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Chilliwack PIoneer Village: stepping back in time

Pioneer Village is one of the stops on the Chilliwack Slow Food Cycle Tour this Sunday.
Stuart Vander Kooi

Walking through Pioneer Village is like stepping into a time warp.

To a time where the women wore tight corsets and bustles and slaved over wood stoves and hand-cranked washing machines, and where the men drove horse-drawn carriages and worked the threshers in the fields.

A place where milk wagons, candlestick telephones, and shorthand dictionaries fit; where sadirons, blocks of Velveeta cheese and metal horse harnesses could all be purchased at the General Store; where the downtown featured all the necessities – post office, chapel, schoolhouse, library, and blacksmith shop.

A place that's been in Chilliwack for more than 30 years, but only now is starting to be adequately promoted.

The Pioneer Village at Heritage Park is one of the stop's featured in this weekend's Slow Food Cycle Tour.

It's a first for the Village.

"We have so much stuff; we should be showing it off," said Stuart Vander Kooi, president of the Atchelitz Threshermen's Association, which runs the Village.

"You'd be surprised the number of children here who don't have a clue about our farming history. They get their milk from the grocery store and that's as far as [their knowledge] goes."

The ATA is trying to change that.

Pioneer Village, located next to Heritage Park, is seven kilometres of pure history – most farming.

Standing between rows of milk wagons, carriages, depot hacks, tractors, threshers, and vintage cars, Vander Kooi's eyes light at the history around him. Being a farm boy himself, and a dairy farmer on Jesperson Road for over 30 years, the ATA was a natural for his retirement years.

When he started volunteering with ATA eight years ago, it was a love for "tinkering" that drew him in. Immediately his eyes fell on the old Fraser Valley milk wagon.

"It was a pile of scraps," he said. "All the front woodwork was rotten. The wheels were rotten," stuck in about a foot of dirt.

Vander Kooi couldn't wait to get his hands on it.

Three months later, it was fully restored – new wheels, new woodwork, new paint, intricate details replaced or rebuilt, bringing it back to its heyday when milk drivers were the first on the road delivering fresh jugs prior to the breakfast hour.

"I haven't a clue where they all come from; they just kind of show up," laughed Vander Kooi.

Some with no known history like the bakery carriage that, when its layers were peeled back, showed it a former laundry wagon. And some with suspected heirs like the Landau Carriage, circa 1890, that came from Victoria and may have been used for formal occasions with the B.C. government.

By partnering with the Slow Food Cycle Tour, members of the ATA hope to attract a younger crowd into the Village.

Slow Food Vancouver, a non-profit organization, has been holding the cycle tour in Chilliwack for five years in an effort to connect urban consumers with local producers. Most stops are specifically food related – beef and dairy farms, grain producers, corn, honey, herbs and more – located on modern-day farms.

Vander Kooi believes Pioneer Village brings the 25 km, self-guided tour full circle.

"It's history; most farm history," he said.

"The young people need to know what things were like years ago."

Chilliwack Slow Food Cycle Tour is Sunday, August 3, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Cost is $15.

For more information, or to register, go online at