Wedding photographers frustrated by Surrey’s new permit requirement for shoots at popular park

With almost 25 square kilometers of green space, Surrey has long offered picturesque locations for newlyweds to get memorable photos taken.

But engaged couples and wedding photographers worry this is changing as the city brings in permit requirements for two popular spots for photo shoots.

Starting this month, photographers or their clients will be required to apply for a free permit from the city if they want to take photos at Elgin Heritage Park, where the historic Stewart Farm alongside the Nicomekl River is a favorite location for newlyweds.

The permit requirements, which will also be put in place at Glades Woodland Gardens by this fall, is part of a pilot project to protect what the city says are its “irreplaceable assets” by providing a layer of accountability.

In an email to CBC News, the city’s parks and recreation department said it had received “numerous complaints” from the public about wedding groups and commercial photographers. The city did not specify the nature of the complaints.

It says a permit will now be required for anyone who wants to be photographed professionally at Elgin Heritage Park. Permits will be issued within seven days of application, which can either be made by the photographer or their client for a specified date and time, the city said.

But some photographers say the permits are unnecessary and unfair.

A city of Surrey sign is planted in the grass at Elgin Park that says this park is for everyone to enjoy.
The historic Stewart Farm at Elgin Heritage Park has become a favorite photo location for newlyweds. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Paul Reyat, who represents South Asian wedding photographers in the Surrey area, was one of several in the industry who complained to the city about the permit.

He says the move will hurt the wedding industry, which is still recovering from the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It just adds another restriction that we don’t need,” he said.

Reyat says many wedding shoots are booked last minute and rely heavily on the weather, which makes it problematic to book an exact time and date for a permit.

He also said the city’s move is culturally insensitive, as it will affect South Asian photographers and wedding parties the most.

“At least 90 per cent of the photographers here on a weekend are South Asian, and it predominantly affects the Sikh wedding industry,” said Reyat, who added that he urged the city to lift the requirement during a meeting with Surrey’s acting manager of culture Ryan Gallagher.

Nav Dhillon, another wedding photographer from Surrey who used to take photos at Elgin Heritage Park at least once a week, says the city’s implementation of the permits is tone deaf.

The park has the capacity to host several groups at the same time, while most other parks in the city don’t, he added — meaning the permit program will only make other parks busier.

“Not all parks have the capacity to accommodate large groups … not all parks are as nice and versatile,” said Dhillon.

In its statement, the city said it had issued 16 photography permits for Elgin Heritage Park as of last Thursday. CBC News has contacted the City of Surrey for more details about the permit but has yet to hear back.

CBC British Columbia has launched a Surrey bureau to help tell your stories with reporter Kiran Singh. Story ideas and tips can be sent to [email protected].