The Harrison House Hotel during the flood of 1894 (Chilliwack Museum and Archives)
The oldest hotel in Chilliwack is not the Royal Hotel, although the Royal can now claim the title as the oldest hotel still standing in Chilliwack.
The first hotel in Chilliwack was the Harrison House Hotel situated at the corner of Wellington and Corbould Ave. The hotel was owned and operated by Mrs. Matilda Harrison, a true entrepreneur and clearly ahead of women of her day. Matilda Harrison was featured in a biography profiling this hard working female in the May 21, 1891 edition of the Chilliwack Progress. According to the editor, Matilda arrived in British Columbia in 1878 and went on to build one of “Chilliwack’s grandest and most costly buildings” (Chilliwack Progress, May 14, 1891.) The 1891 newspaper article also went on to describe the hotel as two and a half stories high with furnishings “new and first class in every aspect.” The editor also added “such enterprise, exhibited by a woman is very commendable indeed.”
“Mrs. M Harrison, Board and Lodging” was the sign that graced the front of her establishment.
Matilda would stand at the door of her hotel, elegantly dressed as she greeted travellers embarking from steam wheelers that transported them from New Westminster. The guests were picked up at Chilliwack Landing by stage coach then brought to the Harrison House to experience Matilda’s hospitality and home cooking.
With the abundance of fertile land surrounding her hotel, Matilda planted fruit trees, vegetables and berries in addition to keeping jersey cows. She was able to supply fresh fruit, vegetables, and cream as well as preserves to the hotel kitchen way before anyone heard of the hundred mile diet!
Beautiful grounds planted with flowering shrubs and lawns immaculately tended and manicured for leisure activities such as croquet and lawn tennis games completed the setting. Her gardens were well known in the area and were frequented among residents for simply strolling. The flood waters of 1894 covered the velvet lawn deep enough for canoes to be paddled through the property.
In 1907 Matilda made the decision to sell the hotel and retire from the hospitality industry.