The Many Faces of Langley   Leave a comment

Langley, British Columbia is a bundle of contrasts enough to merit a diagnosis of Multiple Personality Disorder.  With more personalities than Sybil, Langley, bordered on the north by the Fraser River, south by the U.S./Canada border, west by Surrey and east by Abbotsford,  is known as the “Community of Communities”.

There is the Langley of new American-style subdivisions with neatly manicured green lawns absent of mature trees across the street from a farmstead growing berries or selling organically raised beef produced from its own herd of cattle.  One’s chances of living near a small winery or a plant nursery are pretty good here.

There is the Langley of the posh High Point Equestrian Estates, a Yellowstone Club for the horsey set where $599,900 buys a half acre lot – house, horse and club membership not included.  At High Point, you can have your horse and your Wal-Mart too, according to the development’s master plan.  Indeed the horses of High Point luxuriate in better digs than some people living along the roads leading to their stables.  A few dwellings look made up of CPP – carefully placed plastique – best renovated by C4.  (Red Green has just the guy for this job:  Edgar K. B. Montrose.)

A few Langley countryside properties feature landscaping exquisite enough to wager their owners spend more on gardening costs than mortgage payments over the course of a year.  Islands of rural visual lushness oddly co-exist next to properties having the appearance of an old grow show.

There is the Langley of Trinity Western University (Canada’s answer to the Jerry Falwell-founded Liberty University) and the new Canadian headquarters of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family and the Langley of others who would rather bag their heads than think of being associated with either.

Kwantlen Polytechnic University offers choices for publicly funded higher education for those whose majors are offered at its Langley campus.  Students from Langley majoring in horticulture or botany hit the jackpot.

Langley is where one can fire off a few rounds at the local gun club, jump into restored Detroit Iron (top down, of course) for a drive to the defunct 3/8-mile Langley Speedway (now part of Campbell River Regional Park) and pay homage to the thrilling days of yesteryear, followed by a visit to one of several local wineries for a tasting.

The Langley of pastoral countryside collides with the Langley of industry, commerce and transportation, the quiet shattered at prescribed times by the passing of coal trains traveling to and from the Port of Vancouver to the northwest.

Outsiders think of Langley as a single land mass.  They couldn’t be more wrong.

Officially, two Langleys exist.  The City of Langley and the Township of Langley sit side by side in an uneasy truce.  A third Langley, the Village of Fort Langley, is part of the Township as is Aldergrove, another village to the east and candidate for fourth Langley.  Both are largely self-governing.  In an odd role reversal, Langley City (roughly 4 square miles/10 square kilometers, population 25,000) is dwarfed by Langley Township (122 square miles/316 square kilometers, population 104,000) in land area and population.

In reality, several more Langleys exist.  The former village of Murrayville is distinctly different in feel and personality from Walnut Grove/North Langley.  Murrayville’s ‘5 Corners’ village center and community hall remain historic; much of its west side was re-zoned several years ago for multi-residential housing.  Its remaining undeveloped land awaits an uncertain fate as does the nearby former village of Milner.  Walnut Grove in northern Langley is where one finds many American-style subdivisions, new offices and other new commercial and retail buildings and entertainment complexes.

Undeniable quaintness and cuteness defines the Village of Fort Langley, snuggled against the Fraser River, Langley’s northernmost border.  As the oldest and most historic of all the Langleys and the birthplace of British Columbia, it should be.

Fort Langley began as the site of a Hudson Bay Company fort in 1827.  Nearly 30 years later, rumors of gold bought droves of Americans to the Fraser Valley.  To thwart annexation by the United States, James Douglas proclaimed British Columbia a Crown Colony in the fort’s Big House in 1858.   The restored original fort site is now a national historic site administered by Parks Canada.

The village consists of 2,700 residents and numerous small businesses, many located in historic old storefronts painstakingly restored to reflect when Fort Langley served as a support and supply center for the northern reaches of present-day Langley Township.

