Learning, Connection and Fun


Official Blog of the Chilliwack Museum and Archives

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Connecting with the Collection: Cats in 3-D

Posted on: October 5th, 2017 by Adrienne Rempel

The stereoscopic card was a popular form of household entertainment in the late 19th century. Developed soon after the advent of photography, stereoscopic cards provided the illusion of 3-D imagery. These cards were easily reproducible and fairly inexpensive for individual households to purchase, and consequently enjoyed a worldwide market.

I recently reviewed the Museum’s collection of stereoscopic cards, and while many of the cards portrayed famous events, landmarks and persons—several cards did not. Rather than recording the momentous, these humble scenes portrayed situational jokes and household tableaux.

Most striking among these cards was the humorous scene titled, Tabby as Grandma. This card pictures a well-pleased tabby cat lounging in a comfy armchair, knitting needles at the ready, and neatly dressed as “Grandma.”

2 nearly identical photos of a tabby cat sitting in a wicker chair, dressed as a human woman. The cat has knitting needles in its lab. The images are surrounded by a paper border.

Tabby as Gramma (Chilliwack Museum and Archives, 1987.003.007b), c.1902-3

The beauty of studying history is how it can inform the present, often in unexpected ways. Let’s take a paws (ahem) and consider Tabby as Grandma from our vantage point—namely, that of internet users in 2017. Today, the undisputed champion of social media shares and viral youtube videos is none other than the felis catus (domestic cat). Both lauded and vilified for possessing low-brow accessibility and tremendous popularity, many the critic have questioned humans rising obsession with felines.

close up of a ginger cat lying on white and pink sheets. The cat is looking over its shoulder and has green eyes.

An example of a cat-based meme
image source: https://flic.kr/p/4c6TnL

But what if this obsession didn’t just begin in the age of the internet? Looking at Tabby as Grandma, we can infer that cute and/or humourous cat photographs were being produced and distributed en masse as soon as humankind had the technology to do so inexpensively (for instance, with stereoscopic cards).

It does seem to prove that before the internet brought us lolcats, Grumpy Cat, and many the meme, the human love for their furry companions was already a well-established trend. And in fact, have captured our hearts for (at the least) over a century!

The Tabby as Grandma image was originally published by The Universal Photo Art Co., in Philadelphia, USA.

The Case for Cases

Posted on: September 21st, 2017 by Matthew Francis

Early in 1958, just after our organization was established – the Chilliwack Museum and Historical Society  President, Oliver Wells, did what all good Museum leaders do at some point: he sent out a fundraising letter.

SPOILER ALERT! That’s what this blog post is really about too

But why don’t we have some good ole’ historical fun while we’re at it, eh?

Oliver Wells serves as the founding Chairman of the Chilliwack Museum and Historical Society.

Oliver Wells served as the founding Chairman of the Chilliwack Museum and Historical Society.

In that letter, Mr. Wells made a very logical point:

“…we must be able to give assurance that [valuable historical material] will be safely stored and displayed.” 

Oliver Wells fundraising letter, Feb. 1958.

Oliver Wells fundraising letter, February, 1958.

Some things have not changed. Then, as now, this is still one of the most basic principles of preservation and conservation. Museums have a responsibility to care for their collections. We have been doing just that here in Chilliwack for sixty years.

The Chilliwack Museum and Archives cares for: 

  • Over one million items in our Archival records, including hundreds of thousands of photographic images. Our Archives are a trusted repository, well-respected by historians and researchers;
  • Over ten thousand historic objects – also known as artifacts or belongings, each one shedding light upon a unique person, place, memory, or moment that matters to Chilliwack – to you.

Did you know, however, that less than 1% of our collection is exhibited at any given time? Why?

  • For starters, there just isn’t enough gallery space in our National Historic Site Museum building to exhibit too much more of the collection in a way that ensure artifact conservation, AND;
  • The existing cases that we have were not purpose-built for the task of displaying many of the more vulnerable objects from our collections.

From the late 1950s until now, our skilled and creative professional staff have done their very best, working with the kinds of exhibit cases that we have had available. Many of these have been greatly appreciated hand-me-downs, cascaded to us from other institutions, such as the Museum of Vancouver.

In other cases, we have had cases purpose-built for our exhibitions by local carpenters – with plywood structure, plinths and plexi-glass. They look pretty good, and do a serviceable job of presenting your historic objects (which we steward for the public good).

The cases we have, however, are not built to last forever, and do not fully achieve the kinds of conservation standards that Chilliwack’s significant material culture truly deserves. They don’t have the kinds of security features we expect today, such as hidden cam-locks, and they don’t offer the same level of environmental protection (from such factors as UV light, moisture, pests, contact) to ensure fragile and precious materials are safeguarded for future generations.

Back in 2011, when the Archives facility was expanded at Evergreen Hall, you helped us to acquire high-quality, rolling, shelving. This shelving, however, is intended for storage, and not for exhibition purposes.

In short: we need new exhibit cases – yesterday

Thanks to the support of the Government of Canada’s Canadian Cultural Spaces Program, the City of Chilliwack, and the Chilliwack Foundation – all of which provided significant grants – our need is being met!

The new cases are expected to arrive in late October, and our exhibits will transition into them, with our next exhibit opening into them in early November, 2017.

