New chapter after 85 years

The end of an era has arrived, with one of Chilliwack’s oldest family-owned businesses moving away to make way for a new development.

Jim Edwards (right) and his family has owned the property at the corner of Yale Road and Ontario Avenue since 1931. The property was recently bought by Todd Hiebert (left) who will be demolishing the building and starting construction on the new Edwards Crossing shopping complex.

The end of an era has arrived at the corner of Yale Road and Ontario Avenue, with one of Chilliwack’s oldest family-owned businesses moving away to make way for a new development.

Since the 1920s the Edwards family has occupied the piece of Chilliwack land that sits next to Southgate Shopping Centre, across the street from the Friendly Banners Restaurant.

Leo Edwards and his wife, Clarinda, started with a house and a small lot, purchased for $500. That’s where they raised six children. In order, there were big brothers Phil, Wilf and Jim. He was followed by younger sisters Caril and Anna and the baby of the family, little brother Tracy.

Over the years the Edwards clan purchased adjacent land and got into business for themselves, starting in 1931 with a five-bay service station, then a Mazda dealership and then a marine dealership, thriving in the heyday of Chilliwack’s downtown area. Other businesses came and went while the Edwards family remained.

“This is the 85th year,” Jim said recently. “At one time we had somewhere around 12 or 15 Edwardses employed. My brothers were all mechanics. We had grandsons and granddaughters. Husbands and wives.”

Jim is 80 years old. From then to now he has been the anchor, and the Edwards clan have served as constants in a sea of change.

But all things come to an end, and two years ago, in the midst of financial strife brought on by the economic slowdown, Jim quietly sold the property to Lakeshore Ventures Ltd.

“We were selling over 100 Campion boats, and a few aluminum boats a year, and at one point we were the biggest Legend Boats dealer in Canada,” Jim said proudly. “But when the recession hit, the fibre-glass boat market fell off the map. And it’s only now, in the last year or so, that it’s starting to come back.”

And now it’s time to leave.

Jim spent all of January packing up decades of paperwork, getting ready for a move to a new home, next to Rona on Yale Road in the spot formerly inhabited by GWG Rentals.

Jim’s new building makes sense for a lot of reasons.

It’s more visible, with the ability to leave boats outside (rather than taking them out in the morning and in at night). The property tax bill is significantly less than what he’s been paying, cut from $325,000 to $150,000.

Though he’s melancholy about leaving, Jim’s also excited and looking forward to the challenge of new surroundings.

“We’ve had lots of people coming through the door lately saying, ‘What’s going on? Where am I going to get my boat serviced?’” Jim said. “And I’ve been telling them, ‘We’re not quitting. We’re just moving.”

The old building, where he spent thousands of hours, will quietly be knocked down, probably within the next week. It will soon be replaced by Edwards Crossing, a seven-unit commercial development that will feature a drive-through coffee shop.

The name of the development is a nod to the history of the corner and the family that made it home. Once completed, old pictures will be displayed on the walls of at least one of the businesses at Edwards Crossing, integrating the past with the present.

“It’s maybe kind of a strange thing, but I come from a family business as well and it just seemed right to honour Jim and his family for what they’ve meant to the community,” said Todd Hiebert, who has come to consider Jim a friend and not just a business contact. “My dad started Cooperators Insurance in Abbotsford around 45 years ago. My brother came in 38 years ago and I came in 28 years ago. So we get the whole family business thing.”

In a neat twist, Hiebert, a Yarrow native who runs Lakeshore Ventures Ltd. along with his brother, Gerald, plans to keep massive pillars of old-growth wood that support the roof of the current building, somehow working them into the new buildings.

The rest of the development will be all-new and eye-catching, with four access points to facilitate flow.

“When you do something of this calibre, you want to do this right,” Hiebert said. “We’re spending a little extra on some of the finishing touches, just to give it more of a presence. To be able to change a whole city block, that’s big for us. It’s a lot of fun and one of my joys is having someone drive by and say, ‘Wow! Did you see what they did on that corner?’”

Jim had a folder of pictures on his desk two weeks ago. They are the pictures that will be blown up and displayed at Edwards Crossing.

He thumbed through them, each bringing back a different memory.

“Six days a week I worked here and it (the view) has changed significantly,” Jim said, gazing out his office window at the traffic on Yale Road. “I remember my dad saying once that in 1931, a car would go by every two weeks or so. Now there’s upwards of 20,000 a day.”

Hiebert has offered to have Jim take the first shot when demolition day comes.

“They want me to get on the forklift or whatever it is and take a chunk out of the building, and I guess I can probably do that,” Jim said, before closing his folder of pictures.

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