Cost too high to save 'Chilliwack landmark' the Irwin Block

In 1911 the cement Irwin Block building was constructed at Five Corners in Chilliwack. - Chilliwack Museum and Archives P566
In 1911 the cement Irwin Block building was constructed at Five Corners in Chilliwack.
— image credit: Chilliwack Museum and Archives P566

There is old and irrelevant, and then there's old and important.

Deciding which is which is part of the heritage conversation, a conversation critics of city hall say just doesn't happen in Chilliwack.

"The Irwin Block at Five Corners is a Chilliwack landmark," according to the Chilliwack Museum and Archives in a document from a photo collection.

Last week (Feb. 17 to 23) was Heritage Week in B.C., and it was Feb. 18 when city council unanimously decided to demolish the more than 100-year-old Irwin Block.

"Chilliwack’s contribution to Heritage Week is marked by mayor and council’s vote . . . to demolish another downtown heritage building," said Laura Reid, a local heritage enthusiast and member of the society that tried to save the Paramount Theatre.

"Although Mayor Gaetz spoke on a Star FM radio broadcast in March 2012 saying she 'doesn’t want to be known as the mayor who smashes down buildings' this did not stop her and council for voting for another gravel parking lot, all at taxpayers’ expense."

The Irwin block was, according to a staff report presented at the Feb. 18 council meeting, virtually beyond repair.

Irwin Block

The contract to demolish the building is for $141,000. City staff say it would cost in the neighbourhood of $800,000 to make the building usable.

Reports from the Chilliwack Museum and Archives say the Irwin Block was built in three stages between 1909 and 1913 with the middle section completed last. In June of 1911, the Irwin Block was purchased by Huston and Cruickshank.

In November 1912, Charles Henry Cowen relocated his pharmaceutical business from the Knight Block to the Irwin Block.

On August 3, 1937, B.A Irwin died and the Irwin Block was sold, as part of his estate, to another pharmacist, Harry D. Hipwell.

Some residents today will remember Hipwell's business in the building. Gaetz mentioned it at the Feb. 18 council meeting. She said she remembered eating lunch at the counter as a teenager.

There are heritage characteristics to the Irwin Block to be sure, but prolonged neglect and damage meant it was unsalvageable, according to city hall.

Garbage removal and hazardous materials abatement is scheduled inside the three buildings to be deconstructed this week until March 12, according to the contractor. Heavy demolition of the buildings should begin March 13 with the project completed by the end of March.

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