The Chilliwack Museum and Archives will soon have the highest quality, Canadian-made exhibit cases, which will strengthen our curatorial program for decades to come.  Custom-constructed to meet our local needs by the highly regarded Zone Display Cases, nineteen (19!) new exhibit cases will give us tremendous flexibility to show you more of our rich collections.

Best of all, many of these units are completely modular, allowing for set-up in a broad range of different ways, allowing for versatility. You will be able to connect with your history in an amazing new way! 

So now, following in Mr. Well’s footsteps, I’m going to let you all know…


We need your help!

The total cost for 19 cases is $142, 000, and that is the largest purchase that the Chilliwack Museum and Historical Society has ever made. While we have raised over $100, 000 to date, we still need to raise just over $30, 000 in 2017 to complete the exhibit case project. Will you partner with us?

If you’d like to give to honour or in memory of someone special, recognition opportunities are available. 

Thank you for the amazing generosity of those caring individuals and Chilliwack businesses that have already contributed.

No gift is too small – every contribution makes a difference! 

For all the details, you can check out our Chilliwack Museum 60th Annivesary – Case Renewal Legacy Project.

How to give?

  1. Make your gift easily and securely ONLINE through our Chilliwack Museum and Archives Canada Helps Page:
  1. By Mail…

Send your cheque to:

Chilliwack Museum and Archives

45820 Spadina Avenue

Chilliwack, BC, V2P 1T3

  1. By Phone – Give us a call!

Our phone number is (604) 795-5210.

  1. In Person

Drop by the Museum during opening hours.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me, Matthew Francis, Executive Director, any time. 

Connecting with the Collection: the Bobby Hales trumpet

Posted on: August 30th, 2017 by Adrienne Rempel

Every object housed in the collection of the Chilliwack Museum and Archives has a story. As only a small percentage of these objects can be displayed in exhibitions, the remainder of the 10,000+ artifacts quietly wait for their time to be shown. To keep you connected with the different treasures within the collection, today I would like to feature the story of an old, bent trumpet with a larger-than-life history.

Used trumpet on white background; trumpet horn is bent upwards at a 30 degree angle.

The trumpet with its distinctive bent horn (Chilliwack Museum and Archives, 1987.053.001)

In August 1950, local resident Bobby (Robert Arthur) Hales (b. Avonlea, SK, 1934-d. Port Coquitlam, BC, 2016) wandered into Brett Sales Ltd. on 121 Yale Road West. Among the various goods and equipment, one object captivated the musically-oriented teenager: a recording trumpet made by F.E. Olds & Son.

Since his early years, Hales showed an interest in music, and was introduced to the cornet at the age of 9. In high school, he joined the Chilliwack Senior Band, directed at the time by Dick Galloway. Eventually a former teacher and clarinet player, John Bayfield, further recognized Hales’ talent and encouraged him to form a dance band which played concerts at the school cafeteria. This glimpse into the world of performance drew Hales to form a band called The White Spots, who played several concerts, including the Igloo Supper Club in Hope. Hales soon branched into any form of musical outlet that he could find, from church concerts, to the razz band that played basketball games.

black and white image; 4 seated musicians on a small stage play (from left to right) guitar, horn, drums and piano.

The Bright Spot Band playing the Riverside Pavilion in December 1953. Pictured are: Nick Oschefski (guitar). Bobby Hales (trumpet), Pat Boyces (drums), and Jim MacDonald (piano)

After high school, Hales worked at the bank of Nova Scotia, all the while harbouring the dream of making it as a professional musician. On a holiday to Los Angeles, Hales brought his trumpet to the Olds factory to have it plated. While there, he met fellow musician Rafael Méndez who encouraged him to apply to the Westlake College of Modern Music (a distinguished U.S. school for jazz). When his application was accepted, Hales left to study for 2 years in California, focusing on ear training, conducting, and jazz composition. After graduating in 1957, Hales moved to Vancouver and spent several years gaining entry into the field by working in pit bands and playing nightclubs. His perseverance paid off when he became involved as a composer and arranger for CBC’s Jazz Canadiana radio show, which featured his arrangements nationally. In 1965, he formed a group of 19 fellow musicians, known as the Bobby Hales Big Band, which backed acts such as Sonny and Cher, Bob Hope, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Frank Sinatra.  He also composed and conducted the theme and background music for the popular television series The Beachcombers. In 1977 Hales and his big band completed the first western Canada tour for a jazz band, ever.

Man plays trumpet with a group of musicians at a formal concert

Bobby Hales playing trumpet with his big band

Bobby Hales’ contributions to Canadian music continued from the 60’s, through the 70’s and 80’s, and he was inducted into the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame in 1996.

The trumpet continued to be used by Hales until 1978, when it finally wore out. He bent the bell of the trumpet upwards at a 30 degree angle, which was a method first used by Dizzie Gillespie. The trumpet now rests in the Chilliwack Museum and Archives’ collection, in a case decorated with a “Sinatra On Tour 1976” sticker.

My Summer at the Archives

Posted on: August 23rd, 2017 by Adrienne Rempel

By Rachel Vandenberg – Archival and Curatorial Assistant

Over the past few months I have been fortunate enough have the opportunity to work at the Chilliwack Museum and Archives as the Archival and Curatorial Assistant. This summer I have been able to learn about archival practices and curatorial management from our awesome Archivist, Tristan Evans, and wonderful Curator, Adrienne Rempel. These two have been great mentors and hilarious co-workers during my time here.

