Board member Cherie Oke says it all began with a general meeting of neighbours waaaaaaay back on Jan. 12, 1921 — exactly 102 years ago last Thursday. The group proposed the construction of a community gathering place.
It took another two years for Vimy Community Hall to be built, making 2023 its official 100-year anniversary.
“It is hardly ever called anything but Vimy Hall,” Oke, noted.
While its name has shrunk over the years, the list of things the hall has been for over the last century keeps growing. The hall has seamlessly morphed into whatever the community has needed it to be.
Vimy Hall has had an amazing history and, among other things, it was an elementary school from September, 1947 until June of 1950 after the Duncan High School burned down and the high school took over the elementary school.
“It’s been a yoga studio, a church, a retreat hall; it has hosted weddings, funerals, coming out parties, birthdays, you name it,” Oke said. “It’s been a daycare, a dance school, Long John Falkner used it for many years for his music events, and on and on I could go.”
Like a well-worn sweater, the hall seems to be there with warmth and comfort whenever the community needs it.
“The building has lasted 100 years and it’s gone through all kinds of iterations in those 100 years,” explained Oke. “Though it came very close to closing down at one point,” she added.
About the time the pandemic first started being talked about in 2019, the group learned the hall’s roof has significant problems.
“Since we couldn’t have rented it out in 2020/21 [due to COVID restrictions] we were able to get the roof done,” Oke said.
Being the hall’s official owners, the municipality stepped up to get the job done.
Vimy Community Hall had actually been community-owned until around 1946 when the management group failed to pay their taxes and the municipality took over the hall. North Cowichan still owns the hall but a small board of just five neighbours manage the building’s upkeep and rentals.
Two of the board members, the husband and wife duo of Sue and Doug Darlington, live across the street from the hall and have been on the board more than 30 years. Oke’s been on the board for closing in on 15 years and she lives near the hall as well.
Joining the Darlingtons and Oke on the board are Alana MacFarlane and Sandy McPherson.
While always ready to welcome new members (hint hint), the small but mighty group soldiers on to ensure the hall’s legacy in the Vimy and Gibbins road areas continue.
“She’s been refurbished and the bathroom and kitchen have been redone and she’s ready to party,” Oke said.
That’s a good thing because in addition to other community events throughout the year, the hall will be the guest of honour at a celebration of its 100-year history with a sing-a-long and dance on Feb. 18.
A neighbour, folk musician Paul Ruzsel, has written a song to commemorate the 100th.
“I know people lead different lives than they have in the past, the advent of the internet and all that,” Oke explained — before she lost her train of thought.
I know what she wanted to say, though. It’s pretty obvious.
After all the doom and gloom and bad news and isolation over the last couple of years (and throughout the last century for that matter), there’s just something special about coming together as a community to celebrate something special, some happy news, for no other reason than to be together as a community.