaza | Veteran | Thunderbird | Memory, commemoration and remembrance

Figure 2. View of museum exhibition Voices of the Valley.


Voices of the Valley is the permanent museum exhibition at The Reach Gallery Museum that illustrates aspects of Abbotsford’s history through the use of primary source materials to reflect interconnected themes that have impacted community development. The exhibition uses primary source documents to present information about the people, events, opinions, and viewpoints that have shaped our present-day community. It reflects broad themes that have significantly impacted our community since the time of settler colonization. Interconnected themes include: First Nations, Survey and Settlement, Forestry, Brickmaking, Sumas Lake Drainage, Agriculture, Transportation and Economy. These narratives are presented through objects, photographs and oral histories that remind us that multiple factors have influenced growth and change in our community today. This activity expands primarily on the Survey and Settlement section of the exhibition.


Civic Plaza is an important site for settlers to the region in recent history. Learning about the history of the plaza itself and its memorials teach us important lessons about how Abbotsford has grown and changed.

From the 1940s to the early 1970s, the area known as Civic Plaza was the site of a community fairground and was located about two miles outside of the centre of the Village of Abbotsford (today we call this the “Historic Downtown Abbotsford”). As Abbotsford grew in size, its centre moved westward (The Village of Abbotsford joined with the District of Sumas in 1972 to become the District of Abbotsford. In 1995, the District of Abbotsford amalgamated with the District of Matsqui to become the City of Abbotsford). Civic Plaza was constructed in its present location in the Clearbrook neighbourhood (named for its proximity to Clearbrook Road).


Civic Plaza Today

The word civic is used to describe something related to the administration (or governing) of a city or town. The word plaza refers to an open-air gathering place. So, the name of Abbotsford’s Civic Plaza makes sense as it is an open-air area near important administration buildings like City Hall and the Abbotsford Courthouse. Abbotsford’s Civic Plaza also includes the Abbotsford Police Department, Abbotsford Fire Department, Fraser Valley Regional Library’s Clearbrook Branch, University of the Fraser Valley’s Clearbrook Centre, Matsqui Centennial Auditorium, and The Reach Gallery Museum.


Veterans Way

A veteran is a person who has served in the military. The street named Veterans Way is located off of Trethewey Street and is also an entrance to Civic Plaza. In this walking tour, we will discover the number of monuments that commemorate veterans and other important individuals who have served Abbotsford over the years, and those erected in remembrance of incidents that are important to community history.

Figure 3. View of Thunderbird Memorial Square, looking north toward Air Wing Memorial.

Figure 4. City of Abbotsford crest.

Thunderbird Memorial Square

At the centre of Civic Plaza is Thunderbird Memorial Square, named for the image of a thunderbird that is pictured at the centre of the square using varying shades of red brick.

A Thunderbird is a legendary creature in the history and culture of some Indigenous nations in North America. It is considered a supernatural being of power and strength and was chosen as the City of Abbotsford’s crest when the Districts of Abbotsford and Matsqui amalgamated in 1995.

The Thunderbird is taken from the crest of the District of Matsqui and commemorates the unique culture and contribution made by the First Nations from the area.

Semá:th First Nation Chief Dalton Silver explains that Thunderbird is a powerful being who is associated with the Semá:th and Stό:lō burial ground at Lightning Rock (located in present-day Abbotsford). “According to oral history, an overconfident shaman came into conflict with the powerful creature Thunderbird, who turned him to rock and split him in four pieces.” The importance of Thunderbird to local First Nation people and its connection to memory and remembrance makes it a meaningful centrepiece for Civic Plaza.



Before the walk (10 min)

Download the PDF “Self-guided tour for the edukit Neighbourhood History Walk: Civic Plaza.” Print out a copy for yourself or view the walking tour from the PDF on your phone. We suggest reading it before starting your walk.


On the walk (approximately 30 min)

Visit Abbotsford Civic Plaza while practicing social distancing from others. Adults and students taking part in this activity together should be in the same household or group that is social distancing together. If you are driving to Civic Plaza for this walk, we suggest parking in the free parking lot at 32388 Veterans Way behind The Reach Gallery Museum. The tour begins on the south side of Thunderbird Memorial Square and ends in the International Friendship Garden. There are four stops along this historical walking tour: 1) Abbotsford Cenotaph, 2) Air Wing Memorial, 3) Unity Statue, and 4) The Golden Tree.


If you aren’t able to visit Civic Plaza to participate in a self-guided walking tour right now, use Google Maps to discover the locations. View Civic Plaza virtually as a way of preparing for when you can actually visit in-person. Click on this link to view Thunderbird Memorial Square, at the centre of Civic Plaza.



  1. Think about your family or friends in Abbotsford. Are you connected to the people currently memorialized in Civic Plaza in some way?
  2. Imagine you were visiting Abbotsford for the first time (maybe you are!). Based on the four memorials you visited on this tour of Civic Plaza, what are Abbotsford’s greatest values? Do you think Civic Plaza gives you an accurate picture of Abbotsford? Why or why not?


After your self-guided walk, design a monument or memorial based on someone or a group of people that you think should be remembered. For instance, how will Abbotsford residents remember the service of local essential workers during the Covid-19 pandemic? What is a symbol that represents this particular time?

Challenge yourself to visually communicate the importance of the people you wish to represent. For example, draw an image of your memorial, or sculpt one out of modelling clay or Lego. Share your creation with your social media following and don’t forget to tag #TheReachAtHome!




If you use this free resource with your students at school / at home, we’d love to hear from you! Send an email to Diana Hiebert (Curator of Learning and Community Engagement at The Reach) at, with your comments including the number and age range of participants. This statistical information is important to us as a not-for-profit organization and will allow us to continue offering this kind of content.