The Chilliwack Museum is connecting the past, present and future social life of Five Corners and Chilliwack Landing in a new exhibition that opens Thursday, May 16.
With the redevelopment of downtown Chilliwack underway, it was the perfect time for the museum staff to install the 11-month long exhibition Five Faces, Five Corners: The Social Experience of Chilliwack’s Downtown.
“Everybody’s been talking about Five Corners and what the Algra Bros. have been doing,” says curator Anna Irwin. “We have this amazing collection and a lot of the artifacts we have are from Five Corners, so this is a really unique time to show those off… to talk about the historic downtown and talk about what’s been there, what hasn’t been there, where are we going in the future.”
This exhibition explores the evolving social landscape of Chilliwack’s Five Corners area. Located on Stó:lo territory, S’ólh Téméxw (Our World), the exhibition will trace the downtown’s humble origins at Chilliwack Landing to the bustling centre of Five Corners today.
From dining nooks to the hitching post, Five Faces, Five Corners will highlight the people and social spaces of Chilliwack’s downtown, and showcase the accomplishments of five individuals — many not so well-known — from Chilliwack’s past and present whose lives were, and continue to be, intimately intertwined with the history and development of Five Corners.
Those five people are: Matilda Harrison, Harry Hipwell, Claude Smith, Gary Williams, and Amber Price.
“We’ve got a mix of historic and modern, and older and younger. We wanted to have all demographics [represented],” Irwin says.
The exhibit starts with Chilliwack Landing and the voice of Skwah First Nation elder Gary Williams. Though he is one of the modern faces, he shares relevant pieces of Chilliwack’s Indigenous history.
“He actively works with us and other groups to make sure that the Pelolhxw history is carried forward. He’s been huge in helping us bring an Indigenous face to the exhibit,” Irwin says.
Next is Matilda Harrison who came to Chilliwack in the 1880s as single mother with a young son and sold books for a living. Her business wasn’t very successful, so she started a hotel at Chilliwack Landing.
|Hotelier Matilda Harrison established the Valley Hotel at Chilliwack Landing shortly after she arrived in Chilliwack in 1878. (Photograph courtesy of the Chilliwack Museum and Archives, P294)|
“She made a name for herself running this hotel,” says Irwin. “We included her because it’s rare to find a strong female from the 1800s. It’s amazing to have her in the exhibit.”
It was during Harrison’s time that downtown Chilliwack moved from Chilliwack Landing to Five Corners, so she “bridges that relocation period” in the exhibition, she adds.
Next we meet Claude Smith and Harry Hipwell, which covers about 40 years of Chilliwack history from the 1920s to 1960s.
Smith was the last manager of the Strand Theatre (Wellington Avenue and Main Street) and the first manager of the Paramount. During the Second World War, he organized many fundraisers for the Canadian Red Cross and war efforts.
Hipwell was one of the original founders of the Chilliwack Cherry Carnival.
“He grew the Cherry Carnival into what it was today. He was a big promoter of Chilliwack, he was very active in social groups, and he was known as Mr. Agassiz Bridge.”
And then we step into the present with Amber Price, co-owner of The Book Man.
“We wanted to have somebody who was actively involved in revitalizing the downtown, and The Book Man is one of those anchor stores downtown.”
“When you’re thinking ‘social’ for Five Corners today, where are the places that you think of?” asks Irwin. “You think of places like The Book Man because it has such an intimate setting where you’re swapping book suggestions with the person who’s also in the aisle with you, and you’re having a conversation with the cat even if you’re not meaning to.”
One of the goals of Five Faces, Five Corners is to show how the social landscape has changed and how it’s stayed the same.
“For example, with Amber and Matilda you can draw an easy parallel. Matilda used to sell books and it didn’t do too well. Now we’re selling books and it’s doing awesome.”
They’re looking at the future of Five Corners as well. The exhibition talks about the Algra Bros. redevelopment, plus groups that are active in the revitalization of downtown like Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation, City of Chilliwack, Fraser Health, and Ruth and Naomi’s.
“Five Corners is so many different things to so many different people. It is the heart of Chilliwack and it’s impossible to get everybody’s stories into an exhibit on Five Corners with one gallery, so that’s been a challenge,” says Irwin. “There will definitely be some things that we left out, but I think we got the main heart of everything.”
Five Faces, Five Corners: The Social Experience of Chilliwack’s Downtown will be on display from May 16 to April 18, 2020.
Opening reception is Thursday, May 16 at 7 p.m. Admission is $5 (free for members of the Chilliwack Museum & Historical Society) and includes appetizers and refreshments.