Editor: Langleyites love Fort Langley. For a while, I’ve wondered about how much of this is to do with the buildings looking old.
I don’t know for sure but I would say that it is actually all to do with it being quiet, with some nice shops and places for coffee, a sense of community, trees, river, and best of all, it is an area that you can stroll around and enjoy – try doing that along the Langley Bypass.
Whether the fake old buildings contribute to it or not, the Township enshrines and perpetuates them with its Fort Langley building facade design guidelines policy, and that is deeply concerning.
The policy gives a selection of materials and building features — basically a sticker kit — that must be applied to the face of any new building to make it “look heritage.” You can’t build unless you use the stickers. The end goal: complement history by imitating it. However, there are several things wrong with this idea.
Alarm bells start going off when this guide completely dismisses Indigenous traditions and the fort itself without so much as a mention. People have been here thousands of years, but it is determined to recognize just a few select decades, around 1895-1935, and shush the rest. Next, it turns every new building into a blatant lie. We reduce our past to a look, and then we plop copies of it all around ourselves.
Doing that once is already superficial, and it demands we fill our town with them? Think of what this is actually doing — in admiration of our landmarks, we’re concealing them under a sea of fakes. If you try show off the Mona Lisa by surrounding it with posters of the same, don’t be surprised when no one is impressed by the original. I wonder what Fort Langley’s actual historic buildings would be like if they had been forced to fake a different era. What would the Pantheon be if the Romans faked Greek? The whole notion is ludicrous.
Let’s just be honest about it — what we’re doing in Fort Langley these days is prioritizing a derived face mask above any other expression, no matter how relevant or beautiful. It’s permanent Halloween for buildings — cute in theory, but not doing the originals justice, and preventing beauty from growing with time.
It seems like we’re in denial, or perhaps quietly arrogant. Previous centuries are history but surely we realize that time doesn’t stop with us. The guide implies that history will only ever be the things that came before us and we are the pinnacle, the end, the decisive period in time, enduring forever. No, we’ll be history, too, and our footprint is as important as the ones before us. It would be nice if ours was a little more profound than “fake it ‘til you make it worse.”
All that said, the guide isn’t all bad. For our handful of heritage structures it emphasizes the value of authenticity: “Historic buildings should be renovated and restored in a manner appropriate to their individual period and style. Building details should be appropriate with the date the building was constructed.” And it describes how this might be done. But if historical things should be authentic, why aren’t contemporary things permitted to be?
I’m not campaigning for a “modern” architecture as a new style, just this: if Fort Langley is to grow old with grace we need to unshackle ourselves from this ridiculous sticker book.
Based on the facade guide’s preoccupation with a certain marketing image it fawns over, my hunch is that the closet reason for its continued existence is not to respect history at all. Anyone visiting Fort Langley can see it obviously fails in that regard. Where the policy does excel is in creating a live-in cliché for a few businesses to inhabit. If that is the intent, then Fort Langley be damned — welcome to Disneyland.