New signage outlining the history of the Langley Substation

A track-side history lesson

Second surviving interurban power station gets interpretive sign to answer visitors' long list of questions about historic building

At its peak, the street cars and interurban trains of the British Columbia Electric Railway (BCER) connected most of the Lower Mainland through five lines that provided passenger service all the way from Vancouver to Chilliwack.

One of the lines ran through Langley.

The system needed electricity — a lot of it — and some was provided by a substation near the tracks at 6835 256 St.

The BCER Langley Substation was built in 1910 to supply 600 volts of direct current to the interurban trains traveling between New Westminster and Chilliwack.

The four-storey Classical Revival building was designed by architect Henry B. Watson.

“It is a unique and imposing structure and many questions have been posed by curious citizens, railway enthusiasts, and tourists who have come across it,” said Township of Langley Heritage Planner Elaine Horricks.

In 1987, it was purchased by Bryant Ross and two other artists for studio space.

Many well-known artists, including painters Norval Morrisseau, Issac Bignel, and Gerry Meeches, and Northwest Coast carvers Gene Brabant and the Hunt Family have worked there.

It is now a gallery, which features contemporary Native wood carvings, paintings, and prints from the Pacific Northwest Coast.

The new owners have also spent a lot of time explaining the substation’s history to hundreds of curious visitors.

Now, there’s a sign to answer some of those questions.

The new Langley substation signage was unveiled by members of Township of Langley Council, the Heritage Advisory Committee, and Ross on Nov. 24.

It was developed by the Township of Langley, Ross, and the Township’s Heritage Advisory Committee.

“As one of the first large buildings built from reinforced concrete in Langley, it is historically important because it was the focal point for travellers coming out from the city to visit this area, and to provide easy access to move produce from Langley to the markets in the city,” Ross said.

The Langley substation is one of only two BCER substations that remain.

The other, the Sumas substation in Abbotsford, has been converted into a private residence.

The interurban system closed down in 1958 after nearly 60 years, largely because of the growing popularity of transit buses.

Less than 30 years later, the first leg of the new SkyTrain system started running along one of the old interurban lines.

The new system has yet to reach Langley.