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.