Heart of the community

Today, schools, recreation and senior centres are seen as the heart of a community, a place where everyone is welcome.

Above: The old community hall

Above: The old community hall

Today, schools, recreation and senior centres are seen as the heart of a community, a  place where everyone is welcome. Back in the earlier days of the community of Lake Cowichan, schools and the community hall were really the only public place for village citizens to frequent.

In 1930, the towns first community hall was situated on the corner of Renfrew Avenue and Coronation Street, the same location as the present day Cowichan Lake Senior’s Centre.

The idea of a community hall originated in 1929 when a local United Church missionary contacted several local residents to discuss the possibility of erecting a hall that could be used for community gatherings. “It wasn’t long before a committee was formed and a site chosen” (Cowichan Lake Region Heritage Inventory, 1992, by Rick Rajala.). The next order of business was to find a way to finance the project. Fund-raisers were the only option as there were no government handouts back then.

As a fund-raiser, a grand masquerade ball (dance) was held at the Riverside Inn.  It was followed by a second event, held at the Lakeside Hotel which was reported to have been “the largest ever at the Lake”. People came from near and far as was common in those days.

“Glowing fires lighting up the dusky evening sky assures observers that a clear space will soon be available for the (community hall) foundations”, noted the Cowichan Leader newspaper, adding “A terrific, reverberating blast, proceeding from the same location (building site), throwing huge tree roots into the air, is a thunderous reminder to all public-spirited residents that now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the community hall project”. Which is what happened.

The clearing of the land and construction of the hall, was for the most part, done by volunteers. “After the foundations were laid and the floors put down, open air fund-raising dances were held at the site”. By December 1930, the construction of the hall was far enough along to allow the annual community Christmas Concert to be held in the partially completed hall.

The grand opening of the new community took place on March 7, 1931 with British Columbia Premier Simon Fraser Tolmie presiding over the opening ceremonies. At the same time, Tolmie presided over the opening of the new Riverside Bridge, which replaced the government financed one built in 1916 and a new footbridge.

Over the years the hall was enlarged with the addition of add-ons (or as they were then called lean-to’s) on three sides of the hall. An outdoor stage, attached to the back of the hall, was used for the annual crowning of Lady of the Lake.

Many events over many years took place in the hall. There were wedding receptions, church services, dances, flower shows, banquets, meetings, lessons, concerts, plays, movies and more.  Eventually, the old building began to fall into disrepair and was finally condemned in 1959. In 1963, it was purchased by the local school board and used for storage before finally being demolished.