Editor: Jim Purdon used to work as one of the interpreters at the Fort Langley National Historic Site.
Before Jim retired, he used to come and visit our office in Fort Langley.
“You won’t believe what the Langley Township is up to now,” he would say, in his intense way.
My wife and I would cluster around Jim, prying the offending documents out of his reluctant fingers (Jim always came well-prepared) to try to determine the cause of this latest outrage.
We’d look over the documents carefully, ask a few questions and then, about half the time, we’d have to say to Jim, “Well, Jim, we’ve looked all this over and considered it and we have to tell you that, even though we can see you’re outraged, we agree with what the Township is proposing here.”
Jim would then storm off to vent his outrage on the next person who would listen.
A month or so later, though, Jim would be back with the next outrage.
Ultimately, Jim and his wife Carollyne moved to Qualicum Beach, and Fort Langley was much poorer as a result.
Though Jim was very passionate about any cause he took up, he informed himself first. He actually took the time to talk to people — not just to those who agreed with him — and he expanded his job of stewardship of the Fort Langley National Historic Site to a love of the entire village. And even though he was passionate, he didn’t take any rejection personally, knowing that anyone who was committed enough to own a commercial building or run a business in Fort Langley felt that it was a good place to be as well.
In our 20 years in Fort Langley, my wife and I have seen many controversies come and go. In no particular order, there were brouhahas over the building of the three-storey Heritage Manor, the beautiful Victorian three-storey offices (next to the cemetery) and the two-storey building on the corner of 96th and Glover (the heart of downtown Fort Langley) — which apparently led to the implementation of the Building Facade Design Guidelines and a “heritage conservation area” as an attempt to bolster and revitalize a failing commercial core.
Many other controversies followed: the installation of sewer along Glover, the proposed installation of underground wiring, the fights over the construction of the Belmont golf course, the proposed window plant on the sawmill site, the proposed residential development at Bedford Landing and so on. Anyone who thinks Fort Langley has not been mired in controversy for the last 20 years or 30 years must have been asleep at the switch for most of that time.
Every controversy, however, has had some parallels. The first parallel is that everyone with a strong opinion about any controversy seems to think that the latest proposal will either make or break Fort Langley. Yet all of these are just our opinions — opinions about an unknown, and unknowable, future.
The second parallel is that people take sides and solidify their opinions with outrage. How dare anyone believe something different than what we believe. We use whatever biased thinking we have at our disposal — the other side is distorting facts, they’re too young or old, too innovative or tied to the past, too entrenched or out there, and so on. We expect our own outrage to outrage everyone else and we’re outraged when they’re not equally outraged.
The final parallel is that people take the latest controversy personally, because to deny their opinion is to deny the fact that they may like Fort Langley just as much as we do.
The current controversy, over a building that one side says is too big and the other side says deserves to be three storeys because it provides underground parking, is running the same course as the other controversies. And it will have the same result.
Whatever goes in on that corner will neither make nor break Fort Langley. It’s just another building that we’ll have to absorb into our consciousness and our community — just like all the others that have come and gone or, very occasionally, been preserved. The outrage will, hopefully, fade.
But I still miss Jim.