Howard Surrey was born in 1910 in Calgary, Alberta. He studied at the Winnipeg School of Art under Lemoyne Fitzgerald, while apprenticing at Brigdens Commercial Art Firm.
In 1929 he moved to Vancouver working as a commercial artist at Cleland-Kent Engraving. He also took night classes at the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts, he studied with Frederick Varley and Jock Macdonald.
In 1936 Surrey spent three months at New York's Art Students League, studying under Frank Vincent Dumond. After a year he left New York and settled in Montréal working at the 'Standard' newspaper, while painting during his free time. The Standard later became known as 'Weekend Magazine'.
In 1964, publisher John McConnell offered Surrey the opportunity to paint full-time with a salary, he worked for him for twelve years. He had numerous solo shows and signed an exclusive contract with Galerie Gilles Corbeil.
Surrey was awarded the Centennial Medal in 1967. He held an honorary doctorate form Concordia University, awarded in 1981, he was a member of The Royal Canadian Academy and member of the Order of Canada in 1982.
He died in 1990.