• Michael Pratt

How To Save a Landmark

Below is the text of the speech that was presented to Langley Township Council on behalf of the Alder Grove Heritage Society. I joined Michelle Bridges to deliver the speech, and together with the help of the Society, we were able to start the conversation around the preservation of one of Aldergrove's last meaningful structures.

Michelle: We are here this evening to present the case for saving Aldergrove’s much loved old Firehall, now known as the Milsean Shoppe. The firehall has been a focal point and gathering place for Aldergrove citizens for the past 60 years. To lose an established community anchor such as the firehall would be a significant loss to Aldergrove’s downtown core - both in terms of its historical connections as well as its symbolism of community pride.

Michael: The Township of Langley is a community of communities. Our unique local identities, under Langley Township’s big umbrella, make this a great place to call home. As such, we must strive to do everything possible to ensure that each community is whole and has unique spaces that are draws for people both inside and outside of Langley.

In the Township’s own Heritage Strategy, it states that “conserving and celebrating a community’s heritage allows a community to retain and convey a sense of its history and provides aesthetic enrichment as well as educational opportunities.” According to Heritage BC’s definitions, structures built in the 1950s and 1960s need to now begin to be recognized for their significant value to our communities. The old Fire Hall in Aldergrove, established in 1959, is a prime example of such a structure. We thank Councillor Richter and Councillor Long for their motions to begin the process of heritage preservation for this building.

We all know how important creating opportunities is to this Council, and here is an opportunity to showcase the best in our community. Afterall, the Aldergrove Fire Hall, most recently known as the Milsean Shoppe, was built by the volunteer fire department. These volunteers were businesspeople, farmers, laborers, and teachers. They included Les Williams, whose shop in Downtown Aldergrove during business hours would either say “Open”, or “Closed, gone to Fire”. The Aldergrove Fire Hall hosted multiple generations of families like the Dams and the Quiring’s; people who epitomized the meaning of public service. Their tradition is kept alive by today’s firefighters, and our community of incredible volunteers. I can think of no better way to commemorate those who have put their own lives on the line to serve all of us than to preserve this structure built by their own hands.

We all know the satisfaction that comes from keeping our dollars in the local economy. In recent years we were able to buy a coffee at Milsean’s or one of their world-famous desserts with pride. Now that this building is back in public hands, our proposal is that Township allow us to preserve this treasured landmark, and to create a unique destination, right in the heart of Aldergrove. This means that dollars spent at site in the future– whatever form it takes – will stay local and be reinvested into this community.

We are aware that the proposed 29th Avenue road expansion would lead to demolition of this building. We are not proposing to save the old Fire Hall for the sake of preventing progress. From its inception, Aldergrove has been a community of people who work together. When Geoff Rowley came from England with his family, he set out to build a small shack on the corner of what is now 271st and Fraser Highway. What did the people of Aldergrove do when they realized that they had a new neighbour in need? They came together and helped the Rowley family build their permanent home, as well as Geoff’s jewelry shop Downtown. These are the kinds of people who built Aldergrove, and this is the spirit of the community we are working to continue. We know that with the passage of time, we might not always have living connections to our past. Commemorative occasions are important, but without a physical connection that comes with a sense of place, how will we ensure that as we look to build a better Langley for the future, that we are able to study and learn from our past? Saving the Aldergrove Fire Hall is a movement to preserve one of the last remaining physical connections to our past in this community, while still recognizing the plans that are in place for the future.

In Section 1.5 of the Aldergrove Core Area Plan, it states that Planning Goal #6 is to “Prioritize pedestrian activity in the core area to create a truly walkable downtown”. The Old Fire Hall is included in the Core Area Plan, and the issue of walkability becomes even more important when we consider the development that is being built immediately south, which will be centered on senior living. The benefits of having a heritage facility next door to these folks cannot be understated, since there will be more opportunities to visit, volunteer, and gather outside of their own building. We believe that a special destination like this could make this area one of the most attractive and exciting cultural cornerstones of Aldergrove.

We are also aware of the Township of Langley’s diverse stewardship agreements for publicly-owned properties, which are designed to maximize community benefit, while minimizing any encumbrance on the Township. Our newly revamped and revitalized Alder Grove Heritage Society’s mandate is to preserve and promote the rich community history of Aldergrove. We are currently stewarding, and operating entirely out of, the small historical Telephone Museum, which we would like to ensure becomes a single-use museum space as it was originally intended. The Fire Hall represents an appropriate space for archival of our existing materials and would allow us to provide public access to thousands of stories and artifacts, the preservation of which represents a significant cultural investment in our community.

There are a number of revenue-generating strategies we would explore for the Fire Hall. Beyond our volunteer-run community archives, we could create rentable public meeting space, and secure a private partnership to operate a small community cafe and gift shop on the main floor, similar to the public partnership of the Le’lem cultural café in Fort Langley. With the aforementioned seniors’ facility next door, we believe this would provide a unique walkable, inter-generational, mixed-use historical space, bringing together many different groups, volunteers, seniors, students, tourists, as well as a new generation of residents, to frequent and enjoy. Let’s be bold, creative and take the time to envision a publicly-owned, revenue-generating cultural space that will continue to be cherished by residents.

We’re asking that council be visionary on this occasion, and to clearly demonstrate that the People in our communities, and the Places which they hold dear, matter most of all. So, let’s do this together.

Thank you.

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