Alice Johnson was made a Freewoman of the Township, a unique honour given to only a handful of other local people. The surprise announcement was made at this year’s Douglas Day Pioneer Banquet on Tuesday, Nov. 19. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

VIDEO: Langley senior surprised with special honour at Pioneer Banquet

Annual banquet on Douglas Day honours longtime residents who built the community

The Douglas Day planning committee is really good at keeping secrets. That’s how the members were able to surprise one of their own and a woman who has been a community booster for years.

Alice Johnson was surprised at the annual Douglas Day Pioneer Banquet on Tuesday by being given the Freedom of the Township, a unique honour only bestowed to a handful of other local residents.

“This designation is the highest civic tribute that can be bestowed by the Township of Langley in recognition of an individual’s outstanding community contribution,” said Township Mayor Jack Froese. “It isn’t often that we make someone a Freeman – or Freewoman – of the Municipality, but Alice Johnson is a remarkably dedicated, caring person who has given so much over the decades. She is truly deserving of this honour.”

Even though she is part of the group that plans the pioneer banquet for more than 400 people who attend, she didn’t know about the Township surprise that was planned. To bestow freedom of the municipality, all of council must vote in favour.

“I had no idea,” she said of being named a Freewoman of the Township.

She now lives with her brother in Fort Langley but spent many, many years living in Willoughby near the current site of the Langley Events Centre.

Born in New West, the 86-year-old who overcame colon cancer recently, has been involved in the community for years.

She has served on the Douglas Day Committee for over a decade, and with the Willoughby Community Hall and the Willoughby School Committees since the 1990s. Johnson was instrumental in preserving both heritage buildings, which remain thriving community centres that are still enjoyed today.

More than 25 years ago, she started the Willoughby Women’s Community Institute, to better homes and families in the community and around the world. Johnson has also served with the Township’s Heritage Advisory Committee, Langley Heritage Society, and the Langley Centennial Museum History Group, and been Queen Mother on May Day. She has earned the Township of Langley’s Eric Flowerdew Volunteer Award and was presented with the Rotary Club of Langley Central’s Women of Distinction Award.

[Story continues below video]

Home is where the heart is

The banquet theme this year was homes, with the spotlight on heritage homes that have been preserved by the Langley Heritage Society or the current owners. One of those homes belonged to the ancestors of Alex Dickson.

Dickson has lived in Langley most of his life and is one of the more than 200 people who qualify as pioneers (be at least 70 years of age and lived in Langley at least 60 years).

He came from a family of four kids and worked in the forestry industry for years as a millwright.

He married Lois Schiller (her mother had a cafe in Fort Langley) back in 1962, right after she completed school.

He and his wife had four children, three girls and one boy, and they now have seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

“Our Christmas table is getting smaller every year,” he joked.

He went to school in Fort Langley and high school at Langley Secondary. They’ve lived in various neighbourhoods, starting out their married life in a little house near Porter’s Store in Murrayville.

In his many years in Langley, he’s seen tremendous growth.

“The amount of traffic in Langley is outrageous,” he noted.

“Homes, single dwelling homes… our children can’t afford them. Every time I look around there’s a new apartment going up,” he said.

Homes have special memories for the 78-year-old.

Dickson was born in the 1940s-era family home near the Alex Houston home.

His grandfather was Alex Houston whose property at about 107th Avenue and Allard Crescent is one of the heritage houses spotlighted at the banquet and preserved in the community. The house building around 1912 stands on the site of the original Hudson’s Bay Fort at Derby Reach.

Dickson has fond memories of the house and visits with his grandmother.

“We used to go down there and watch wrestling.… We spent Saturday night watching wrestling,” he chuckled.

But with a proud history came a dark cloud, the denial of First Nations ancestry. Dickson’s great grandmother was First Nations.

“My parents didn’t believe that we should be connected with them,” he said, because of negative views of First Nations in generations past. “…It [being First Nations] was kind of frowned upon in the neighbourhood. But that’s changed now.”

It wasn’t until he was in his eighties that Dickson opened his life of to that side of his heritage.

“I’m a native son, and I’m an elder with the Kwantlen,” he said. “We just joined the Kwantlen family about five or six years ago.”

