A tailor shop sign, a Lydia E. Pinkham bottle, Svengali’s magic cards, and a 1969 Playboy found at the Downtown Chilliwack site. (Submitted)

Digging down deep reveals quirky bits of Chilliwack history

Algra Bros. crews setting aside some of the funkier finds from the Downtown Chilliwack site

Antique glass bottles. A 1969 Playboy magazine. A teen’s message to the world. Some old tomato tins.

These are among the quirkier items emerging from the rubble at the Algra Bros. Downtown Chilliwack redevelopment site.

Crews have been dismantling the buildings east of Five Corners ahead of the phased construction, while retaining façades — and a few historic finds.

Jarrett Enns, construction lead for Algra Bros, has been in the supervisory role on commercial sites for years.

“But this is one is different because we are dealing with older buildings,” Enns.

They’ve found some really cool vintage pieces.

“From the walls we’ve stripped off layers and layers,” Enns said.

“It seems that back in the day people weren’t too concerned about recycling or not littering because they would just sort of leave stuff in the walls, under the floor, on the roof. Anywhere.”

Some haven’t seen the light of day for decades — or more than a century in some cases. One of the

buildings coughed up an ancient posterboard from the store with floor paint chips in colours like slate, yellow, red, or dark slate, as well as colour choices for varnishes and stains.

Some early paint and varnish colours to choose from.(Jennifer Feinberg/The Progress)

Algra has set up a website www.chilliwackisback.com to offer project updates. Some of the found items may even reappear in future tenants’ new digs, possibly displayed once the construction dust settles.

They found things initially more on the surface, such as in cupboards, back rooms, or on shelves.

“But now at this stage we’re getting into the real guts of it,” Enns said.

Digging deeper they came up with old tools, and lots of trash, like some empty tomato tins under the floor joists.

“Most of it we think they were just trying to dispose of as they were building,” he said, “but in other cases we think they were definitely trying to hide stuff.”

The June 1969 edition of Playboy that someone uncovered might fit the bill. The vintage magazine, with a rather tame cover by today’s standards, was discovered tucked away inside a furnace equipment room.

Algra has been posting images for all to enjoy on their DowntownChilliwack social media account.

One of them is a well-preserved sign for a tailor’s shop from the 40s that was being used as a shim in the ceiling of the old Imperial Theatre building. Troy Abbott, member of the Algra crew, managed to rescue the sign.

A sign for the Central Tailor Shop

With a little research it was was traced back to the Central Tailor Shop, C.C. Finley proprietor, from an ad in the Sept. 22, 1948 issue of The Progress.

Several empty bottles were brought up from the depths. They once contained alcohol, ink or herbal medicines.

One of them still had some oozy brown residue in it. It dates back to 1910-20, with the words “medicine” appearing in relief alongside “Lydia E. Pinkham.”

“I’ve been learning a lot more about glass bottles than I ever imagined,” said Jon Kinneman, marketing and art director for Algra Bros. “Just trying to figure out the connections, and how old they are and when they could have been put there.”

Certain characteristics can help date glass bottles, like makers’ marks.

“It’s fascinating what you can find out about a silly little bottle,” Kinneman said.

The old bottle contained a herbal tonic from a company founded by Lydia E. Pinkham, which specialized in a vegetable compound to treat myriad “female complaints.”

There were also several ‘Mcdonald’s Nightcap Scotch’ bottles found, which apparently was a pretty popular libation in the U.S. during the 1920-33 when alcohol prohibition was in effect.

“We found about two dozen in the floor. Someone was really enjoying those,” Enns said.

They have no real clue why the empty tin cans and booze bottles ended up under the floors. Under the joists of one of the buildings, they found what they think is rusted shaving brush and a chisel.

“I don’t think anyone has touched this stuff since the late 1920s,” Enns said.

One of the buildings used to house Chilliwack’s oldest theatre, The Imperial Theatre.

Phyllis Martin, a local teenager sent a message to the world by penning it on a two-by-four frame, that they removed from the theatre building and kept.

Phyllis Martin left a message for Chilliwack in 1924

This is what she wrote: “I am Phyllis Martin & this is my address Chilliwack, B.C., Henderson Ave, Imperial Theatre, Corner of Robson, Western Hemisphere, Earth, Air, Globe, World, North America, Canada, Aug. 28th, 1924.”

The next year, Miss Martin had the honour of winning the coveted prize for “most improvement shown in arithmatic” by any student in the entrance class, according to the Chilliwack Progress in 1925. A “gold eversharp” pencil was her prize.

Other finds? A Beautiful British Columbia magazine from the 80s was still in good shape, and a vintage 1970s GE clock radio, as well as pack of cards labelled “Svengali’s Magic Cards.”

The concept of connecting a community to its history through redevelopment comes up in this description of the project: “This isn’t a mall or a shopping centre.

“It’s the city’s downtown being rediscovered, reimagined, rebuilt and reconnected. Chilliwack is back — be a part of it.”


@CHWKjourno
jfeinberg@theprogress.com

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Construction worker Troy Abbott and Jon Kinneman, Algra marketing and art director, check out one of the mysterious artifacts found under the floor at the Downtown Chilliwack redevelopment site. (Jennifer Feinberg/The Progress)

Inside one of the buildings at the Algra Bros. Downtown Chilliwack site. (Jennifer Feinberg/The Progress)

Jarrett Enns, site supervisor at the Algra Bros. redevelopment site, with a piston head found under the floor, possibly from a Model T Ford engine. (Jennifer Feinberg/The Progress)

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