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Vintage bottles, magic cards, a 1969 Playboy: Quirky items found in historic B.C. buildings

Crews set aside some of the funkier pieces emerging from the construction rubble

Antique glass bottles. A 1969 Playboy magazine. Magic cards. A vintage sign.

These are among the quirkier items emerging from the rubble at a downtown Chilliwack site.

Crews have been dismantling buildings on a four-acre site ahead of the phased construction, while retaining façades — and a few historic finds.

Jarrett Enns, construction lead for Algra Bros., has been supervising commercial sites for years.

“But this is one is different because we are dealing with much older buildings,” Enns.

They’ve found some really cool vintage pieces, some from an old Woolworths store, and others from a building that once housed the Imperial Theatre.

“From the walls we’ve stripped off layers and layers,” Enns said.

“It seems that back in the day people weren’t too concerned about recycling or not littering because they would just sort of leave stuff in the walls, under the floor, on the roof. Anywhere.”

Some items haven’t seen the light of day for decades — or more than a century.

One of the buildings coughed up an ancient posterboard with paint chips in drab colours like slate, yellow, red, or dark slate, as well as choices for varnishes and stains.

Some early paint and varnish colours to choose from.(Jennifer Feinberg/The Progress)
Algra Bros. set up a website www.chilliwackisback.com to offer project updates. Some of the found items may even reappear in future tenants’ new digs, possibly displayed once the construction dust settles.

They found things more on the surface initially, such as in cupboards, back rooms, or on shelves.

“But now at this stage we’re getting into the real guts of it,” Enns said.

Digging deep they came up with old tools, and lots of trash, like some empty tomato tins under the floor joists.

“Most of it we think they were just trying to dispose of as they were building,” he said, “but in other cases we think they were definitely trying to hide stuff.”

The June 1969 edition of Playboy might fit the bill. The vintage magazine, with a rather tame cover by today’s standards, was discovered tucked away inside a furnace equipment room.

Algra has also been posting images for all to enjoy on their DowntownChilliwack Instagram account.

One of them is a well-preserved sign for a tailor’s shop from the 40s that was being used as a shim in the ceiling of the old theatre building.

A sign for the Central Tailor Shop
With a little research it was was traced back to the Central Tailor Shop, C.C. Finley proprietor, from an ad in the Sept. 22, 1948 issue of The Chilliwack Progress.

Several empty bottles were brought up from the depths. They once contained alcohol, ink or herbal medicines.

One of them still had some oozy brown residue in it. It dates back to 1910-20, with the words “medicine” in relief alongside “Lydia E. Pinkham.”

“I’ve been learning a lot more about glass bottles than I ever imagined,” said Jon Kinneman, marketing and artdirector for Algra Bros. “Just trying to figure out the connections, and how old they are and when they couldhave been put there.”

Certain characteristics can help date the bottles, like makers’ marks.

“It’s fascinating what you can find out about a silly little bottle,” Kinneman said.

The old bottle contained a herbal tonic from a company founded by Lydia E. Pinkham, which specialized in a vegetable compound to treat myriad “female complaints.”

There were also several ‘Mcdonald’s Nightcap Scotch’ bottles found, which apparently was a pretty popular libation in the U.S. during the 1920-33 when alcohol prohibition was in effect.

“We found about two dozen in the floor. Someone was really enjoying those,” Enns said.

They have no real clue why the empty tin cans and booze bottles ended up under the floors. Under the floor joists of one of the buildings, they found what they think is rusted shaving brush and a chisel.

“I don’t think anyone has touched this stuff since the late 1920s,” Enns said.

One of the buildings used to house Chilliwack’s oldest theatre, The Imperial Theatre. Phyllis Martin, a teenager sent a message to the world by penning it onto a wooden two-by-four frame, that they removed from the theatre building and kept.

Phyllis Martin left a message for Chilliwack in 1924
This is what she wrote: “I am Phyllis Martin & this is my address: Chilliwack, B.C., Henderson Ave., Imperial Theatre, Corner of Robson, Western Hemisphere, Earth, Air, Globe, World, North America, Canada, Aug. 28th, 1924.”

The next year, Miss Martin had the honour of winning the coveted prize for “most improvement shown in arithmatic” by any student in the entrance class, according to the Progress in 1925. A “gold eversharp” pencil was her prize.

Other finds? A Beautiful British Columbia magazine from the 80s was still in good shape, and a vintage 1970s GEclock radio, as well as pack of cards labelled “Svengali’s Magic Cards.”

The concept of connecting a community to its history through redevelopment comes up in this Algra Bros. description of their ambitious project: “This isn’t a mall or a shopping centre.

“It’s the city’s downtown being rediscovered, reimagined, rebuilt and reconnected. Chilliwack is back — be a part of it.”

READ MORE: First phase starts with fencing


@CHWKjourno
jfeinberg@theprogress.com

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Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering the arts, city hall, as well as Indigenous, and climate change stories.
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