There’s a rule in life: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” So why is a thriving brew pub in Prince Rupert planning to leave its location in busy Cow Bay, and move down the road into what some locals call “an eyesore,” the city’s former train station?
Wheelhouse Brewing Company will become the anchor of the city’s 1920’s-era former Canadian National Railway Station. It’s part of a major city redevelopment of the Rotary Waterfront Park that pub co-owner Kent Orton hopes will be as vibrant as Granville Island, Vancouver’s world-famous public market and entertainment, food and arts hub.
Wheelhouse’s move, 850 meters south, might seem risky to some, but is at heart about building Prince Rupert’s community, celebrating heritage, and long-term growth, Orton told West Coast Now.
Those are the same reasons why he and two pals started Wheelhouse Brewing in the first place, he said.
A physical therapist and biologist, Orton first came to Prince Rupert during a summer job tree planting, fell in love with the place, and put down roots in 2007. He and two pals, James Witzke and Craig Outhet, started brewing beers together for fun.
Their beer was so good that word got around. Eventually, their hobby turned into Wheelhouse, which opened in an old Blacksmith shop by the water in December, 2012, and which they managed alongside their day jobs as it became a popular community hub.
Wheelhouse expects to move from its current location to the train station in October 2023, later than expected because of delays caused by both the pandemic and unexpected construction glitches.
“We encountered old railway ties under the floor, holding the place up, and those had to be excavated and a new floor poured,” said Orton, who sounds amused by the challenges.
The train station at the park, previously called Rupert’s Landing, “has been vacant for decades, and has long been an eyesore for the community,” said Paul Vendittelli, economic development manager for the city.
Redevelopment, he said in an email to West Coast Now, “will benefit both the residents of Prince Rupert, and also capture tourism traffic from the cruise ships that frequent the nearby terminal.”
Today the area is stark, with a barren and semi-abandoned appearance.
In time, said Orton, Wheelhouse will be at the heart of a new transportation hub to the outlying villages, a ferry to the airport, and a new marina. “It’s going to give the town an urban-class space for people to continue to build Canada’s Pacific Gateway. This will be a multi-use space that will benefit locals and visitors alike.”
The design includes a west-facing sunroom, fireplace, wood-fired pizza oven, 7000 square feet of brewery, tasting room space, and a family-oriented restaurant. “People will be able to fill up before getting on the plane to Vancouver, or on their way back,” said Orton. “We’ll continue to provide a space for live music and weddings and augment that with a boardroom space that can be rented for meetings or small events.”
Like their current pub, he said, it aims to be “a place that gets locals and tourists cozy … you end up sitting next to someone you don’t know, talking about the local fishing hole and what you did on the weekend.”
Orton said he’s confident people will continue to come when the pub moves.
“A rising tide lifts all boats. If we support Prince Rupert, they’ll support us,” he said. The city “still has a bit of a rough edge,” he noted, and the new development will help its progress.
Orton has kids, and when they grow up, he said, “I hope that they’ll want to stick around…I’ll leave up to them.”