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New owners get to work refurbishing historic Alexandra Lodge

Shirley and Ken MacKinnon face a huge task fixing up the long-neglected building
Ken MacKinnon (pictured), hard at work bringing the interior of the Alexandra Lodge up to snuff after years of neglect. (submitted photo)

One of the most well-known landmarks in the Fraser Canyon is getting a new lease on life.

After years of neglect, Alexandra Lodge is in the hands of new owners Shirley and Ken MacKinnon. They have big dreams for the 12-acre property and 3,000-square-foot building, but they also have a massive job ahead of them.

Shirley and Ken bought Alexandra Lodge as a retirement property, and they officially took possession Oct. 31, 2021.

Shirley is a counsellor who is also an artist and a potter and said she’s had an eye on Alexandra Lodge for the last eight or nine years. When skyrocketing real estate prices let them sell their home in Maple Ridge for a tidy sum, the time was right to strike.

The plan was to buy the lodge and live in it while they restored it. As it turns out, the building is “absolutely unlivable” and the couple have been staying in an RV on the property since August while they focus on fixing the foundation and other pressing issues.

“There’s tons of rot damage and this lodge has to be repaired right now,” Shirley said. “It’s rotted so much the lodge itself isn’t even attached to the foundation, and the only reason it’s standing is because Ken’s got it braced. We really have no understanding of how this lodge is still here because it should have collapsed.”

Two cabins at the front of the property are salvageable. Three at the back will need to be rebuilt.

If there’s anyone you’d want heading up this project, it’s Ken, whose career as a renovation contracter has been preparing him for this moment.

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“I’ve been working as a carpenter for 30 years and every job I’ve done has been getting me ready to fix this place,” he said.

History runs deep at Alexandra Lodge, which is commonly believed to date back to the mid 1920s.

Shirley and Ken have been discovering remnants of the past as they’ve worked. Inside the lodge, removing old drywall revealed wallpaper from a bygone era. Outside, they discovered a section of the long-since abandoned Cariboo Highway buried about six inches under their front driveway.

“And we’re discovering new things every day,” Ken said.

The building does have designation through Heritage BC and they’ve been contacted by a handful of historians who are interested in what they’re finding.

When they moved onto the property they almost immediately had locals reaching out to ask about their plans. Shirley said she’s been floored by some of the stories she’s heard. Shirley got a big random hug from a stranger who was delighted to hear the place was being restored.

“Another one is there’s one fella from Hope to told us that his family lived out near Hell’s Gate, and his mother used to ride her bicycle along the train tracks and stop at the lodge when she was tired,” Shirley said. “Then she’d carry on to Spuzzum to go to school. He said he still has her bicycle, and I want that story to be a part of this lodge.

“We had no understanding of how much this would impact people.”

Among the many dreams Shirley has for the lodge, she hopes to have some sort of artisans’ co-op on the main floor where she can sell her art and offer space for other creative-minded people to do the same. The property is currently zoned for residential and agriculture, so that would need to be changed to accomodate any kind of storefront.

Outside, Shirley and Ken are hoping to one day have the grounds landscaped so passersby can stop for a rest, enjoy the burbling creek that runs through the property and take in the beauty of the surrounding mountains and the Fraser River.

“I think it’d be fantastic to have places on the property for photographs,” Shirley suggested. “When we lived in Vancouver we used to go to Queen Elizabeth Park. This could be that kind of place.”

Despite the structural problems, Shirley and Ken said there’s zero buyer’s remorse. Shirley said they’d already fallen in love with the lodge when they signed the purchase papers and they’d have zero hestitation if they had the chance for a do-over.

“When you look at the building, it’s in such a sorry state, but we don’t see it that way,” Shirley said. “We’d sign those documents again in a heartbeat.

“It’s going to keep us young and it’s going to keep us busy.”

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Shirley MacKinnon (pictured) and husband Ken bought Alexandra Lodge as a retirement property and are working hard to restore the building to its former glory. (submitted photo)

Eric Welsh

About the Author: Eric Welsh

I joined the Chilliwack Progress in 2007, originally hired as a sports reporter.
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