The Archive reading room where I spent time assisting researchers

The Archive reading room where I spent time assisting researchers

So, what did I do over the summer? Well…

I spent most of my time at the Archives building helping out, and learning from, Tristan and Adrienne. I started out the summer by processing a donation from the Soroptimist Club of Chilliwack. This was quite a large donation, filled with scrapbooks, meeting minutes, and club records, so it was a time-consuming process. Tristan was able to guide me through the process and showed me the ins and outs of being an archivist along the way. As the summer went on I was able to process many more donations. In addition to processing donations, I also learned how to assist researchers and preserve documentary artefacts. One of my favourite parts of working at the archives was meeting the people who bring in donations. Whether they are bringing in a single piece of paper, or a whole box of objects, the donor always has a story to go along with it. Interacting with donors made me realize that the documents and artefacts we work with are deeply connected people and their community.

I enjoyed the hands-on work with the CMA object collection

I enjoyed the hands-on work with the CMA object collection

The first big item on the Museum’s agenda after I was hired was the upcoming exhibit Gold Mountain Dream: Bravely Venture into the Fraser Valley. To my surprise, I was given the opportunity to help with the planning of the exhibit! Adrienne showed me the behind-the-scenes process of how to plan an exhibit. Everything from the small details visitors might not notice, like the font size of text or the level of lighting in the room, to the big details, like which objects are used or what colour the walls will be, is taken into consideration when planning an exhibit.  It was a much more comprehensive process than I had previously imagined. In the end, the exhibit looked amazing and the information is very interesting. You should definitely stop by the museum and have a look! There is so much to learn about British Columbia’s gold rush past and the forgotten history of Chilliwack’s Chinatowns.

Overall, my experience at the Chilliwack Museum and Archives has been incredible! I began this position hoping to gain some valuable work experience in the public history field, but I ended up with a lot more; I got to work with awesome people, be actively involved in my community, and learn so much along the way.

Exploring Chinese-Canadian history in the Fraser Valley

Posted on: July 12th, 2017 by Adrienne Rempel

The Chilliwack Museum and Archives’ latest exhibition 金山梦! 勇闯菲沙河谷 (Gold Mountain Dream: Bravely Venture into the Fraser Valley) is now open! From rare archival images and artifacts, to detailed storytelling and interactive elements, this exhibition focuses on early Chinese-Canadian history in the Fraser Valley.

Installation view of exhibition.

Installation view of the exhibition.

The Background Story

In the 1800s, gold fever consumed the world. Masses of people from all corners of the world voluntarily migrated to far-off locations such as Australia, New Zealand, California and British Columbia. Their goal was to find not only gold, but a better life for themselves and their families. By 1858 the territory now known as BC saw its first major gold rush along the Fraser Valley.

In Chinese culture, there was a myth about 山金 (Gold Mountain) that helped fuel an influx of migrants who journeyed from ports in Hong Kong across the Pacific Ocean to Victoria in search for new fortune. This resulted in the first large Chinese settlement in Canada.

After the gold rush lost its momentum, many workers of Chinese origin chose Chilliwack as a place to settle down and try to build a new life. It wasn’t easy. Much of Chilliwack’s early infrastructure, from roads to farmlands, was developed by Chinese laborers. It was strenuous work, clearing the land of trees and cultivating soil at low pay, and many workers couldn’t afford to have their families join them in Canada.

Business owners Wong Gip She (right) and Wong Gip Low She (left) with their two sons Banford and David, c. 1916. CMA P7642

Chinatown South business owners Wong Gip She (right) and Wong Gip Low She (left) with their two sons Banford and David, c. 1916. CMA P7642

Many persevered, however, and by the 1880’s a Chinese merchant class emerged (and between 1908 and 1930 comprised 10% of the registered businesses in Chilliwack). By 1920 the city had two distinct Chinatowns: Chinatown North situated above the Five Corners region; and Chinatown South, around what is now Yale Road West. At their height, the Chinatown’s were host to a bustling population living in large 2-storey wood-frame buildings, including a Chinese Masonic Hall.

An International Exhibition

Key historical content for the exhibition’s local elements was based on the 2011 book Chilliwack’s Chinatowns: A History by Chad Reimer. The Gold Mountain Dream panels are a travelling exhibition organized by the Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria, in collaboration with the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec. These panels are bilingual, and are written both in English and Simplified Chinese. Beyond Chilliwack, Gold Mountain Dream has been displayed at the Guangdong Museum of Chinese Nationals Residing Abroad (Guangzhou, China) and the Chinese Cultural Centre Museum (Vancouver, BC).

Detail view of artifacts in a display case.

Detail view of artifacts in a display case.

Interactive Elements

The exhibition has interactive content for viewers of all ages, from touchable objects, to videos, an audiostation, and an introductory Mahjong set. So bring the whole family for a visit, or plan a Thursday evening date night to catch this stunning exhibition!

The exhibition will continue running throughout the summer until October 9th.

Microfilm and Microfiche

Posted on: May 17th, 2017 by Tristan Evans

Microfilm and microfiche at the Chilliwack Museum and Archives.

Have you ever wondered what that old looking machine tucked away in the back of the research room is and what it is used for?  Is it a really old computer?  Is it a machine used to watch videos on an older format?  Perhaps it is used to digitize images?  In fact, it is a microfilm/microfiche reader.  Now you may be asking, what is microfilm/microfiche and why is it used at the archives?

