The Alder Inn is no more.
One of Aldergrove’s longest-standing structures, which had been at the corner of Fraser Highway and 272nd Street in different incarnations for seven decades, was demolished on Nov. 16.
“A terrible waste…” Township Councillor Bob Long told the Aldergrove Star. “When first built, the Aldergrove Hotel was the pride of the community – and it could have been again, had council exercised any vision.”
Originally announced as “The Hotel Alders” in 1948, Shorthorn beef breeder Jay Ingersoll and his wife Eva, built the structure by forming Aldergrove Hotel Co. Ltd.
The hotel would be a new business venture for the community-involved couple – built on the site of the former Hotel Western that had burned down at the southeast corner of what was then the Trans-Canada Highway and Jackman Road.
Priority was given to local builders and suppliers for the construction and finishing of the hotel, which would offer sixteen guest rooms, half with private baths.
There would also be a licensed cafe, along with a banquet room that could accommodate up to eighty people.
The hotel was apparently highly anticipated, as residents knew a hotel of this size would be of great benefit to the small town’s economy.
Tami Quiring, president of the Alder Grove Heritage Society, said the Alder Inn became different things to different people throughout the years –some good and some bad.
“While I will not argue that the building was in disrepair, it did have a history; one that was vibrant and interwoven into the very fabric of Aldergrove’s story,” Quiring explained.
Once open in January of 1949, the hotel quickly became popular among travellers, honeymooners, and even families of naval personnel who had been stationed to the HMCS Aldergrove and awaited housing assignments.
The hotel was also known for its unique roll in the community – a siren atop its roof was used to alert the volunteer firefighters that their services were needed.
Citizens who required the fire department would call the fire alarm telephone at the Aldergrove Hotel and Mrs. Ingersoll would sound the siren.
The service stopped in June of 1962 when a radio service was implemented.
It wasn’t all good times in those days either; on Oct. 18, 1958, Ingersoll was working the front desk when a lone man entered the lobby early in the morning.
He apparently requested a room but pulled a gun when the owner turned his back. Once the safe was opened, an accomplice took $2,000 before tying Ingersoll to a desk and taping his mouth, hands, and feet.
RCMP were called and road blocks managed to slow the criminals who were on the run; the pair were subsequently arrested and sentenced to six years in prison.
In 1963, the Ingersoll’s sold the Aldergrove Hotel to John Dizdaredich, who then resold it to Frankmount Holdings Ltd., owned by Mr. Henry Frank.
He would reside in the penthouse suite with his wife and two children and renovate the hotel’s banquet hall in order to install a cocktail lounge alongside a smaller dining room.
As per the custom of the times, there were two separate entrances – one for a men-only section of the lounge and one for men accompanied with an escort.
Though another robbery saw $3,000 be stripped from the owner’s safe one night and two fires occur in 1969 – one that would prove fatal for an occupant – Frank undertook a $50 000 two-storey addition to the Aldergrove Hotel that would see additional rooms upstairs and more space in the public rooms on the ground floor.
He would then sell the structure to John Nunuk at the decade’s turn when the official name of the hotel would shift to its abbreviated nickname – the Alder Inn.
Subsequently passed through different hands throughout the 1970s and ’80s, it was during the midst of the latter decade when exotic dancer shows would be introduced.
Gary Sangha owned and operated the business for the remaining 29 years, billing the hotel, liquor store, bar, and show lounge as a “Western-style saloon.”
Throughout that incarnation, numerous protests occurred in front the hotel – held by concerned citizens who felt that type of entertainment lowered moral standards and possibly even property values.
While an attempted re-brand in the early 2000s tried to appeal to a more family-friendly clientele, Sangha noted that sales without exotic dancers dropped by 70 per cent; the Alder Inn would ultimately be the last establishment in Langley to have strip shows.
The Township of Langley would then spend $5.4-million in June of 2019 to purchase the hotel, as well as two neighbouring lots for community development.
“A bizarre stream of council motions led to the acquisition of the Alder Inn,” Long reflected. “No public consultation, no financial analysis and no set vision. This is by far the costliest mistake I’ve witnessed during my 21 years on council.”
Dave Sharma acquired the Alder Inn’s liquor licence from Sangha and continued to operate alongside the building’s other tenant, Schnitzelz restaurant.
“People had so many memories of that place,” Sharma told The Aldergrove Star. “People kept coming to the door – even a year after the bar had closed – and they would be mad at us that it wasn’t open.”
Sharma said he tried to buy the building from the Township but was unsuccessful; the liquor store would close in May and be moved two blocks west on Fraser Highway.
“It’s sad, there were three generations of family that came to that place,” he said. “Everyone knew it. You had people saying ‘my grandfather went there and my father, and now I’m going there too’.”
An electrical fire sparked in one of the inn’s upper rooms where tenants had stayed – resulting in smoke, fire, and water damage on Sept. 20, 2019.
The fire proved to be the death knell for the aging structure. Coun. Eric Woodward motioned to demolish the building – saying “it’s time for the Alder Inn building to come down.”
The condition of the hotel “is much worse than you can see from the outside,” he elaborated, sharing photographs on social media that revealed signs warning of a bed bug infestation as well as blackened, damaged pipes and walls.
There was talk about restoration throughout 2019, with Quiring and other members of the Alder Grove Heritage Society pushing for the structure to be saved.
“Society needs to stop being in such a hurry to demolish buildings, because while new and shiny may be very alluring, it’s not always the best decision nor does it fix all of the core problems that a community may be experiencing,” Quiring explained.
Coun. Kim Richter stated in a council meeting that the building’s ill-reputed history “is not something to be proud of.”
Up until July 13, the Township had been asking Aldergrove residents and stakeholders in the community for feedback.
“We’ve heard from the public that the building needs to come down,” said Coun. Blair Whitmarsh, referencing feedback results in a recent council meeting.
Ultimately, 82 responses were in favour of toppling the building, compared to 11 against it.
“Some on council felt a kind of ‘moral excuse’ to demolish the hotel as some kind of act of ‘cleansing’ – how ridiculous,” Long said, who was one of two councillors who voted against the demolition. “The dollars spent and opportunities lost may never be recouped.”
The COVID-19 pandemic slowed immediate plans for toppling the structure, but council simultaneously took public input on what should take the Alder Inn’s place – suggesting community gardens, an overflow parking for the Aldergrove Credit Union Community Centre, or a small-scale urban plaza similar to McBurney Plaza in Langley City.
“The demolition of the hotel is water under the bridge now, but Alder Grove Heritage Society is thankful that the society was able to secure a few artifacts from the building,” Quiring noted, noting they were now in possession an original late 1940s cast iron radiator, some small signage, and one panel of the roof sign.
All of these items will be preserved for future generations by the heritage society.
“I’ve seen people taking bricks and wood from the building,” Sharma added.
Wally Martin, owner of the Princess and the Pea B&B, expressed desire purchase some of the lumber that he said was pristine Douglas Fir – perfect for woodworking projects.
“Moving forward, I hope we can make good use of the open space – it will be there for quite awhile,” Long concluded.
There is no timeline for next steps regarding the new use of the space.
The cost of the demo is estimated to be around $250,000, with work being completed by MWL Demolition Ltd.
The area is fenced off to the public while construction workers continue to level off the ground and red the area of any last remnants remaining from the hotel.
The Alder Inn’s rubble was hauled to Capt’n Crunch in Abbotsford and the wood sent to Western Reclaimed Timber in Maple Ridge.
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