Several hundred citizens were on hand to watch ceremonies marking the official opening of Courtenay’s Civic Centre complex by Premier W.A.C. Bennett. Bill Smith photo. Comox District Free Press Collection, September 15, 1971.
Around 1889-1890, the Riverside Hotel was constructed at the corner of 5th Street and Cliffe Avenue. Right next to it on Cliffe, entrepreneur E.W. Bickle designed the Bickle Theatre which opened on June 20, 1935 with the movie Babes in Toyland. The Riverside Hotel continued as a well-known landmark in the area, but after Bickle’s death in 1961, the theatre struggled and eventually fell vacant for several years.
On January 2, 1968, a devastating fire consumed the hotel. Luckily, there was no loss of life and the flames didn’t spread to the theatre building, but this central corner in downtown Courtenay now sat empty.
Then, in early 1970, Mayor George Hobson and Courtenay Council devised an enthusiastic plan: to purchase the property and the run-down theatre for $200,000, with the goal of building a civic centre. The old theatre would be renovated, a plaza would be built, and a Seniors Centre would be constructed. It would also include parking facilities for 250 cars and provide an anchor for the downtown core. It would be the City’s Centennial Project.
The Civic Centre Square was designed by the architectural firm of Carlberg and Jackson, and construction quickly began. All materials were sourced from northern Vancouver Island, including the stones used in the unique fountain that symbolized the mountains surrounding the Comox Valley. Funding was provided through Provincial and Federal Governments as while as through donations and local fund raising.
Once completed, the Civic Centre was described as a product of ‘Total Community Participation’, as almost every business, service club, and organization in Courtenay had taken part in its creation. Many individuals, young and old, had also participated, and Mayor Hobson remarked that the finished centre “will belong to the people of Courtenay.”
Fifty years ago, on September 13, 1971, the new complex was opened by Premier W.A.C. Bennett.
While the fountain no longer remains and the building has gone through more renovations and a name change, the Sid Williams Civic Theatre is still an integral part of the Comox Valley arts scene and provides a place for creativity and celebration in the heart of Courtenay.