According to the Society of American Archivist, microfilm is “transparent film containing highly reduced copies of documents.”  Similar to microfilm, microfiche is “a sheet of transparent film [with]  microimages arranged in rows and columns, usually with an area for eye-readable description at the top.”  In layman’s terms, this means that both microfilm and microfiche are tiny images of documents on either a rolled film or a flat sheet, respectively.  At its core, the microfilm reader is just a big magnifying glass that shines a light through the film allowing the researcher to read the microfilm or microfiche.

Rachel Microfilm

Summer intern Rachel Vandenberg doing property research on microfilm, May 16, 2017.

What makes microfilm and microfiche so indispensable to archives is its preservation and access value.  To touch on the latter first, all you need to read microfilm or microfiche is light and a magnifying glass.  There is no need to worry about special computer programs, obsolete machinery, or corrupted digital files.  To be fair, searching through microfilm or microfiche can be significantly time consuming when compared to digital keyword searchable files.  However, should the medium for whatever technology you are using in the future fail–as all things do at some point–you will still be able to read and access the information on microfilm and/or microfiche with a magnifying glass and a flashlight.

Microfilm/microfiche is also a fantastic resource for preserving archival records.  As the name implies, microfilm/microfiche is a miniature version of the original document.  The information on an old municipal tax roll that is 40 x 50 x 17 cm can fit into a 10 x 10 x 4 cm microfilm roll.  As limited space is a concern for nearly every archive, microfilm/microfiche is a great resource for storing the historical data of these records.  Furthermore, stored properly microfilm/microfiche has a minimum life expectancy of 500 years.  This is why so many archives have microfilmed their newspaper collections, which are often made of highly acidic and easily degradable paper.

There is nothing glamorous about microfilm or microfiche and doing research on these mediums is time consuming.  However, microfilm and microfiche are tried-and-true preservation resources.  Consider them another tool in the archivist toolkit that is likely to stick around for the foreseeable future.  Chances are, if you are doing property ownership research and looking at old township tax rolls at the Chilliwack Museum and Archives, you will likely have the opportunity to use that strange-looking machine in the back of the research room.

The Chilliwack Museum Story

Posted on: May 11th, 2017 by Matthew Francis

Celebrates Sixty Years






2017 marks the 60th Anniversary of the Chilliwack Museum and Historical Society. To honour the occasion, I asked Merlin Bunt, Society Trustee and author of the popular Chilliwack History Perspectives page, to prepare an article, telling the Museum’s story. Merlin took up the task with wit and enthusiasm, and poured over Society records from the Archives and other historical sources, composing this account. The Chilliwack Museum and Archives exist to connect people to our community’s history. Calling to remembrance the significant role of this organization, and the people who established it, is part of Chilliwack’s unfolding story. 

-Matthew Francis, Executive Director, Chilliwack Museum and Archives, May 2017


detail 1 DSC_0371

The Chilliwack Museum Story

By Merlin Bunt

Although the Township of Chilliwhack (spelled with an extra “h”, as opposed to the spelling for the City – incorporated in 1908 – which did not have the second “h”) was incorporated in 1873, it would not be until 84 years later, in 1957, that the district would establish its first dedicated museum.  Notwithstanding what would appear to have been a low civic priority, there was in fact much early interest in recognizing and preserving Chilliwack’s history.  At the turn of the 20th century, formal steps were taken to establish the forerunner to today’s Chilliwack Museum and Historical Society, and the resulting new community organization would be actively strengthened and expanded during the following years.

On May 1, 1902, a group of Chilliwack’s founding citizens met at the home of Jonathan Reece (1832-1904) for a surprise party in recognition of his 70th birthday.  Also on the agenda that evening was creation of a formal body to organize, administer, preserve, and promote Chilliwack’s history up to that point, and thereafter for ensuing generations.

Chilliwack Museum and Archives Photo, P802 - The Reece House

Chilliwack Museum and Archives Photo, P802 – The Reece House

As Reece had been the first person to pre-empt land in the Chilliwack Valley (back in 1859), it was deemed appropriate that the founding of the “Chilliwack Pioneer Society” should be formalized at his house.

Invitations for the event had been sent out to Chilliwack’s pioneers who met the following criteria: at least 25 years’ residence in the community, and significant contribution to its early development.  The guest list of 33 attendees for Reece’s surprise party (23 men and 10 women) was a “who’s who” of Chilliwack’s founding citizens (as well as a source for the names of many of the community’s future streets), and included Messrs. and/or Mesdames Kipp, Chadsey, Reece, Nowell, Vedder, Ryder, McCutcheon, Wells, Evans, Webb, Nelmes, Ashwell, Lewis, McDonald, Stevenson, Gillanders, McDonald, and Harrison.

This group had collectively laid the foundations for the community of Chilliwack, and its aim was to take steps to preserve the memories and experiences that they dearly held.

The group of Chilliwack citizens gathered that evening at Reece’s home was generally well read and educated, forward thinking, and thoughtful. In a released statement, they insightfully observed that “the first settlement of a community is always a matter of interest to later residents, and this history becomes increasingly valuable as it comes to belong to a remoter past.  But, if the facts are not made matters of record while the original actors are still upon the scene, they fade away into dim tradition, becoming distorted, and are finally lost.”  One of the attendees that memorable evening in 1902 was Sardis pioneer Horatio Webb (1852-1936), considered to be Chilliwack’s first historian.

Horatio Webb, riding an ostrich.

