Learning, Connection and Fun

Party in the Park

Posted on: July 10th, 2019 by Tristan Evans

When you work with archival records five days a week your mind sometimes skews timelines and it’s hard to consider what is truly ‘long ago.’  Only recently have we started to receive donations from the 1980s.  Working everyday with our records, I consider the 1980s to be relatively new, never mind the 1990s or early 2000s.  This was glaringly evident to me when I wrote a blog post on the snow storm of 1996.  Truth be told, besides a few Chilliwack Progress articles and photographs, we haven’t received many donations about this event yet. Compared to the records describing the 1935 ice storm, the snow storm appears to have had little impact.

While we know records from the snow storm of 1996 will eventually find their way into the Archives, it’s sometimes hard to think about the 1990s or early 2000s as ‘long ago.’  2006 and 2007 may feel like yesterday, but the following events actually occurred twelve and thirteen years ago.  Just long enough for us to begin having a little historical perspective on them. 

If you will, let me indulge you with a little story about one of my favourite events:

Chilliwack Court House 
[PP500910]
Chilliwack Court House
[PP500910]

I am biased.  I like parties, music, and I live downtown, so I really like Party in the Park.  Naturally, I also like to know the history of events (I wouldn’t be very good at my job if I wasn’t interested in history).  Turns out, Party in the Park has been around just long enough to write about. 

The land that is Central Community Park was once the home of the Chilliwack Court House, originally built in 1894.  The original courthouse survived two separate fires in 1906 and 1949.  Unfortunately, a third fire completely destroyed the building in 1951.  Today the only surviving remains from this building is the courthouse sign that can be seen right now in our temporary exhibit, Five Faces Five Corners: The Social Experience of Chilliwack’s Downtown (nice plug, right). 

After a few transformations, the area was eventually known as the Jean McNaughton/Happy Wilkinson Parks and home to a Chilliwack Farmers Market.  In 2005, the City of Chilliwack, Rotary International, and the Downtown Business Improvement Association (BIA) began construction on a collaborative project called, Central Community Park.  The idea was to create “a splendid place where everyone in the community is welcome to fully enjoy outdoor performances, special events festivals, and to learn about the history of the parks and the surrounding area.”  Central Community Park officially opened on Friday, October 13, 2006 and was designed by architect Rob Powers. 

Chilliwack Farmer's Market, ca. 1984. 
William Craven fonds [2016.032.002.1117]
Chilliwack Farmer’s Market, ca. 1984.
William Craven fonds [2016.032.002.1117]

To celebrate opening day the City of Chilliwack, the BIA, and Rotary International put together a weekend of celebrations called – wait for it – Party in the Park.  The first event featured speakers, dignitaries, and music from both Central Elementary and Chilliwack Senior Secondary schools.  According to an account from The Chilliwack Progress, Mayor Clint Hames predicted the new facility will be a focal point for future cultural activities in the downtown core

Following architect Rob Powers advice that, “the community [had] to start building new traditions around the park,” the City of Chilliwack, the BIA, and Rotary organized a series of Party in the Park events the following summer.  Each Friday between June 29 and August 24, 2007, these three organizing parties hosted what has now become the annual Party in the Park. 

The first summer Party in the Park occurred on June 29, 2007 and featured a Farmers Market at 5:00 PM, kids activities at 6:00 PM and live music at 7:30 PM. As so often happens in Chilliwack, poor weather threw a wrench into the scheduling and the local rock band, Relic’s Jetboat, was ultimately unable to perform that night.  Fortunately, the band was able to be rescheduled for the final Party in the Park date for the summer and played on August 24, closing off the festival with a bang.

Construction of Jean McNaughton/Happy Wilkinson Parks, July 5, 1983. 
William Craven fonds [2016.032.002.434]
Construction of Jean McNaughton/Happy Wilkinson Parks, July 5, 1983.
William Craven fonds [2016.032.002.434]

The exact dates of Party in the Park have changed over the years but the event is now considered a Chilliwack tradition. The event has grown to the point that venders often spread out beyond Central Community Park onto Mill Street and Wellington Avenue. Although the event changes from year to year, in my humble opinion, the heart and original goal of the event remains constant, bringing together the community of Chilliwack for a night of fun and solid cheer. Oh yeah, that and the opportunity to hear some rock-solid local musical talent.