LIGHTNING STRIKES THE ROYAL

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Fifty five year ago this week flames erupted when the Royal Hotel was hit by a lightning strike. The Chilliwack Progress newspaper reported the weather during July 1958 a” heat wave” as the temperature in the days leading up to the fire registered at 110 degrees (F) in the Chilliwack area.  A flash of lightning and roaring thunder accompanied by heavy rain broke the heat wave on July 22, 1958 around 10:30 in the morning tearing a hole in the roof of the historic hotel in downtown Chilliwack. 

Witnesses in the hotel and surrounding businesses describe hearing the thunder and lightning sounding like a bomb went off – the blast could be heard and felt from several blocks away. The Chilliwack fire department was dispatched and responded with a crew of firefighters, many of them volunteers. As onlookers gathered in the rain, the fire crews worked feverishly to save the hotel from further damage.

Working on the top floor of the Royal was housekeeper Lois Goossens, busy with her daily duties when the strike occurred directly above her. Today, at 95 years young, Lois describes the loud sound and the blue flash as lightning hit that July morning 55 years ago. Lois also recalls Buck Berry, the hotel proprietor, running up the stairs and asking Lois to knock on all the guest room doors to ensure all guests were safely evacuated. The construction workers building the Agassiz Bridge were staying in the hotel as well as travelling salesmen (or commercial men as Buck Berry called them). Thankfully Lois was able to confirm all guests were away working when the fire struck. 

City of Chilliwack fire chief George Stevens noted in the Chilliwack Progress several days later, “I am sure proud of my boys.” The chief went on to say there was no danger to the lower floors of the hotel or nearby buildings. Although fire damage was limited to the roof area and did not affect guest rooms the water used to fight the fire was a foot deep in the lobby and also completely soaked the men fighting the fire. Two firemen were treated for smoke inhalation. Also damaged by water was the beer parlour, although closing did not seem to be an option for Buck Berry – the Progress newspaper reported the beer parlour was open later that evening. 

A chain of volunteers could be seen carting furniture from the hotel onto the street where a pile of chairs removed from the beer parlour blocked the intersection of Main and Wellington.

With damage estimated at $60,000. Buck Berry planned to immediately repair the damage caused by this act of nature. The hotel would go onto withstand two more fires, in August 1974 and again in December 1994.

IMG-20130502-00043 Former housekeeper, Lois Goossens, centre (photo taken May 2013)

10 REASONS TO VISIT DOWNTOWN CHILLIWACK

Summer is here with a bang in Chilliwack! The weather has been very summer-like for the last couple of weeks making us forget we actually live in a rainforest. Despite what folks from elsewhere are led to believe, it does not rain here all the time. In fact, according to Environment Canada, Chilliwack has the distinction of having the warmest year-round temperature in Canada! Wow, I wonder how many people are aware of that?

So, with warm weather on the horizon why not spend an afternoon or better yet, a relaxing weekend exploring all that historic downtown Chilliwack has to offer. Downtown Chilliwack is very walkable and offers a wide variety of businesses and services, many housed in historic buildings. Here are my ten reasons for heading to downtown Chilliwack. And they are not in any specific order –

SHOP LOCAL – Many of the shops located downtown are not chain stores that could be found in any mall in North America – most are owned and operated by locals. On Wellington Avenue you will find:
Creekside Home Décor and Antiques stocked with vintage furniture, up-cycled décor items, candles, lighting, jewellery and garden art. The displays are always changing so be sure to drop by and say “hi” or just take in the ambience (the place smells fantastic).
Lolly’s Fashion Lounge features the latest in ladies apparel and accessories.
Teddy Bear Dreams Childrens Wear for newborns to pre-teens Teddy Bear Dreams not only has the latest fashion trends for the small-set they also stock dance wear.
The Bookman holds the claim of being the second largest used book store in B.C. Browse the well-organized selection of used books housed in a 5000 sq. ft. storefront on Wellington Ave.

EAT – You will find something to satisfy your hunger whether you are looking for a home cooked breakfast, a quick cup of coffee or want to linger over a cold beer or cocktail.
Around the corner on Mill Street, Appledoorns is a great place for a mid-morning cup of tea (served in china tea cups) or light lunch.
The Royal Café located within the Royal Hotel is where to head if a hearty breakfast is on the agenda. Featuring home-style cooking and amazing pies, the Royal also serves breakfast until 3 pm.
District Public House, located at five corners, where Yale Road and Wellington intersect is a favourite local haunt serving beer on tap and great pub food (you must try the fall-off-the bone ribs).
If you are seeking a relaxing evening of fine dining, head a few blocks east on Yale Road to Bravo Restaurant & Lounge. Bravo is well-known for its focus on local food, extensive wine list and excellent service. The lounge also serves up live music most weekends.

PLAYThe Chilliwack Landing Leisure Centre located near the downtown core on Corbould Street houses an indoor pool with water slides, wave pool, therapeutic pools, and exercise and weight rooms. Outside you will find a water spray-park and playground area. Sure to please all ages, the Landing Leisure Centre is just a short stroll from the downtown (and well worth it).

STAY – Offering twenty nine guest rooms the 105 year old Royal Hotel is not your average cookie-cutter hotel. Sleep in an antique room complete with vintage furnishings but also equipped with modern conveniences such as air conditioning and in-room coffee brewers. Unwind in a claw foot tub before retiring to your comfortable bed after exploring all downtown Chilliwack has to offer.
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A Chat with the GM Leonard Wiens

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You have been in the hospitality industry for 33 years, how did you get into the hotel  business?