Horatio Webb, riding an ostrich.

Webb was one of the main organizers of that fateful 70th birthday party for his long-time friend Jonathan Reece, and he was the driving force behind the founding of the Chilliwack Pioneer Society. His historical writings and photographs of the district’s pioneer era ultimately formed an integral part of Chilliwack’s first museum.

The founding members of the Chilliwack Pioneer Society set about to gather and put on paper all memories, artifacts, experiences etc., essentially forming the basis of Chilliwack’s first Museum and Archives, with membership fees fixed at $1 per year.  Less than one year later, the entity’s name had officially been changed to the Chilliwack Pioneer and Historical Society (CPHS).  The inaugural banquet for the new group was held in February 1903 at the Harrison House Hotel, on Wellington Avenue at Corbould Street.  It was hosted by Matilda Harrison, and approximately 50 members attended the event.

The Harrison House Hotel, on Wellington Avenue, at Corbould.

The Harrison House Hotel, on Wellington Avenue, at Corbould.

In the following decades, although there was much written and collected, there was still no formal ‘home’ for the physical aspects of Chilliwack’s history – no actual museum, with much of the CPHS’s collection residing in members’ homes.  In 1941, a group of second and third generation members of the district’s original pioneer families gathered to discuss how to advance the CPHS. A number of meetings were held, but due to World War Two being well underway, and the always-present funding constraints, little transpired as a result of these sessions.

However, 15 years later, with the War long over, and the 1958 centennial anniversary of BC becoming a crown colony drawing nearer, there was again significant interest in Chilliwack’s history.  On November 9, 1956, at a well-attended meeting at City Hall, it was agreed to immediately start the formation of the Chilliwack Historical Society (the successor to the essentially stagnant CPHS). At this time, there was still no obvious location to establish a museum, and financing such a venture continued to be a hurdle.  Ultimately, it would take a ‘partnership’ with City Council and the city’s police force to make Chilliwack’s first museum a reality.

From the time Chilliwack’s City Hall opened in 1912, its police station (and jail) had resided in the iconic civic structure on Spadina Avenue, between Main Street and Yale Road West.  However, as the City’s robust growth during the 1950s progressed, there were mounting space limitations within the building, and consequently plans were made for the police station to relocate to its own dedicated headquarters.

Police Station and Museum Location

In 1956, a location for Chilliwack’s new police station was identified.  It was to be the city-owned ex-B&K Economy Store supermarket building on Nowell Street, at Victoria Avenue, located behind today’s Auld-Phillips store. Before work even started on converting the old B&K space, there was talk of establishing Chilliwack’s first museum in the new police station structure, as it was evident early on that the police would have more space than they needed when their new home opened.

Museum - 1956 Meeting Announcement

At the November 9, 1956, meeting at City Hall, after a presentation by the provincial archivist and curator of the Provincial Museum of British Columbia, it was decided to move ahead with plans to establish Chilliwack’s first museum, and it was confirmed that it would be located in Chilliwack’s new downtown police station.

On January 30, 1957, the contract for converting the old B&K store into the city’s new police station (and ultimately the home of its first museum) was let, and less than three months later, on April 12, 1957, the new police station opened. Although Chilliwack’s first museum would not open its doors in its new premises until the following year, dedicated space had been set aside for it, and there was much underway behind the scenes in advance of its centennial year opening, as the Chilliwack Historical Society’s members were in the process of learning how to operate a museum.

The Minutes of the first General Meeting of the Historical Society, April 10, 1957.

The Minutes of the first General Meeting of the Historical Society, April 10, 1957.

On April 10, 1957, Allan Guinet chaired the first meeting of the Chilliwack Historical Society (the Society). Later that year, on September 19, 1957, Oliver Wells was elected as its chairman, a position he would hold for the next 13 years. The founders of the new historical society had deep roots in the community, and they provided the Museum with the foundation of its collection, including biographies of early settlers, interviews with First Nations elders, and oral histories from a wide variety of citizens.

Finally, after much preparation and anticipation, Chilliwack’s new Museum was officially opened on March 19, 1958.  The first two visitors through the doors were daughters of two of Chilliwack’s best known pioneers, Isaac Kipp and Jonathan Reece. The Museum’s initial hours of operation were only from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. each weekday. Most of the opening collection was on loan, but the Museum had been making significant progress on accumulating donated items.

During its first year of operation, the Museum drew 2,570 visitors, and was generally well received by the citizens of Chilliwack. One of its stated goals was to educate younger generations on the value of the community’s past, and thus school classes would visit the Museum where they could see and research material for their school projects. However, the combination of the police force’s increasing need for more space, the Museum’s steadily expanding collection, and growing financial pressure on properly operating the new civic institution resulted in a crisis situation by early 1960.

On January 18, 1960, the Society addressed City Council and advised that the Museum needed to be relocated, and that the whole operation should immediately be reviewed. Further, the Society indicated that a body such as itself was not properly suited to operate a venture such as the Museum, and that it wished to transfer responsibility for its operations and funding to the City and Township.

Museum - 1958 Opening

In mid-July, talks between the Society and the two municipal councils resulted in an agreement that the Museum would remain open, on a restricted basis, until the end of 1960. To cut costs, the Museum’s hours were significantly curtailed, open only eight hours per week during the summer, and four hours per week for the rest of the year, except for December 1960, when it would be closed completely. Nevertheless, despite the restricted hours, over 2,000 people visited the Museum during 1960.

