The recent pre-election announcement that Highway 1 will be widened to six lanes between Langley and Aldergrove only served to remind me how long I have been around here.
I can recall the hoopla and the bands and the crowd that gathered on June 11, 1964 when Premier W.A.C. Bennett and Highways Minister Phil (Sorry for the Inconvenience!) Gaglardi officially opened Highway 401, the ‘new freeway’ through the Fraser Valley.
That stretch was named Highway 1 in 1941, changed to Highway 401 in 1964 as an extension of the Trans-Canada Highway, and was then changed back to Highway 1 in 1973.
The only reasonable explanation I can think of for all those changes is that some sign making company must have had an ‘in’ with the government.
I recall going out there sometimes during construction, and it was certainly a young boys dream come true, every trucker from Kamloops to Vancouver who owned a tandem truck seemed to be hauling stuff out and hauling more stuff in. Trees were falling, graders, bulldozers, Hi-Hoes and steam rollers were everywhere, and a giant swath was cut through the farm fields and forests.
Before it was paved, the hard-packed gravel was a great horse trail or motor bike path and security or police were never an issue.
Once it was paved, and before it was opened to the public, that long smooth stretch of blacktop was pretty tempting.
I recall one evening when an uncle of mine, I won’t reveal his name but his initials were Bob Shields, piled some nephews into his car and we went for a drive. His car was a 1962 Plymouth Fury coupe with a 383 cubic inch engine and dual exhaust. My uncle loved fast cars and the smooth stretch of blacktop called to him like a siren of the sea.
We moved some barricades at the 232 Street exit and headed west to 200 Street.
Those of you who knew Bob can see him with his left arm resting on the open window, his right hand on the wheel and the pedal to the metal. There were no lines and no signs, just open road, and every time he told the story, which was often, he drove farther and faster.
There was very little traffic in those days. After all, it was designed for the traffic that would be there in 50 years. I heard one story about a farmer located along the freeway on Coghlan Road, or 256 Street now.
His property ran alongside the freeway and when he had to drop some trees, his kids would stand on the freeway and tell him when there was no traffic in sight, then he could drop the tree on the road way and pull it off. He may have to wait quite a while to do that today.
I wonder how long this expansion will serve us. Langley Township is the fastest growing community in the region, who knows what 50 years will bring. Maybe the cracked and faded blacktop will be covered by railroad or elevated transit lines and automobiles, a thing of the past.
Maybe 50 years from now some 70-year-old columnist will be reminiscing about sitting for hours between 264 Street and 200 Street, or ice falling from the Port Mann Bridge, way back in 2017. Either way, I’m sure there won’t be any trees left to cut down. At least that’s what McGregor says.