Voices rise on Argyle Street in Port Alberni – Port Alberni Valley News

When Charlene Patterson first walked into the former Methodist First Church on Argyle Street in 2010, she immediately saw its potential. The historic church, which dates from 1912, was now “antiques in the abbey” and filled from floor to ceiling with precious antiques. The contents made it difficult to see the detailed layout of the building, but she loved the space.

She had just taken early retirement after 14 years in the cruise ship industry and was looking to start her own business. Friends had introduced her to Port Alberni and she was impressed with the sense of community and the beauty of the place.

“I always dreamed of buying land near the ocean where I could live and run a business,” she says.

She closed the deal and began planning the transformation. Plans in hand, she secured municipal approval and embarked on an ambitious plan to repurpose the space to create a guest bedroom, living suite and performance hall.

She was unimpressed with the scope of the project as she had been involved in similar projects in the cruise industry. At the end of each cruise, the ships underwent full system upgrades. Her role was to manage the upgrade of updated information technology and she worked alongside tradespeople working in other areas.

“I’ve always thought of the building as a ship,” she says. “It was the same thing, replacing the electrical and plumbing, the lighting, the sound system.”

There were 23 interior doors to be removed, hallways to be opened, and the roof line was altered at the front of the building. Wherever possible, Char chose to reuse rather than replace and tried to retain the character of the space by ensuring that the new blended into the existing structure. Electrical and plumbing upgrades were complete. When the last dust of drywall settled, the modest church was transformed into a unique place and home. The guest rooms have been set up on the lower level.

The venue’s eclectic interior features illuminated sirens hanging from the ceiling, stained glass panels and a bank of old-fashioned stage lights. Seating is a mix of benches, tables and chairs, and comfortable leather sofas.

Over the years, the performance hall has become a fixture in the community, presenting live shows, hosting community events and providing a meeting place for various organizations, while venue rentals have been phased out. When Fat Salmon Backpackers, the only hostel in town, closed a few years ago, Char switched gears. She turned the Char’s Landing bed and breakfast into a hostel. That part of the business had slowly grown over the years, but 2020 was its best year ever, revenue-wise. For 2022, she rebranded “Char’s Landing Hall & Hostel” and made improvements to the hostel facilities.

This focus on the hostel part of the business hasn’t hurt Char’s desire to promote live shows. It continues with its regular Electric Mermaid series on the last Wednesday of each month, which allows writers to read their works to an audience for up to five minutes, either in person or on zoom. As artists slowly emerge from a COVID-19 enforced hibernation, she is hosting more and more in-person gigs. Some artists, such as blues boss David Gogo and iconic folk singer Valdy, are going out of their way to add tour dates to Char’s Landing, lured by the rich, warm acoustics of the ancient church sanctuary.

A hands-on owner-operator, Char has worked hard to recreate the sense of community in her venue and hostel which has been lost during two harsh years of global pandemic lockdowns and restrictions. She recently started hosting weekly jazz nights on Sundays, recreating the vibe of the jazz piano bars she enjoyed so much on cruise ships.

“I’ve been trying to put this together for so long,” she laughs. “I really appreciate them. I consider it my night off.

Heather Warren is a freelance writer living in Port Alberni.

Alberni ValleyArts & EntertainmentHeritageSmall Business

Charlene Patterson took “the little white church on Argyle Street” and transformed it into an intimate concert hall in Port Alberni. (HEATHER WARREN / Special for AV News)

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