Despite all the gripes on social media about crime and homelessness, there is an argument to be made that Chilliwack is the place to live, work and play.
As an Ontario transplant, I’ve spent more than half my life in B.C. including 16 years in Chilliwack, but I still never take for granted the view of the snow line on the nearby mountains, or seeing salmon spawning in side channels on the Vedder River.
All that in a city where I can buy decent curry or pho and get some great craft beer.
Sure we tangle with real big city problems like property crime, space in schools, and traffic pressures. We also hear petty rural gripes about manure spreading, tractor traffic, and seasonal backyard burning.
Some might call that the worst of both worlds, but I see the cup as half full. We have the best of both worlds.
For several years I’ve called Chilliwack the last bastion of affordability in the Lower Mainland. With the average price of a home having more than doubled in the last five years, calling Chilliwack affordable starts to sound ridiculous.
(The average price of all homes sold in the Chilliwack and District Real Estate Board area in February 2017 was $421,545. In February 2022, it was $877,300.)
But everything is relative, it’s still more expensive in Abbotsford, Langley and everywhere else in the Lower Mainland.
The most recent census numbers showed the Chilliwack area had the second-fastest rate of growth in Canada, behind only Kelowna.
“Chilliwack is obviously being widely recognized as a great place to hang your hat,” Mayor Ken Popove said about the census numbers when they came out in Februaury.
Ask a Realtor and they’ll tell you, people are moving here from all points west. And east.
There have been several major housing developments completed or started in recent months with more on the way. Easy-to-develop land is scarce in Chilliwack, pinched as the city is on all sides by the Agricultural Land Reserve, and surrounded by more challenging hillside land.
Incremental densification is happening as one-by-one, single-family homes on 50-foot lots are being converted to multi-unit townhouse complexes, or multiple small single family homes razed for four-storey apartment buildings.
And while the pace of population growth may outstrip local job creation, that might not matter. Two years of a global pandemic has left many people forced – or allowed – to work from home, and many realized they like it that way.
A recent study from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute, in partnership with the CBC, found that 56 per cent of those currently working from home say they would look for a new job if they were asked to return to the office, including 23 per cent who said they would quit on the spot.
“However, perhaps it is the non-work considerations that are the more significant reasons workers from home are less than enthused to return to the office full time,” according to the Angus Reid press release. “Canadians who work from home are more likely than those who don’t to say their work/life balance (35 per cent vs. 21 per cent), relationship with their spouse (32 per cent vs. 21 per cent) and their life overall (30 per cent vs. 18 per cent) have improved over the course of the pandemic.”
Put it all together: the lowest real estate prices of any city from here to Vancouver; plus the perks of rural and urban life; and a new-found work-from-home ethos.
Chilliwack may just become the work-life balance Goldilocks zone of the Lower Mainland.
Demand to be here is only going to grow, even if some of us might want to repeat the words on the sign on the way out of the Chilliwack River Valley: “Wasn’t it beautiful? Shhh… Don’t tell anyone!”
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