"There may have been a time when preservation was about saving an old building here or there, but those days are gone. Preservation is in the business of saving communities and the values they embody." – Richard Moe, National Trust for Historic Preservation
This quote resonates with me. It reminds me of how Heritage Chilliwack came to be founded.
In early 2012 a group of community members came together to discuss a troubling rumor that was circulating throughout the city. The rumor, as it turned out was not a rumor, but reality. Reality that our c.1949 Paramount Theatre, a backbone of Chilliwack’s downtown was under threat of demolition. The solid concrete theatre had been closed down by Landmark Cinemas and gifted to the City of Chilliwack. The city, uncertain what to do with this “gift” opted to offer the demolition option and slipped the item onto a City Council meeting’s agenda. The “Save the Paramount” working group mobilized and lobbied City Council for an opportunity to present other options, other than demolition. Fast forward 90 days, the timeframe the group was granted to prepare a proposal to re-purpose the theatre.
We all know how this story ended. The outcome was not as we wanted or even anticipated. The theatre was demolished and a huge hole was all that remained. The Paramount working group was understandably disappointed and somewhat discouraged that City Council chose to disregard both their own staff recommendations and community support to refurbish the building.
What did we learn from this? We quickly learned of the huge amount of community support to keep and repurpose the theatre. The theatre, although just a large concrete building, was important to Chilliwack residents. It was valued as more than a theatre. Memories were made at the Paramount. The Paramount Theatre was part of the fabric of our community. All that is left are memories – and the damaged fifty-foot neon Paramount sign that was once a beacon in Chilliwack’s downtown.
It was with this passion and determination that started with the Paramount Theatre that Heritage Chilliwack was born. And yes, we also learned that saving our heritage is more than just saving one building. It is about our collective efforts to save the memories and stories that form our community’s history.