As elements of Willoughby’s history disappear with the rapid urbanization of the area, the area’s past is getting a small but permanent reprieve with the dedication of Ellens Park at 76A Avenue and 211A Street.
The park is named after the pioneering Ellens family, who lived not far away on 208 Street for close to 50 years.
Kathleen (Straw) Ellens came to Willoughby in 1920 with her family when she was six years old. She grew up in the area. The Straw family farm was located south of the freeway, just west of where the current 208 Street overpass crosses Highway 1.
She attended West Langley Elementary and Langley High School. She received a teaching certificate from the Vancouver Normal School and then taught at West Langley Elementary from 1935 to 1937, when she married John Ellens.
John was born in 1905 in Zandvoort in the province of North Holland in the Netherlands. He came to Canada in 1929, initially settling in the Okanagan valley, where he worked at the federal agricultural research station in Summerland. Later that year, he moved to Vancouver.
In 1931, he purchased 6.5 acres on Alexander Road (now 208 Street) in Willoughby. It was located just to the south of the present Willoughby Elementary School.
Initially, he continued to work and live in Vancouver as a landscape designer and gardener. He came to Willoughby on weekends to develop his property into a commercial bulb raising and marketing operation.
In 1935, he moved permanently to Willoughby as his business had developed. He married Kathleen two years later.
Their son Harry was born in 1938 and second son William (Bill) was born in 1942.
The Ellens’ operated their commercial horticulture and landscaping design and maintenance business until the late 1950s. John then accepted a position to develop and maintain the grounds at the new Fort Langley National Historic Site.
He retired from that position in 1969, and lived in Langley until his death in 1990.
Kathleen worked with John in the business after their marriage. She was also quite involved in the community. She worked as a librarian, acted as a returning officer in local, provincial and federal elections, and was active in Willoughbny United Church. The church building has now been moved and restored as part of the Yorkson Creek development on 208 Street.
She passed away in 1976.
Son Harry now lives in Nakusp and Bill lives in Salmon Arm. Harry and his wife Lauretta were in Langley on Feb. 19 to see the new park, which contains mature trees, a picnic area and playground. Meeting them there were Mayor Jack Froese and Willoughby historian Alice Johnson.
The park will eventually connect to a greenway in the area, as more development takes place.