Before the restoration, the Township wanted to raze those old dilapidated storefronts.  Villagers and newly transplanted artists fought back.  Today visitors can spend a day hoofing around the intimate village, historical map in hand.  When done, they can drive down scenic rural roads along the Fraser to admire multi-million dollar views of the Golden Ears, a nearby mountain peak.

Surrounded by farmland, the Village of Aldergrove was developed mostly in the 1940s and 1950s.  Its claims to fame are the Greater Vancouver Zoo, the Aldergrove Telephone Museum, the Aldergrove Lake Regional Park, quirky second-hand stores, Langley’s only border crossing into the U.S. and rock-bottom prices for gasoline.  Many Lower Mainlanders don’t realize Aldergrove lies within Langley.

South Langley, the location of High Point, occupies roughly the southernmost quarter of the Township between Surrey and Aldergrove.  Nearly all is farmland or parks, with only scattered small neighborhoods.

A single thread unites these mini-Langleys:   all are part of the Township.

Downtown Langley, in the city,  is the commercial, transportation and industrial heart for the entire Langley land mass, with over 600 shops, services and restaurants.

Brookswood, southeast of Downtown, is a neighborhood of single-family homes and a few multifamily complexes built primarily between the 1970s to the present, complete with its own downtown of sorts.  Its feel is somewhere between urban and suburban.

Willoughby, between Walnut Grove and Downtown Langley, is predominantly a community of townhomes and big box stores.  Willowbrook is much the same with the added benefit of the Willowbrook Shopping Centre (which locals insist on calling “Willowbrook Mall”), Langley’s only enclosed shopping mall and closer proximity to Downtown Langley.

Brookswood, Willoughby and Willowbrook are fence-sitters straddlng the two official Langleys.  The border separating Langley City from Langley Township literally runs through one of Willowbrook Mall’s department stores and the Newlands Golf and Country Club.

As confusing as Langley is on paper, it’s even more confusing in map form.  Dual-named main roads abound throughout Langley’s grid system.  Street signs at intersections along Brookswood’s 208th Street indicate that name; enhanced by historical signs posted by Langley City calling it “Berry Road.”  (Nobody calls it ‘Berry Road’.)

Maps clearly defining the borders of these communities within Langley are tough to find, yet it isn’t hard to find on those same maps the names of communities either newly-created or long ago swallowed up by Langley Township or another mini-Langley.  Areas like Milner, Salmon River Uplands, Gloucester, Glen Valley and Fernridge spring to mind.

Driving across Langley feels like Groundhog Day.  The City and Township mark territory in an arms race of signage at every border welcoming motorists.  Their reverse sides thank outgoing drivers for visiting.

Walking down our driveway, we see the North Shore Mountains to the north.  The Golden Ears are visible from a distance from a couple of blocks north.  Everywhere else, I see trees and rooftops.  I’m okay with that.

Former U.S. vice presidential candidate and ex-governor of Alaska Sarah Palin famously said she could see Russia from her house in Wasilla.  She bent the truth by a few miles.  It’s impossible to see Russia from Wasilla.

If I said same about seeing the USA from our house, I would stretch the truth, but only slightly.  Obscured by trees from our house but only five long blocks down the road, I can see Mount Baker – in Washington State.  Baker is beautiful, but I’m not sure I want to see something like that from my front window.  To paraphrase Jimmy Buffet, I don’t know where I’m going to go when that volcano blows.

Langley City thinks of itself as being where the city meets the country.  In my neighborhood, that is certainly true.  A walk to view Mount Baker takes me past an outdoor horse show ring in constant use on weekends.  Countryside is is within a scant mile.  We can drive out to farms to buy food directly from those who grow it or let it come to us in the form of Langley’s weekly farmer’s market.

Paul lived in Langley in the late 1970s.  Willowbrook Mall was a cow pasture.  Most of the area produced berries and other fruits and vegetables.  A lot of streets simply didn’t exist.

Langley is nearly as foreign to him as it is to me.

How Langley became so fractured and where it possibly goes from here is a story for another day.


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