In October 1961, the Museum was given notice by the police that it would soon have to vacate its space in the police station on Nowell Street, as it was urgently needed for police and judicial business.  It was at that time the first suggestion was made that a museum room could be included in the upcoming expansion of Chilliwack’s library at the corner of Wellington Avenue and College Street. In the following months, discussions regarding relocation of the Museum to the library were stepped up.  The Society stated that if no viable plans were in place by January 1, 1962, the Museum’s collection would have to be placed in storage, if not some temporary quarters.

An extension built at the Chilliwack Library served as the second home of the Museum.

An extension built at the Chilliwack Library served as the second home of the Museum.

On February 5, 1962, City Council officially approved the library expansion/new Museum room, on the basis of sharing capital costs equally with the Township.  The L-shaped extension to the library would have the Museum room facing College Street.  Soon the Museum vacated its existing police station space, and between March and November it did not operate, with its exhibits stored in the Township Hall on Young Road South.  Work on the library extension started in early June 1962.

On November 8, 1962, with council members and the public in attendance, Chilliwack’s Museum reopened in its new home alongside the library. The room allotted to the Museum was bigger than its previous space at the police station, but less than what the Society had been seeking.  The opening exhibits concentrated on pioneer life in early Chilliwack, ancient First Nations artifacts (including approximately 100 items unearthed earlier that year on the grounds of Little Mountain School), and exhibits depicting the life of Chinese inhabitants, who had once been more prominent in the area.  Amid the celebrations was concern of the implied indication that the Museum’s new space should be considered “temporary”, as it would likely be needed in the future for library expansion.

Museum - 1965 Ad

By 1968, the Museum’s collection had grown significantly, and it was estimated that it needed twice the space it currently occupied at the library. To compound matters, at that time the library was indicating more and more its need to take over the Museum’s space sooner than later to accommodate its continuing growth.  Thus, the Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce decided to work with the Society to identify a potential new home for the Museum, as well as new funding sources.

In December 1968, as a result of a special inter-municipal committee’s recommendation, both councils indicated they were in favour of amalgamating the Chilliwack Museum with the Canadian Forces Base Chilliwack Military Museum at the historically significant “Atchelitz Park” site, near Lickman Road, south of Highway 1.  However, by July 1969, the initiative to relocate the Museum to Atchelitz Park had gradually fallen out of favour due to access considerations that were raising concerns, along with the general feeling that the location was just too far from downtown Chilliwack.

The Chilliwack Post Office was proposed as a potential Museum location, but did not come to fruition.

In the 1970s, the old Chilliwack Post Office was proposed as a potential solution to the space issue – providing home to the library, making room for the museum there in the mid-1970s, but did not come to fruition.

In mid-1970, it was suggested that the library relocate to the old brick post office, recently vacated just east of Five Corners, and that the current library become the permanent home of the Museum, as well as the Chamber of Commerce tourist information centre.  However, reconditioning the old postal structure and other technical challenges made this proposal cost-prohibitive.

The year 1971 would mark another centennial celebration for BC. Accordingly, in 1970, a total of 37 organizations in the Chilliwack area submitted suggestions for the district’s Centennial ‘71 project. At the top of the list, with approximately one third of the support, was a new dedicated home for the Museum, followed by new parkland and a new swimming pool.  By September 1970, a new museum was still the favoured project, but the cost-sharing formula between the two municipalities for the $75,000 initiative could not be agreed upon.

The following month, on October 31, 1970, Oliver Wells, the chairman of the Society’s trustees, tragically passed away several days after being in a car accident in Scotland.  Until the time of his death, he had been the driving force behind securing a new home for Chilliwack’s Museum. Shortly thereafter, after months of wrangling, in November 1970, a new museum was approved as Chilliwack’s commemorative 1971 Centennial project, to be constructed “in the vicinity of Evergreen Hall”. The untimely death of Oliver Wells was thought to have brought both sides together in achieving a funding agreement, to ultimately make his long-time vision a reality.

Oliver Wells serves as the founding Chairman of the Chilliwack Museum and Historical Society.

Oliver Wells served as the founding Chairman of the Chilliwack Museum and Historical Society.

By late October 1971, the new building was nearing completion, and on December 2, 1971, the Wells Centennial Museum, at 209 Corbould Street South, adjacent to Evergreen Hall, opened.  A crowd of over 300 took in the festivities.  Mrs. Oliver Wells unveiled a plaque which made reference to the contributions of the Wells family to the district of Chilliwack. The Museum would now be open Tuesday to Saturday, for longer hours, but still only for a total of 19 hours per week, later reduced to opening Fridays and Saturdays only, due to ongoing funding constraints.

By 1977, the Museum was operating on a part-time basis (12 hours per week), and this was only possible due to an annual grant of $13,000 from the two municipal councils.  These funds largely covered the museum building’s annual maintenance costs, as the workforce was on a volunteer basis.

During the two decades prior to 1980, there had been much discussion, along with numerous studies and proposals, regarding the City of Chilliwack and the Township of Chilliwhack amalgamating to form one civic government/municipality.  Towards the end of the 1970s, it appeared that most of the significant hurdles to the long-awaited initiative had finally been overcome.  With amalgamation looking more likely, in January 1979, it was suggested that the City Hall building, which would soon no longer be used for that civic purpose, would be an ideal permanent location for the Museum, instead of the “temporary-permanent” location attached to Evergreen Hall that some speculated would eventually be needed by the Civic Properties and Recreation Commission for office or recreation activity.  On June 16, 1979, voters of the district did in fact approve a referendum to amalgamate the two municipalities, and on January 1, 1980, the two civic jurisdictions, after being separate for 72 years, merged to form the District of Chilliwack.