Pioneers celebrated at the 2019 Douglas Day event were:

Charlie and Lorraine Allen

Benny and Penny Anderlini

Albert and Dorothy Anderson

Gezina Anderson

Muriel Anderson

Harvey and Dianne Antonsen

Carol Armstrong

Roxy Bakker

Dale and Heather Barclay

June Barichello

David and Lynda Beales

Roger Beaulieu

Elsie Beggs

Duane Benson

Bill Berry

William Betts

Sharon Bird

Sven Bjorknas

John and Sonya Blair

Italo and Jackie Bonetti

Bruce and Karen Brandow

Frank and Chrissie Braun

Marie Breier

Jim and Margaret Brezden

Roy Briscoe

Barrie and Beverley Brown

Jim and DeEtte Bryce

Fred Burgmann

Myrtle “Walli” Burnell

Gary and Sharon Cameron

Norma Carruthers

Allan Cartwright

Wilfred and Jeanette Cartwright

Bill and Hazel Casey

Betty-Lou Chell

Barbara Chiste

Carl and Lynda Christensen

Lenore Christensen

Lucy Christianson

Terrence and Judy Christie

Irma Cockett

Mary Ann Corfe

Barbara Cornies

Fred and Diane Cudlipp

Lorne Dance

Jean Davis

Bette Dawe

Rodney and Ada Deans

George DeGianni

Alfred and Eleanor Deglan

Wilma Denbraber

Daroyl and Evi Dent

Alex and Lois Dickson

Velmai Dirks

Evelyn Dornan

Leland and Wanda Dornian

Helmut and Karyn Dyck

Jim and Margo Dyck

William and Blanche Dyck

Joy Easingwood

Richard and Lois Edwards

Roy English

Judy Evans

Marilyn Farquhar

Dave and Elsa Faulkner

Dorothy Ferguson

Joe and Florence Fifer

Mary Foote

Keith and Janet Foss

Marvin and Brenda Foss

Patricia Frederick

Bernard Froebel

Hilda Frosdorf

Rosemary Genberg

Bruno and Shirley Giacomazzi

Roy Giacomazzi

Jake and Helen Giesbrecht

Jarnail Gill

June Goin

Glen and Marlene Goldsack

Mary Gooden

Victor Gorcak

Ethel Graham

Betty Granholm

Bruce and Nicole Granholm

Alan and Jean Gregson

Bob Griffiths

Wilfred and Barbara Haid

Paul and Joyce Hamilton

Hazel Harrower

Jackie Hauser

Cora Hayward

Verna Hickey

Gordon and Joan Hill

Cornelius and Joan Hoogenboom

Jean Hope

Terry Horne

Dorothy Humberstone

Robert Humphrey

Wayne and Margaret Humphrey

Charlie Iberg

Alice Johnson

Brian Johnson

Eldon and Sandra Johnston

Gary and Trudy Johnston

Gladys Johnston

Rodney and Dorothy Johnston

Carel Jongs

Eugene and Shirley Kaetler

Morris and Dianne Kelder

John Kelly

Alice Kennedy

Wayne and Shirley Kennedy

Dan and Jan Kitsul

John and Joyce Klassen

Pauline Koch

Edward Kosciuk

Helmut and Shirley Kramer

Joseph and Loretta Krentz

Barry and Marilyn Kristoff

Skuntla Lal

Gerald and Anna Larsen

Marj Lee

Gail Leslie

Kay Lindquist

Hazel Lindstrom

John and Donna Linke

Arlene Locke

George Lockerby

Diane Logan

Percy and Kay Lotzer

Stuart and Marnie Loutet

Albert and Elsie Lundin

Gail Lynch

Larry and Arlene Lynch

Linda Lynch

Victor and Sheila MacDonald

Rod MacKenzie

Jean Makela

Wayne and Lynda Markel

Elsie Martin

John Masztalar

Roy and Vicky Matts

Joan Mayo

Ted and Marylee McCallum

Reid and Jenny McDonald

Wayne and Angelika McDougall

Jim McGregor

Robert and Donna McMillan

Tina McMillan

Donna McTaggart

Helen McTaggart

Robert Meek

Genny Milligan

Lucille Minnis

Phillip Miskulin

Margaret Mitcham

Mary Mitchell

Diane Moffat

Doug and June Moore

Beryl Moore

Fay Morelli

Vernon and Merrilyn Morelli

Margaret Mountain

Claud and Darlene Muench

Pat Muench

Dorothy “Dot” Mufford

Ivan Mufford

Roy and Gerrie Mufford

Penny Mullin

Joyce Murchison

Lurene Music

Arne and Barb Mykle

Ellen Mykle

Ken and Diane Mykle

Alieta Nataros

Bonnie Nelson

Dorothy Newcomb

Tom and Laura Newcomb

Monica Newman

Kathleen Nicholas

David and Jane Nicholl

Fred and Christine Nordman

