The parallels between 2 old hotels, and the visions for their replacement
Tuesday, May 18, 2021
Good Morning!
I never took any high-level science classes in high school. I wasn't interested. And now I know why: one’s interest in any subject increases the more one knows about it. And while I could have tried to learn why chemistry was fascinating, there was other stuff to do. Now I know: pretty much anything, from televised cycling to reality shows to city wastewater plans, can become interesting with enough basic knowledge. The same goes for the news. We live in an interconnected region, and each neighbouring community becomes more interesting the more you know about it. A Mission story isn’t just a Mission story; a Chilliwack story isn’t just a Chilliwack story. Rather, each tells us something about ourselves and our own communities, wherever we live. Our fates and stories are linked. So are our communities. —Tyler Olsen, managing editor
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The Alder Inn and Empress Hotel evolved in similar ways, and their sites are both eyed as key parts of the rejuvenation of their surrounding areas. 📸 Aldergrove Hotel (later the Alder Inn): Alder Grove Heritage Society / Empress: British Columbia Postcards Collection
Two old hotels fall as cities seek to turn ruin into rebirth

Demolished, but not forgotten, the Alder Inn is continuing to cause consternation in Langley Township’s council chambers. As it does so, there are echoes of another historic hotel demolished a decade ago in a downtown 45 kilometres away.

Chilliwack’s Empress Hotel opened to the public in 1908. Not unlike the Aldergrove Hotel—which opened in 1949 and would eventually be renamed the Alder Inn—the Empress quickly became a hub for the community and visitors alike, hosting myriad dances and events in its halls.

In 1964, a cocktail lounge was added to the Empress Hotel. According to one account—on the website of another historic Chilliwack hotel—this was the start of the hotel’s decline in which it would eventually lose "its lustre" and fall into disrepair. The Alder Inn, too, saw a cocktail lounge added in 1966, although the Alder Grove Heritage Society’s history of the hotel doesn’t go into detail about what happened after.

In July 2010, the City of Chilliwack purchased the Empress Hotel for $1.3 million. Three months later it was demolished in what Chilliwack Progress editor Greg Knill called an "aggressive tack" from council to redevelop downtown Chilliwack. The city purchased neighbouring properties and consolidated the land, with a goal of developing it "when market conditions were right."

That vision is now nearing completion, with the help of the Algra Brothers. The site of the Empress Hotel is now the Empress Apartments, a series of "boutique rental suites" in Chilliwack’s redeveloped downtown and currently accepting lease applications. Surrounding properties are now home to District 1881, which houses restaurants and businesses.

Langley Township’s council is trying to do much the same thing: turn a historic, but dilapidated, property into a vibrant downtown core. But they want it to happen immediately, not 10 years from now.

The Alder Inn’s lengthy history came to an end in the summer of 2020, when the township paid $250,000 to demolish the building. The inn had closed in 2019, 70 years after its opening. It marked the end of the last Fraser Valley strip club and an establishment that had been reprimanded for questionable business practices at least once, but which was also a place that had once been a hub of the community. (As it happens, the Empress also functioned as a strip club in its final years.)

It has been almost a year since the site was demolished and 3 different development options were suggested. (These options are similar to what is currently in downtown Chilliwack: ground-level commercial space, with apartments above, and a potential for townhouses on one lot.) Now, council is bickering over what should happen with the resulting gravel lots. Should they spend $250,000 to create a public plaza while the township waits to develop? Or should they sell the land now? (If they do sell now, some councillors are determined to add a clause telling the developer a plaza needs to be built if there isn’t a shovel in the ground within 2 years.)

Council asked staff for more details on a potential public plaza and its cost. While they wait for the report, a rezoning process to prepare the land for development is being fast-tracked. But for a council eager to see something happen in Aldergrove’s downtown, the question is whether that will be fast enough.

—By Grace Kennedy

The Floor Is Yours: Tell us about your memories of the Alder Inn or Empress Hotel.
Need to Know
🚓 Mounties seized guns and drugs and made 2 arrests at a Chilliwack home. [RCMP]

🔥 A wildfire near Harrison is now 10 hectares in size; another has started nearby. [Agassiz-Harrison Observer]

🚂 The proposed demolition of Hope’s century-old train station has triggered a flood of submissions, and opposition. [Hope Standard]

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Abbotsford Regional Hospital’s new expanded ER is set to open soon. 📸  BC Government/YouTube
The Agenda
The $16 million expansion for Abbotsford Regional Hospital’s emergency room is almost complete. The project was first announced more than 4 years ago, but was altered after government changed hands in 2017. The new ER has space for 3 new trauma bays, 11 new exam rooms, a mental health and substance use zone, and a new patient exam room in the triage bay. The Fraser Valley Health Care Foundation contributed $1.25 million towards the project.

Revenue for the District of Kent is increasing nearly 5% each year, and most of it is coming from external sources. The greatest change in revenue is coming from third-party sources—including government grants and developer contributions—which have seen an average increase of 17% each year over the last 5 years. These funds made up about 1/3 of the district’s revenue in 2020, while taxation continues to make up about half. In 2020, Kent received around $16 million in revenue.
COVID latest
It’s still unclear exactly when restrictions will be eased and in what order. Dr. Bonnie Henry said BC is on track to begin re-opening soon, but that the time isn’t right yet. When restrictions are eased, it will happen slowly and gradually. There is good news: data suggests the vaccines we have protect against every variant in BC right now.

Fraser Health
  • New cases: 861 Friday-Sunday / 315 daily average (down 25% from one week prior)
  • No active outbreaks in hospitals or long-term care
  • School exposures: Abbotsford: 19 / Chilliwack: 3 / Langley: 10 / Mission: 8 / Fraser Cascade: 1
  • Workplace closures (May 14): 3
  • New cases: 1,360 Friday-Sunday / 504 dialy average (down 19% from one week prior)
  • 350 hospitalizations (down 16% from one week prior)
  • 14 new deaths / 1,648 total
Around Town
⛰ The group proposing to create a new ski resort above Bridal Falls is holding another information session May 19 at 7pm.

Have a baby that won’t sleep? The FVRL is hosting sleep consultant Jolan Holmes on Thursday to help answer your questions.

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