Almost immediately upon amalgamation, there was a formal move among heritage enthusiasts to have Chilliwack’s first City Hall repurposed as Chilliwack’s Museum.  To add momentum to the cause, shortly after the amalgamation, the iconic structure was designated as Heritage Site #1 by Chilliwack’s Heritage Advisory Committee.  In the latter part of 1980, the new Chilliwack District Council commissioned a study to address the viability of the initiative.  In March 1981, the Chilliwack Valley Historical Society changed its name to the Chilliwack Museum and Historical Society, to emphasize that the Society was responsible for operating the Wells Centennial Museum (including the Archives), and to facilitate proposed plans to relocate the Museum to the old City Hall.  By the summer of 1981, with all City staff having finally relocated to the District Hall on Young Road South, and the first City Hall now vacant, the opportunity took on an even higher profile.  However, it would be a considerable time before actual steps commenced to convert the old City Hall to the city’s Museum.

In 1984, preliminary architectural plans were prepared for the transition of the empty City Hall to a museum. In March 1985, Chilliwack District Council formally committed $500,000 towards upgrading the first City Hall as part of the transformation process. In November of that year, the Society also received a $236,000 grant from the federal government towards renovation of the Museum’s future home.

During the rehabilitation process, moving the Museum into the historic Chilliwack City Hall building.

During the rehabilitation process, moving the Museum into the historic Chilliwack City Hall building, 1985 – 1986. 

Essentially the building was gutted, with the only space restored to its original 1912 condition being the council chambers on the second floor. Also that same year, the structure was named as one of the 25 prominent heritage locations in Canada.  As work got underway, it was felt that Chilliwack’s new museum would be open to the public by May 1986, but this timing would prove to be overly optimistic.

One year later, on March 21, 1987, the Chilliwack Museum was officially opened in the first City Hall. Approximately 1,000 people attended the opening ceremonies, including Chilliwack’s MP, MLA, Mayor, and other dignitaries.  The Museum’s new home, having officially been declared a historic site, received its National Historic Sites plaque from the Historic Sites and Monument Board of Canada, and the plaque was unveiled during the opening ceremonies, placed just to the left of the Museum’s lower front entrance.

Many people have contributed to the legacy, including dedicated community volunteers and hard-working Museums professionals. While the list would be far too long to even attempt to list them all, in addition to those already mentioned, we should not fail to acknowledge the impact made in more recent years by long-serving leaders, notably Ron Denman, who served as Director from 1985-2015. Other Board Members, Staff, and legions of dedicated community volunteers have sustained the Museum and Archives programs and services over the years.

Today the Chilliwack Museum and Historical Society operates the city’s Museum from one of Canada’s distinctive buildings, and Chilliwack’s only National Historic Site, while its previous location, adjacent to Evergreen Hall, is now the spacious home of the Chilliwack Archives. A quote from the BC Archives well sums up the vision and mandate of the Society: “Without archives, there would be no record of our past, no understanding of where we are today, and no way of looking ahead to tomorrow”.

During much of the 1900s, Chilliwack’s Museum and Archives existed as an aspirational concept, before finally getting its first home in 1957. However, the strong resolve to recognize and preserve Chilliwack’s history goes back far beyond that time and event, when Chilliwack’s early pioneers met to lay the groundwork for what is now, over a century later, a proud civic institution. The lack of funding for the Museum throughout the decades was a constant and limiting factor, but there was never a shortage of passion, vision, and commitment among Chilliwack’s interested citizens.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of both Chilliwack’s first Museum and the Chilliwack Museum and Historical Society, and this milestone will be marked accordingly. (It also happens to be the 30th anniversary of the Museum relocating to its permanent home in the first City Hall). On Saturday, May 13, 2017, the Society is officially commemorating the Museum’s diamond anniversary with a number of events, observations, and celebrations.

Come celebrate with us! 60th Birthday Party - Saturday May 13th @ 10am. Everyone's invited!

Come celebrate with us! 60th Birthday Party – Saturday May 13th @ 10am. Everyone’s invited!

Chilliwack’s citizens are encouraged to take in some of the festivities, including a tour of the Museum on Spadina Avenue; not only is it Chilliwack’s showcase structure, with timeless design and beauty, it is also a nationally recognized venue, home to the essence of Chilliwack’s history.

The city’s pioneers who gathered that May evening back in 1902 would be pleased to know that today many of their portraits grace the walls of a museum home they could not possibly have envisioned at the time. Undoubtedly, they would also be very proud of the Chilliwack Museum and Historic Society, and its role in making their vision for the preservation and presentation of the area’s history come to pass in ways that continue to exceed their original expectations.

A ‘Close-up’ of Portraiture

Posted on: June 21st, 2016 by Jane Lemke
Fred and Anna Thornton

Formal portrait of Fred and Annie Thornton by William Forsyth inside his Wellington Avenue studio, ca. 1900.
Chilliwack Museum and Archives P81

Photography has long attempted to discover its own aesthetic language, formed by the camera’s limitations and released by photography’s technological development: from the first formal and stylized photographs, via Kodak’s revolution and its democratic experimentation, forward to present-day pictures that can be said to mirror the entire aesthetic development.

