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Paquette family marks 50 years
With humble beginnings as local pub owners, the Paquette family of Sidney has become one of the community’s prominent business owners whose holdings have grown to include nearly a whole block of the downtown core.
The Paquettes were honoured this year with a Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce Crystal Award for a lifetime of achievement. This year also marked their 50th anniversary of being in business in Sidney — and the family is looking forward to many more years to come.
Denis Paquette heads the family business these days and has been active in the community and in local politics for years. As owner of the Sidney Waterfront Inn and Suites, Denis has been visible of late in his ongoing battle with the Town of Sidney over the direction of traffic on Beacon Avenue.
That aside, Denis has fond memories of his father, Roland, and his family coming to Sidney via Saskatchewan and Port Alberni.
“My dad was raised in Saskatchewan and after the Second World War, moved to Port Alberni,” Denis recalls.
There, Roland worked in the Somass Pub for a short time, before uprooting the family and heading back to Saskatchewan to build up a large Ford dealership.
“Dad got Western Canada’s leading sale award three years in a row,” says Denis. “That was in a town of 300 people.”
Roland, he explained, had built up the dealership to include farm machinery, fuel distribution and more. After working hard there, Denis says his dad got the itch to move back to Vancouver Island, sold the dealership and came to Sidney in 1958.
He would eventually buy the Sidney Waterfront Inn in around 1963, which in those days had 19 rooms, a pub and a cocktail lounge.
“The beer business was really strong then,” Denis says.
Denis started in the pub in 1974, working his way through the family business — including time on the taps.
“The beer business was so strong, we could sell 6,000 glasses, 10 barrels, in a night at times. It was unbelievable, but it came about on good service, good staff and good ambiance.”
Denis adds it was a double-edged sword, of course. With the beer sales came complaints from hotel guests about all the noise at night from the pub. With the pub making so much money at the time, however, he said it was a tough balancing act.
The pub would close by the early 1990s, however, and the family would focus on the hotel. They still held onto the cocktail lounge, Denis says, and embarked on a plan to create suites at the hotel.
“We expanded over the years,” Denis says. “We added on a dining room in the mid-’80s and things were going really good.”
The Paquettes eventually bought up the whole property, encompassing nearly the entire block at the east end of Beacon Avenue. Their plans were to develop the site around the hotel.
They eventually decided to build condominiums, but Denis says it turned out their timing was completely wrong.
“There was no value there and construction costs were going to be too high.”
They gave the idea a pause for a few years but brought it back in the mid-1990s. By ‘98, they were complete —and that’s when the troubles really began.
“Almost immediately , the condos were leaking,” Denis recalls, adding some of the contractors would not take responsibility for the issue and there was little insurance available to draw on.
So, Denis says the family decided it had to make good for their new condo customers.
“We felt that, at the end of the day, the legal fees would exceed the cost of fixing the building,” he explains, adding the family spent the subsequent years with the people who bought the condos.
“I told them, if anything goes wrong, we’d fix it, and then the floodgates opened up.”
Denis says his family lived up to its word and spent a lot of money to repair the condos.
“It cost us everything we had earned in the previous three to five years,” he says. “But we did the job.”
The family’s plan to be debt-free, Denis says, were on hold as they set out to build up their business once again. Those long-term plans included developing the other side of the property into commercial units. Those would eventually become the Cannery Building, home to various local shops and a new restaurant and pub run by separate owners.
Today’s focus for the family, says Denis, is back on the suite hotel — a return to plans some 30 years in the making and spanning nearly two generations of the Paquette family.
There’s potentially more to come, says Denis, His own son, Huston, is working in the hospitality industry at the Four Seasons Hotel in Whistler. Denis says he’s hoping his son will lean the ropes of the industry and come back to Sidney to play a role in the continuing growth of the Paquette family legacy.