One by one, old-style pubs are being built in Chilliwack homes, where friends and neighbours gather to say ‘Cheers’ over a pint.
When you enter one, it tends to overwhelm the senses.
These quaint pubs – popping up in basements, backyards and garages – are incredibly detailed. In every corner, every nook, there’s a trinket, a handmade piece of furniture, a built-in detail that tells a story.
It’s awe-inspiring, and has a way of transporting guests to another time. And when Chilliwack’s Rob Forde sat down in one for the first time, it was life-changing.
As a former chainsaw carver in Hope, Rob has always been intrigued by great workmanship.
When he explored the incredible Old English pocket pubs of Rick Fast, a local woodworker Heritage Timber, and of Mark Myers, the creator of Back to Britain Pubs, Rob knew immediately that he would make one of his own.
Inspired by his Irish and Norwegian descent, Rob has brought “The Irish Viking” to life in his basement. Following more of a medieval theme than his English counterparts, Rob’s rustic pub is fitted with iron gates, Viking symbols carved into charred walls, hammered steel swords, and a black knight standing guard.
At the outset, this now semi-retired chiropractor knew the project would require a massive investment of time and dedication. But he thrives on a challenge, particularly one where he gets to stretch his creativity.
He and his wife Debbie packed up and moved from their somewhat cramped quarters in Garrison Crossing to a more spacious Promontory home, with a completely unfinished basement. Aside from two steel posts to work around, it was a blank canvas.
Unlike your average renovation job, where you follow a logical process of framing, sheeting, and finishing, Rob followed Mark and Rick’s advice to start from the bar.
“Build the bar structure first, sit at the bar, and everything else will come to you,” Rob recited.
And that’s what he did.
In January of 2015, Rob refinished and installed a slab of black walnut, from a tree cut down by Mark and delivered by Rick, and sat at the new bar-top. He then cut, stained and stressed scraps of plywood that the previous owner had left with the house, and he fixed them to the outer wall.
Despite having only one wall and a bar structure to fill, Rob’s vast collection of more than 300 pieces began.
“When someone takes on a project like this, it doesn’t have to cost a lot. You just have to be creative. Patient. Thrifty,” he explained.
Rob certainly classifies himself as a thrifty person.
The tree trunks that hold up the table in the centre of the pub came from a farm that was removing overgrown Christmas trees.
He traded a carving of a downhill skier for the iconic iron gate at the entrance of a pub. He traded another life-size carving of a Highland Games competitor for $1000 credit at a local second-hand dealer.
And by carefully browsing garage sales, thrift stores, and family treasures over the year, he filled The Irish Viking one piece at a time.
One of the most eye-catching pieces in the pub is the six-foot Viking longboat, which was handmade by Rick’s son Lucas for a high school project. After adding a few sails and a backdrop, Rob built the stone fireplace to fit it.
“That’s kind of how it goes,” he said. “When you come across things, you alter your design a bit to make it work.”
And with everything he’s built or designed, this artist is learning along the way.
He spent countless, tiring hours of trial and error and YouTube tutorials to learn how to carve mortar into the sculpted stonework that encases the 180 sq. foot pub. It took some research to decipher ancient Viking ruins, which he’s carved into wooden posts to illustrate the fictional history of the pub itself.
While every piece has a special place in Rob’s heart, he’s most proud of the Viking-style bench in the corner.
“You did not,” his friend had said to him in disbelief when Rob told him that he’d made it himself. “That was the best compliment ever,” Rob laughed. “And I don’t even think he was intending to compliment me.”
While he’s been to Mark’s and Rick’s pubs dozens of times now, Rob never tires of it. In fact, he says that spending time in these old pubs, like surrounding yourself with any artwork, actually has a way of bringing energy to you.
“There’s a lot of things to peak your interest. A lot for people to admire. And a lot of stories to tell,” he explained.
It’s become a gathering place for friends and family on weekends and holidays, but the pub is also a unique, cozy wedding venue. As a licensed marriage commissioner, Rob invites small Chilliwack wedding parties to tie the knot in The Irish Viking.
Now that his pub is complete, or looks so to the visitor, Rob is thrilled to be able to help others pursue their own passion.
“You have to plant the seed. Figure out what you’re excited about. Get someone like me to help you start, and work toward that,” he said.
“That’s what I do for people now, I get them started.”
For those who are inspired to take on their own creative woodwork and decor projects, Rob Forde is available to help. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.