­­In portraiture, the correlation between ‘reality’ and ‘likeness’ as perceived within the format of the photograph is undeniable. This combination of illusion and real life, guarantees its continuing success as a medium for this purpose, whether digital, moving or other lens-based methods of making portraits.

At first photography was either used as an aid in the work of an artist or followed the same principles the artists followed. The first publicly recognized portraits were usually portraits of either one person or family portraits to preserve the memories.

Early photographic portraits relied heavily on the conventions of the painted portrait. Victorian artists commonly used pillars and swathes of drapery to enhance the backgrounds of their photographs. In addition to these traditional backdrops, appropriate symbols of wealth or signs of the person’s occupation would be included. For example, this William Forsyth portrait of Fred and Annie Thornton, ca. 1900, shows the couple posing with their new bicycles, a substantial symbol of wealth at the turn of the previous century. The photographer even placed ground covering on the floor of his studio to create the illusion of being outdoors.

 Why didn’t they smile in photographs?

P5598 J&S Cooper

Formal studio portrait of Josephine (left, seated) and Susan (right, standing) Cooper of the Soowahlie First Nation, near Cultus Lake, ca. 1910. Chilliwack Museum and Archives P5598.

If you look very long at unsmiling old photos you will see the answer: that they are freezing their faces in order to keep still for the long exposure times.

People who posed for early photographs understood it as a significant moment. Photography was still rare. For many people it might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Posing for the camera did not seem that different from having your portrait painted. It was cheaper, quicker and meant that people who never had a chance to be painted could now be portrayed.

Like a portrait painting, it was intended as a timeless record of a person.


We look to sharing the development of photographic aesthetics with you at our upcoming exhibit, Photography from Obscura to App, opening September 23, 2016.

Developing Local History Kits: Chilliwack’s Chinatowns

Posted on: May 4th, 2016 by Stephanie Clinton

“’In my opinion, the Chinese have been left out of our local history due to carelessness. Those people cleared an awful lot of the land around Chilliwack…’” Bob Maitland (Chilliwack’s Chinatowns, p.186)

Over the last few weeks I’ve been immersing myself in the history of Chilliwack’s Chinatowns, reading Chad Reimer’s book Chilliwack’s Chinatowns and learning about this somewhat lost history of our city. I’ve been working with a fantastic group of dedicated elementary teachers from School District 33 to develop a local history kit focusing on this topic for use in classrooms. This is why I love Bob Maitland’s quote from the book; we’re planning to shine light on this important piece of our city’s history so that it isn’t lost again.

Chilliwack Progress Newspaper Clipping, January 17, 1918. Page 1.

Chilliwack Progress Newspaper Clipping, January 17, 1918. Page 1.

But Chilliwack’s Chinatowns is a bit of a tough read for elementary students. So how do we take all of this great research and archival documents and make it teacher and student friendly? Learning about local communities in the past and present is an important part of the curriculum, as well as studying the contributions of people from different backgrounds in shaping Canada’s identity. Learning more about the contributions of the Chinese community in the growth of Chilliwack is an important topic and we’ve been working hard to find ways to bring it into the classroom in a meaningful way.

Historical documents show that Chinese were arriving in Chilliwack at the same time as many Europeans. Many found work for white landowners clearing the land for farming. Chinese labourers cleared a lot of land in Chilliwack and began to settle in the area. Many leased land of their own and grew market gardens, eventually a distinct Chinatown emerged in Chilliwack as Chinese opened their own businesses and came together as a community. Discriminatory government policies restricted many Chinese from becoming Canadian citizens and from bringing their families from China to join them. Chilliwack’s Chinese community was not immune to this and did face discrimination from the wider population.

Some of the archive documents we have been putting together for the kit.

Some of the archive documents we have been putting together for the kit.

As we dig through the documents and newspaper articles which help tell the story of this community, we have been selecting sources and information which will help students to uncover this history themselves as well. Being able to critically look at primary sources from the past and ask questions about that source is an important skill to learn. Using local resources that help students learn about the place where they live makes the work all the more meaningful. Once this kit is completed, I am hoping to continue working on developing more resources based on local history for teachers to use in the classroom, continuing to help make our museum and archives more accessible to teachers and students.

Are you interested in learning more about Chilliwack’s Chinatowns? You can pick up a copy of Chad Reimer’s book in our gift shop or buy it online!

Volunteer Spotlight – Arlene Blanchette

Posted on: March 24th, 2016 by Alison Adamson

Arlene Blanchette decided to apply to volunteer with us when she first moved to Chilliwack. She thought it would be a great way to learn about her new home. In April of 2008 Arlene began with us at our Museum building. You will find her filling two shifts in our gift shop, one on Wednesday afternoons and one on Thursday mornings. She greets guests, answers questions and processes sales, and Arlene also created and maintains our inventory system.

Arlene says her favourite Museum memories involve interacting with the visiting children. Whether it has been at Christmas time when the classes come in to learn about Christmas in Chilliwack in the late 1800’s, or when the schools are out and grandparents and parents bring the children in to see the museum. Sometimes it has been hearing the children tell her about convincing their families to come in that has been a special and entertaining treat.

Arlene loves to read, travel and spend time with her sons and their families. She is pictured here on her recent trip to China and she will soon be flying off to Thailand.

We thank her for her time and talents that she so generously shares with us!