Although Chilliwack has grown into an outdoor recreation mecca over the years, this spread-out, hard-working community in the Fraser Valley, east of Vancouver, has always stayed true to its agricultural roots.
Early Settlement in Chilliwack
The Sto:lo Nation native people were the first inhabitants of the Chilliwack region. Estimates for their time of arrival range between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago. Over time, the aboriginal population may have been anywhere between 30,000 and 60,000.
European settlers first arrived in the late 18th century. A major influx of fortune-seeking miners began during the Fraser River Gold Rush of the late 1850s. Farms and steamboat landings were established at locations like Chilliwack Landing and Miller's Landing to provide food, supplies, and other services for traders, settlers, and others traveling up-river. (The name "Chilliwack," incidentally, comes from a local aboriginal word that means "quieter water at the head" or "going back up the river.")
Chilliwack was incorporated as a township in 1873, making it BC's third-oldest. Road traffic increased, and the downtown intersection of the New Westminster-Yale Wagon Road, Wellington Avenue, and Young Road was christened "Five Corners." The erection of St. Thomas' Church was another major landmark for the community, which would soon add a school, smithy, flour mill, hotel, and general store.
As the 19th century drew to a close, this was the hub of influence in the area, which also included smaller settlements at places like Sardis, Vedder Crossing, Rosedale, Yarrow, and Greendale.
Development and Agriculture
In 1908, Chilliwack was re-incorporated as the City of Chilliwack. The pre-First World War years proved to be a development bonanza. The BC Electric Railway was completed in 1910, linking Chilliwack with New Westminster (BC's original provincial capital near the mouth of the Fraser River). In addition, a post office, hospital, city hall, and high school were completed before the outbreak of hostilities in Europe in 1914.
While agriculture (particularly the dairy sector) remained a constant force in the Chilliwack economy, the community also embraced the Canadian military for many years. An army base was established in 1942, and was Chilliwack's biggest employer until it closed in 1996.
Today, Chilliwack has more than 900 farms, but it's also renowned as a summertime getaway. Provincial parks like Cultus Lake and Bridal Falls attract thousands with hiking, fishing, river rafting, golfing, horseback riding, and similar activities. The historic downtown core has been well-preserved with restored heritage buildings, and a selection of quality restaurants and shops can be explored there.
A Chilliwack arts scene is emerging as well. The Chilliwack Arts Centre, Chilliwack Academy of Music, and Chilliwack Symphony Orchestra are local institutions, along with the Chilliwack Cultural Centre, which has a 500+ seat theatre, a smaller studio theatre, music rooms, arts and craft studios, and an art gallery.
Chilliwack has played host to some notable athletes. Canadian Olympic skier Kelly VanderBeek resides here, as does Olympic kayaker David Ford. In the 1990s, NHL hockey players like Shawn Horcoff, Jason Krog, and Wade Dubliewicz suited up for the now-defunct Chilliwack Chiefs of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League.
Famously, Chilliwack also lent its name to a Vancouver rock band that had some chart success in the 1970s and 1980s. Chilliwack's Top 40 hits included "My Girl (Gone Gone Gone)" (1981) and "Whatcha Gonna Do (When I'm Gone)" (1982).
To learn more about Chilliwack's vibrant history, visit the Chilliwack Museum, a designated National Historic Site.
Another alternative is to do the Yale Road Heritage Corridor self-guided driving tour, which covers many of the aforementioned landmarks from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Pick up the itinerary at the Chilliwack Visitor Centre.