Robert and Melerly Norman

Mary Olafson

Clarence and Edith Olson

George Omelaniec

Sam and Pam Omelaniec

Brenda Ormond

David and Sheila Ormrod

Betty Oswald

Kathleen Palmer

Fred and Maureen Pepin

Walter and Joan Perry

Aage Petersen

Audrey Pihan

Barry and Eileen Pihan

Bill and Arlene Pike

Patrick and Annemarie Plumridge

Robert and Sharon Poole

Winnie Price

Mary Probert

David and Doreen Radtke

Jerry Radtke

Arlen and Marilyn Randen

Molly Reding

Dick Rees

Don and Lorraine Reimer

Harvey Remple

Bertha Renvall

John and Doris Riedweg

John and Leslie Ritchie

Marilyn Rockson

Alberta Romegioli

Jim and Dawn Ryan

Ron and Edna Sawatsky

Wilfried Schnabel and Gertrud Wagner

David Seller

Diana Sendall

Gail Shields

Marjorie Shiell

Eric and Annemarie Sigalet

Mike and Betty Skwarok

Alfie Smaback

Jean Smith

George and Janet Southam

Al and Betty Stark

Wilma Stromsten

Doris Stroyan

Allen and Gwen Sturn

Gerald Tapp

Robert and Joan Tapp

Al and Marilyn Tecklenborg

Bryan and Joyce Trattle

Toots Tucker

Mary Twemlow

Barry and Susan Vaughan

Ernest Vaughan

Harold and Joanne Vaughan

Laverne Vaughan

Brenda Wagner

Peter Walton

Joy Warne

Garry and Linda Warner

Jill Wautier

Sharon Weatherly

Marie Wenman

Wayne and Betty Westby

Ray Wiens

Doreen Willushaw

Grace Wilson

Jim Winter and Nancy Ash

Lilian Witt

Ellen Worrell

Shirley Worrell

Joe Wrazy

Joe and Jeanette Wright

Willie Wright and Diane Hanson

Don Wrightman

Ron Yates

Shirley Yeomans

Martha Zado

Hazel Zaklan

Frank and Leona Zoretic

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More than 400 people gathered for the annual Pioneer Banquet on Nov. 19. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

Kwantlen First Nation representatives provided welcoming and honour songs at the annual Pioneer Banquet which takes place annually on Douglas Day (Nov. 19). (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

Township council voted unanimously to name longtime resident and volunteer Alice Johnson a Freewoman of the Township. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

Re-enactors from the Fort Langley National Historic Site provided some of the entertainment at the Pioneer Banquet. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

Langley pioneers waved B.C. flags when their names were read off. Langley is home to more than 200 people considered pioneers (be at least 70 years of age and lived here at least 60 years). (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

The Pioneer Banquet is a chance for longtime residents to catch up with old friends. Alice Johnson chatted with Sam Omeleniac. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

Alex Dickson shows the home of Alex Houston, his grandfather, whose house is a local heritage home. Dickson was attending the annual Pioneer Banquet to mark Douglas Day. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

The names of those local pioneers who have passed away inthe past year wre announced at the annual banquet honouring longtime local senior citizens. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

The names of those local pioneers who have passed away inthe past year wre announced at the annual banquet honouring longtime local senior citizens. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

The names of those local pioneers who have passed away inthe past year wre announced at the annual banquet honouring longtime local senior citizens. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

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