Chilliwack: Boom Town

At the heart of this agricultural community is a nature-friendly lifestyle–and a drive to create new-generation mixed-use, walkable downtown in the coming years.

By Steven Threndyle

To most Vancouverites, Chilliwack is a Canadian classic-rock band, or perhaps a type of corn sold in farmer’s markets. And then there’s that particular odour that you might have noticed when stopping for gas and a burger before hitting the Coquihalla (from liquid fertilizer sprayed onto thousands of acres of nearby farmland). After all, 40 per cent of Chilliwack’s boundaries are lined with farms in the Agricultural Land Reserve, and 30 per cent of the local economy is based in agriculture.

Get past that first whiff, and you’ll discover what Chilliwack’s 105,000 residents already know: it’s hard to beat when it comes to affordability, access to amenities and economic potential. “We don’t see ourselves as a bedroom community,” says Brian Coombes, president of Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation (CEPCO). “But it’s nice to know that you can take in… a Canuck’s game or a concert–and be back the same night.”

Former Langley mayor Rick Green, well-known UBC professor Patrick Condon and former B.C. premier Bill Van Der Zalm are joining forces to revive a commuter train service between Vancouver and Chillwack that last operated in 1958. The B.C. government still owns the right-of-way, and construction costs would be a fraction of Skytrain costs. The Interurban went out of business due to the rising popularity of car-serviced suburbs, but today’s traffic demands innovative solutions. A European-style high-speed rail line could help densify housing in serviced areas and reduce carbon emissions from individual vehicles.

Top-notch sturgeon and salmon fishing on the Fraser River, white-water kayaking the spring snowmelt from surrounding Cascade Mountains and Coast Range peaks and hiking through wildflowers on Mount Cheam and the Lucky Four group are natural attractions. Wakeboarders and waterskiers know that Cultus Lake might be the best boating lake west of the Okanagan, and there are no less than four championship golf courses near.

The past decade has seen constuction of a 600-seat theatre, a 5,000-seat arena/recreation complex. Molson Breweries is putting the finishing touches on the largest Brewery in B.C. Ritchie Bros. Auctions moved here to take advantage of lower land costs and Chilliwack’s business-friendly environment (including the lowest property taxes in B.C. for both business-use buildings and residential homes).

Chilliwack house prices are still reasonable ($613,000 is the 2019 average assessed value)–executive homes sell for under $1-million, with roomy town homes and condos in the $400,000 range. Inexpensive land prices are also creating a haven for developments like Englewood, one of the largest seniors’ housing projects in Western Canada.

The Van Maren Group of Companies, which also develops property in the South Okanagan, says lower prices are definitely a big draw. Eric Van Maren says, “If you live in a town house in Surrey, you can step up to a single-family home or if you have a condo in Langley, you can live in a town home out here.” Chilliwack’s low vacancy rate (well under five per cent) makes properties attractive to investors needing a reliable source of rental cash flow.

As you’d expect with any agricultural community, Chilliwack is spread out, and its historic business district somewhat lost importance as power-centre style malls were built close to freeway exits. But that’s changing: in 2017, the City of Chilliwack and Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation chose Algra Brothers to develop four acres of downtown bordered by Princess Street, Young Road and Yale Road. The plan includes the restoration of heritage properties which date from as early as 1913, when the town was called Five Corners (a reference to its proximity to major trade routes along the Dewdney Trail and Fraser River).

Algra’s marketing director, John Kinneman, says, “People who live in Chilliwack want its downtown to thrive. The first priority is updating the heritage buildings in accordance with local building codes, a process that will take time and money to do properly”–a process to which Algra is committed. “People want something built on a human level,” says Kinneman, referring to the anticipated buildings of perhaps five or six storeys, “that combines retail, offices, and residential in the same building.” The resulting walkable, mixed-use downtown will include independently owned stores offering a personal, small-town shopping experience. Now that’s the sweet smell of success.

A vision for Chilliwack’s future downtown. Rendering courtesy of Algra Brothers.

WHAT Van Maren Homes has beautifully master-planned this family-friendly town home community. It’s close to malls with anchor tenants like Save-On Foods, Tim Hortons, and Earls. Parents: it’s a short stroll to Vedder Elementary and G.W. Graham Secondary Schools. WHERE The Promontory. WHEN Now selling phase one. 

Unlimited access to nature combines with family-friendly amenities and spacious freehold duplex homes. Gourmet kitchens have stainless-steel appliances; community trails and Gloria Peak are literally right out the door. WHERE Eastern Hillsides. WHEN Now selling phase one.

WHAT Brought to you by Chilliwack’s Van Geel family, these single-family detached homes are suitable for year-round or summer lakeside living. Meet your neighbours at The Barn, an impressive 4,600-square-foot clubhouse that includes a large lap pool, separate children’s pool, a hot tub, dry sauna and changing rooms. WHERE Cultus Lake, at Lindell Beach. WHEN Now selling.

Algra Bros. are leveraging the expertise they developed in revitalizing downtown Abbotsford to turn around the fortunes of historic Chilliwack. This multi-year, multi-phase project will mix residential, street-level retail and professional services, while restoring buildings that date back to the early 20th century. WHERE Downtown Chilliwack. WHEN Coming soon.

WHAT Affordable two-bedroom condominiums feature oversize patios, granite counters, stainless steel appliances and laminate flooring. WHERE Airport Road area, adjacent to a greenbelt; manicured landscaping and contemporary exteriors complement the natural setting. WHEN Now selling.

WHAT Perfect for entertainers, these spacious homes feature floor to ceiling windows that bathe the open-plan interiors in natural light. Sliding glass doors lead to a party-ready outdoor deck, and the rooftop deck can accommodate a hot tub. An optional top-floor bonus room is available. WHERE The Promontory, in Sardis. WHEN Pre-sales coming soon.

WHAT This five-phase, 90-acre development by the Odessa Group offers freehold lots for single-family homes in several sizes and options, many with great views of the mountains and Harrison and Fraser Rivers. A community park and pond are also in the plans. WHERE Kent, just northeast of Chilliwack. WHEN Phase two selling now.

WHAT Within an architecturally controlled development, these spacious two- and three-bedroom town homes range in size from 1,619 to 2,139 square feet, with plenty of interior and exterior options to choose from. WHERE The Promontory. WHEN Selling now.

WHAT This 45-plus gated community has West Coast inspired ranch-style homes that each feature a great room that connects to open designer kitchens, spa-like master bedrooms and covered outdoor living areas. WHERE Close to Sardis’s many retail outlets, professional services, restaurants, walking trails and entertainment. WHEN Selling now.

WHAT Developed and constucted by Vedder Ridge Homes and Woodbridge Homes, this family-oriented community has contemporary three storey, three-bedroom homes from 1,850 to 2,145 square feet. WHERE Chilliwack Mountain, minutes from downtown, yet still close to Chilliwack’s bounty of outdoor recreation. WHEN Selling now.

WHAT Chilliwack’s most luxury-oriented 45-plus community. Canadian Retirement Developments is targeting affluent retirees looking for more contemporary, upscale living in modern, open-plan spaces. WHERE Sardis, close to shopping and services. WHEN Currently in pre-sale; occupancy projected for 2021.

WHAT Perfect for families of any size and budget, this premium development has single-family homes and strata-free town homes; Unsworth Elementary School is close by. WHERE Sardis, in a neighbourhood bordered by the peaceful Vedder River, trails and verdant farmland. WHEN Now selling phase two.

A spacious freehold duplex home at Cascades. Photo courtesy of Cascade
Posted in Fall 2019