Walking the walk

Dorothy Humberstone has been participating in the Langley Walk since she was 15 years old. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the walk. - Miranda GATHERCOLE/Langley Times
Dorothy Humberstone has been participating in the Langley Walk since she was 15 years old. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the walk.
— image credit: Miranda GATHERCOLE/Langley Times

A bad sunburn and a pair of blistered and swollen feet are what Dorothy Humberstone remembers most from the first year of the Langley Walk in 1963. The 22-mile trek from Aldergrove, through Glen Valley to Fort Langley and back to downtown Langley, took the 15-year-old Humberstone and her family nearly eight hours to complete.

Though the walk has now shrunk in size to only seven km (equivalent to about 17 laps at the McLeod Athletic Park track), 50 years later it continues to enrich the lives of thousands of Langley residents.

The idea to host a walk for families to encourage exercise and healthy living was extremely innovative in its day. Created by Pete Swensson, the parks and recreation Director of the Township of Langley at the time, the walk was the first of its kind in North America, and predates the charity marathons that are popular today.

Even though there was no fundraising efforts attached to the event, the popularity in the early years came from the challenges put out to the schools and civic groups. As a result groups of school kids would band together to walk the course. In some cases, young lovers would take the opportunity to walk hand in hand on a spring day with their transistor radios pumping out the latest Beatles tunes to keep them going.

Humberstone has many fond memories from the more than 40 walks she has completed over the years. She boasts a sash of 32 Langley Walk badges, with the oldest from 1967. Unfortunately, some of her badges have been lost over the years along with the certificates that were given out at earlier walks before badges were offered.

In the very first year, some girls showed up in nylons and high heels, clearly not realizing the distance of the walk, Humberstone recalled with a laugh. Their shoes were quickly removed and they did the majority of the walk in bare feet.

"At the water stations, they also had Band-Aids available for the blisters we all got on our feet," she said. "But despite all of the pain and torture it was still fun."

The Humberstone family has always made the Langley Walk into a large event, and each year they try to win in the category for most participants from a family. They have taken the title the last five out of six years, and have won many times in previous years. This year Humberstone has invited 35 of her family members to participate.

"In the early years we would gather with my mom and family members of all ages, sometimes three generations, and have a lot of fun walking together. Everyone would carry their own water and lunches to eat along the way. We always tried to win the trophy for the largest family. We did win many times over the years with (the) Foss/Humberstone family name," she wrote in a letter recounting her memories from the Langley Walk.

"Every year I call my kids and grandchildren and tell them they have to come on the Langley Walk with me because it is tradition. I kind of insist. We laugh about it. My daughter says to her friends, 'I am over 40 now and my mother still tells me that I have to do the Langley Walk with her,'" she wrote.

This year the 50th Langley Walk is being held on Sunday, May 6. It will follow a circle route from McLeod Athletic Park to the Derek Doubleday Arboretum and through Nicomekl Park back to McLeod Park. Pete Swensson's son and daughter-in-law will be coming from Alberta for the opening ceremony to commemorate the milestone anniversary of their father's vision. Entertainment, child day events, free food and refreshments will also be set up at McLeod Park.

"Forty-six per cent of Langley residents follow a sedentary or inactive lifestyle.  We’re hoping that people who come out for this walk will realize that Langley has a lot of scenic landscape and a lot of trails to enjoy and that they will use the Langley Walk as the start day of a walking program that will continue for the rest of the year," Kari Medos and Kirsten Charlesworth said in a presentation to Township council earlier in April.

"For children, it’s essential for healthy growth and development and for adults it gives extra energy and makes your daily tasks easier to accomplish.  It reduces stress, strengthens the heart and lungs, increases energy levels and decreases the risk of chronic disease.  Walking is one of the easiest ways to get exercise to stay healthy.  It’s inexpensive, versatile, and good for everyone and can be done, anywhere, any time, every day."

The Langley Walk organizers are hoping to attract at least 2,012 participants this year, all of whom will receive a commemorative badge. The first 2,000 people to sign in on the day of the walk will receive a free pedometer.

This year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the walk, organizers have also increased the number of prizes for the event:

* The top elementary/middle school will win $500 for the purchase of equipment

* The top secondary school will win $500 for equipment;

* The top  organization will win a night out at the Langley Events Centre, that will includes game admission to a suite and dinner;

* The family with the highest number of walkers will receive family admission to the Great Escape Indoor Playground;

* The most creatively dressed walker will receive a gift certificate for dinner and a movie;

* The oldest walker will be awarded a gift certificate for a new pair of walking/running shoes, and

* There will also be a special prize for the 2,012th walker to cross the finish line.

All walkers are eligible to enter the draw to win the grand prize of an iPad and signed Canucks jersey, which will be donated to the charity or organization of the winner's choice.

Walk enthusiast Debbie McGregor is putting out a challenge to all Langley residents to show up for the walk this year. Her father, Stan Van Meer, was a huge fan of the walk, and participated every single year since he started in 1976. He passed away last spring, just three weeks after completing his final Langley Walk.

"He was in a wheelchair, he really was not well. But he had such a smile on his face. It was just really cool that he made it to the last Langley Walk," McGregor said.

She, too, remembers how long the earlier walks used to be. One year, when walking with her grandmother and her young nephew, they accidently took a wrong turn and walked double the distance they intended to.

"They used to have two walks, a shorter version that was around six miles and the longer route that was 14 or 15 miles. And the one year when we went with my grandma, we screwed up and took a wrong turn," she recalled. "We wanted to do the short route because we were with grandma and my young nephew. But we messed up and we ended up on the long walk. You didn't want to take a wrong turn, we only did that once."

Like the Humberstones, the McGregors have always turned the event into a huge family gathering.

"It's a big family event for us and we always do a luncheon after," McGregor said. "I really like that it's a community event, it's a blessing to be able to walk, and for us it's really a fun family time. It's nice to be able to just get out and walk."

You can register for the Langley Walk online at, at any Township or City recreation centre or at the event at noon on Sunday, May 6 at McLeod Athletic Park, 56 Avenue and 216 Street. Dogs are welcome on the walk route, but are not allowed in the McLeod Athletic Park registration and festival area. There will be a "barking lot" set up outside the park for them to stay in. The walk starts at 1:30 p.m.












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