The pictures and images of the areas surrounding the Whatcom Road freeway exit at this time last year were mind-boggling.
To begin with, the exit wasn’t even an exit – it turned into an island with no connection.
Floodwaters engulfed much of North Parallel Road and the Sumas Prairie farms to the south near the outlet.
The highway itself was unrecognizable and businesses near the exit were either completely underwater or on the verge of submersion.
Abbotsford’s Castle Fun Park, an iconic local spot for family fun, was among the hardest hit. The theme park had a view of the lake, with the iconic castle and miniature golf lighthouse still sticking out of the water during the floods.
Much of the theme park is still in recovery mode. The indoor mini-golf, located on the lower levels, was completely destroyed and is still being rebuilt. The batting cage, located in the western part of the park, was also damaged by the flooding.
The indoor miniature golf course and batting cages are still under reconstruction. A reopening date for these two attractions has not been set.
A little further west on North Parallel Road is the Clarion Hotel and Conference Centre.
Considered one of the best hotels in the community, the Clarion has 116 guest rooms and suites and over 24,000 square feet of conference and event space. The building has been used for everything from political rallies to wedding showcases and boxing.
It has also been the traditional location for the Toys for Tots event which helps Archway Community Services provide for the less fortunate during the holiday season.
But in mid-November 2021, it wasn’t holiday cheer on the mind of Clarion chief executive Danny Crowell; it was survival – both of its guests and employees, but also of the building and the business itself.
Crowell said he remembered leaving work on the evening of Nov. 15 and being well aware of the rising waters nearby.
“I was watching the ditch parallel to the hotel closely,” he said, noting that it is a drainage ditch. “Before leaving for the day I was there with my maintenance guy and the ditch looked quite full and was wobbling a bit.”
He drove to his home in Vancouver and called the hotel for updates. It was not good.
“In front of the hotel’s main entrance there are stairs down to Parallel Road and when I called an hour later the water was halfway up those stairs,” he said. he declares. “An hour later the water was over the stairs. About an hour later the water was now in our hotel lobby.
Crowell said, despite the advancing water, they still had power, and Abbotsford city emergency officials told them to stay open as long as they did. He noted that everyone was safe and accounted for at the hotel.
Crowell drove to work the next morning, but was unable to use his normal route as Highway 1 was closed before the Whatcom Road exit. Crowell had to park near a nearby path that connects to the White Spot restaurant located in Clarion and walk down. Before arriving at the hotel, he stopped to look at what he saw below.
“It was a bit of a disaster,” he said, noting that he arrived at work around 6:30 a.m. “While there was only a foot of water in the lobby, there was water three or four feet deep in the parking lots. And then, of course, all that water goes into our storage area, our maintenance shop, and into the banquet area storage.
Crowell said a service elevator that helps with food delivery and storage and a personal elevator used for the conference center were also flooded. The biggest problem is that the mechanics to operate or repair the elevators were in the garage and also completely underwater. These elevators are still not operational.
As the day of November 16 continued, the rain did not stop and it caused even more problems for Crowell and his team. Despite the invading water, guests stayed at the hotel and that meant they needed to be fed and cared for. He noted that an employee literally had to swim to the hotel to help prepare food for people. Other employees continually swept water from the lobby and other areas to keep him safe.
When her shift ended on November 16, things looked bleak for the hotel and Abbotsford in general.
“I came home on Tuesday evening (November 16) and found out that our water had been cut off,” he said. “The sewage was backing up and other intersections were flooding. I know Whatcom had a big problem with this. And then the power went out and it was time to evacuate.
Crowell, who has worked in the hospitality industry for more than 40 years, said it was a numbing feeling to lock the front doors of the hotel – something that is so rare in his profession.
“First responders showed up shortly after the power went out and it was probably the first time in the hotel’s history that our doors were locked,” he said. “I’ve worked in 15 different hotels and I’ve never locked the front door. We were told to stay away and our hotel was now in an evacuation zone.
Dozens of people had to leave the hotel, including a handful of Abbotsford Canucks hockey players who were staying there during the season. Crowell said he was glad no one was hurt at his hotel during the flooding, but his heart broke for the nearby farmers who were hit so hard.
As the water began to recede and several days passed, Crowell returned to the hotel but used it as a communications base for his employees. He said several staff members live in Chilliwack, so they couldn’t have come to work regardless. It continued to send communication notices to its employees and provide updates on what was happening on the site.
The conference center was able to reopen on December 9 and an official reopening of the hotel took place on February 10. Months of construction and insurance work made this possible. Damage was estimated at around $6-7 million. The groundbreaking ceremony for the reopening saw then-mayor Henry Braun, as well as Brian Leon, president of Choice Hotels Canada, attend.
The establishment then hosted the Business Excellence Awards on the evening of February 10. Crowell said it was one of the most bizarre but unforgettable experiences of his career.
“It was very strange, no doubt,” he said. “But I will always remember how everyone came together and succeeded. This, to me, represents the hospitality industry in a nutshell. We do whatever we have to to get the job done. It has already been described to me as a swimming duck – above water it looks nice and calm, but below you paddle like hell to stay afloat.
In the months since reopening, Crowell said business was booming.
“We are now doing better than in 2019,” he said. “To make comparisons, our occupancy, revenue and banquet business are almost all back. It’s a testament to the people who work here and the work they do to take care of our customers. They’re all back and we’re happy and busy as hell.
Crowell said the success was a bit bittersweet as he is set to retire in February. But every November from now on, he will reflect on the flood and how his hotel and the community of Abbotsford survived and then thrived.
For more, see the Stronger Together special section of The Abbotsford News. The Flood: One Year Later.
Or go to abbynews.com/e-editions.
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North Parallel Road was completely flooded. (photo by Danny Crowell)
The view from the rear of the Clarion Hotel and Conference Centre. (photo by Danny Crowell)
The lobby of the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center saw several feet of water entering and creating extensive damage. (photo by Danny Crowell)
The car park was heavily flooded (photo Danny Crowell)
The hall under water. (photo by Danny Crowell)
The Whatcom Road exit east of Abbotsford was turned into waterfront property during last year’s flooding. (Photo by Sophia Middleton) The Whatcom outlet turned into a waterway during floods last year.
(Photo by Sophia Middleton)