When Charlene Patterson first stepped into the former First Methodist Church on Argyle Street in 2010 she immediately saw its potential. The historic church, which dates back to 1912, was now ‘Antiques in the Abbey’ and filled floor to ceiling with precious antiques. The contents made it hard 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 a venture of her own. Friends had introduced her to Port Alberni and she was impressed by the sense of community and beauty of the place.
“I had always had a dream of buying a piece of land near the ocean where I could live and run a business,” she says.
She closed the deal and started planning the transformation. Blueprints in hand, she got approval from the municipality and embarked on an ambitious plan to repurpose the space to create a bed and breakfast, a suite to live in and a performance venue.
She was unfazed by 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 updates of all systems. Her role was to manage the retrofit of updated information technology and she worked alongside the trades that were working on other areas.
“I always thought of the building as a ship,” she says. “It was the same, replacing the electrical and the plumbing, lighting, sound system.”
There were 23 interior doors to remove, hallways to open up and the roof line was changed on the front of the building. Whenever possible Char opted to repurpose rather than replace and tried to retain the space’s character by ensuring the new blended into the existing structure. Electrical and plumbing upgrades were complete. When the last of the drywall dust had settled, the modest church had been turned into a unique venue and home. The B&B rooms were put in on the lower level.
The eclectic interior of the venue features illuminated mermaids hanging from the ceiling, stained glass panels, and a bank of old-fashioned stage lights. The seating is a mix of pews, tables and chairs and comfortable leather couches.
Over the years the performance hall has become a fixture in the community, showcasing live performances, hosting community events and providing a meeting place for various organizations, while the room rentals took a back seat. When Fat Salmon Backpackers, the only hostel in town, closed a few years ago, Char shifted gears. She turned the bed and breakfast at Char’s Landing into a hostel. This part of the business had been slowly gaining momentum over the years but 2020 was its best year ever, revenue-wise. For 2022 she has re-branded as ‘Char’s Landing Hall & Hostel’ and made improvements to the hostel facilities.
This focus on the hostel part of the business hasn’t detracted from Char’s drive to promote live performances. She continues with her regular Electric Mermaid series on the last Wednesday of each month, which allows writers to read from their works to an audience for up to five minutes, either in person or over zoom. As performers slowly come out of a COVID-19- forced hibernation, she is hosting more and more in-person concerts. Some performers, such as blues boss David Gogo and iconic folk singer Valdy go out of their way to add tour dates at Char’s Landing, drawn by the rich, warm acoustics of the former church sanctuary.
A hands-on owner-operator, Char has worked hard to recreate the sense of community at her hall and hostel that was lost over two hard years of global pandemic closures and restrictions. She recently began holding weekly jazz nights on Sundays, recreating the vibe of the piano jazz bars that she enjoyed so much on the cruise ships.
“I’ve been trying to get that together for so long,” she laughs. “I’m really enjoying them. I consider it my night off.”
Heather Warren is a freelance writer living in Port Alberni.