That is an interesting story. I came from managing a year round church camp and conference center in the Chilliwack area. The general manager position at the Comfort Inn became available and after some research decided that walking to work was very appealing. I applied for and was given the position at the Comfort Inn, a position I held for 18 years. Another reason I was attracted to the hospitality industry also stems from my traveling experiences and the fact that the hospitality industry is a clean industry. Also, typically people are happy when they are travelling – guests are usually looking forward to their experiences. I enjoy helping people get the best out of their travel experience so being in a hotel where one often looks to for information just seemed to be a natural fit.

You recently came on board as the General Manager of the 105 year old Royal Hotel. What prompted you to join the Royal?

One of the things that prompted me to join the Royal was that it’s an iconic place in the community of Chilliwack. The hotel has been well preserved and maintained and offers a unique experience for guests. That is what attracted me to the Royal. Although a well-known and iconic site in Chilliwack, my observation was that it was not performing as well as it could. To me that presented a challenge and an opportunity. My goal is to make the hotel more of a destination and a unique offering thereby earning our fair market share – or better – in the community. Our features and character should give us an advantage over other hotels in the area.

What three words best describe the Royal Hotel?

Character – there is nothing cookie-cutter about the Royal Hotel. Clean – that best describes the hotel – it’s impeccably clean. This is why we do double checks of each room before releasing rooms to guests. Caring – I chose that word because as staff we care that each guest gets the best experience at the hotel – we care and ensure your reservations are made correctly. We don’t have an elevator – we are happy to assist you with your bags. We want to be known for our exquisite service.

If you were considering staying at the Royal Hotel, what would you want to know before making a reservation?

Given that the Royal is a heritage hotel, I would want to know if the amenities I would normally find in a hotel room be in my room at the Royal Hotel, as well. As much as I like the historical experience, I would not like having to use a bathroom located down the hall! I would also want to know that the guest rooms are air conditioned and that the fire and safety equipment meet current standards. I would also like to know that the hotel is conveniently located in the downtown and has a café or restaurant onsite. Another thing I may want to know is that meeting space is available in the hotel.

What is the most challenging thing about being a hotel general manager?

I think (overall) the last few years the most challenging thing is keeping up to date on how guests look for information -from where they are travelling to where they are staying. There was a time when all a hotel had to do was have a listing in the accommodations guide, now the internet has changed that. Marketing has changed with the integration of various forms of media including social media. It is a challenge keeping ahead of the curve. At the same time an additional challenge is how to maintain a personal touch with our guests – in the end people want to be treated like an individual rather than just a reservation number. Both components need to be in place, the high tech and high touch need to work together. Staying abreast of constant changes in high tech is a challenge – with information constantly in flux.

There must be a lot of history in a 105 year old hotel. Can you share your most interesting bit of the history of the Royal Hotel?

I always find the story of Room “0” interesting. As much as the Berry Family that owned and operated the Royal for 70 years had their house nearby, they made the hotel their home. Room “0” played a significant role as this was Buck Berry’s room. (Barry, our long time night person, can attest to never having heard or seen anything supernatural …although sometimes the creaks and groans of an old building help to keep him awake during his shift.)

Don’t Miss out – Come to Chilliwack – Visit Minter Gardens

The news last week of the permanent closing of Minter Gardens was a shock to everyone, including me. This 32 acre display garden has been drawing visitors from near and far since opening in 1980. Run by the well-known gardening guru Brian Minter and his family, the gardens were a destination for tourists as well as a popular venue for weddings and other events including the antique car show held annually in the gardens.

 But don’t despair – there is an upside. Minter Gardens will be open until the fall, hosting its last visitors on Monday October 14th, 2013. Now is a great time to book a trip to Chilliwack and visit the twelve themed gardens spectacularly set against the backdrop of Mount Cheam. It is hard to pick a favorite garden within Minter Gardens, however the Rose Garden is blooming now and the Arbour Garden is a wonderful place for a cool stroll on a warm summer day ending with a waterfall. The Children’s Garden will entertain younger visitors providing something for all ages. The Meadow Garden is a favorite location for wedding photos. In addition to the themed gardens, Minter Gardens also boasts several water features. Be sure to end your visit at the Café located within the gardens as well as stop at the gift shop to pick-up your lasting memories of Minter Gardens.

 For directions, hours of operation and admission rates, I have included a link below.

http://www.hellobc.com/activitylisting/4542225/minter-gardens.aspx

 Your trip to Minter Gardens is not complete without a stop at Minter Country Gardens, Minter’s retail garden store located on Young Road North just minutes from downtown Chilliwack. The 18 acre destination garden center is much more than your average garden center. As well as standard bedding plants you will find an outdoor selection of shrubs and trees pleasantly displayed in a garden setting, as well as several greenhouses located throughout the property. Inside you will find a great selection of seeds, tropical plants, garden tools and implements, unique giftware, a full service floral department and an on-site café featuring light meals and snacks. On Saturdays in the summer the parking lot on Young Road is host to a farmers market featuring vendors selling local produce. And good news for gardeners, the retail store will remain open with the Minter family continuing at the helm.

 Did this peak your interest? Don’t miss this opportunity to see the gardens before they close forever. Mention “Minter Gardens” when making your reservations at the Royal Hotel and receive 15% off your weekday stay during July, August and September. (Valid for stays Sunday through Thursday nights, based on availability)