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S.L.A.A. Hall—Past to Present

By Brownie Gibson (1966)


Towards the end of the first decade of the 19th century, the budding community began to feel the need of a place to meet for social functions and organization meetings. Out of this desire grew the Shawnigan Lake Athletic Association which built the first S.L.A.A. Hall in 1910. At that time the present idea of Halls under the Societies Act was not in use. First money raised towards the financing the hall came from garden parties at the hotel, but it was realized that this would be a “long hard row to hoe.”


Accordingly, they resorted to a shareholders association under the Companies Act as the only way to achieve the purpose. None of the shareholders ever expected or received dividends. Tribute must be paid to the group of local and Victoria residents who conceived the idea and carried it through. The whole scheme was made possible at the outset by the generous gift of the site by Mrs. A. Koenig.


The construction of the building was done by day labour under the general supervision of E.W. Blake. Charles Morris, with free advice from interested architects, carried out the work. The financing ran parallel with construction, shares being sold on a “pay as you go” style. After the residents of the Lake and district had contributed all they could, Victoria was canvassed and the merchants and others responded splendidly.


Almost in every case the purchase of shares was considered in the nature of a donation. The nominal capital of the company was $10,000, divided into 2000 shares of five dollars each, with power to increase. Mr. F. T. Elford was the first president and Mr. E. W. Blake the first secretary-treasurer. The Hall was opened in May of 1910, on the day of the death of King Edward. The ceremony was marked with a big dinner and a dance, with a special train out from Victoria. News of the monarch’s death came too late to halt the festivities.


Gay are the tales of the entertainment provided in the old Hall. Reminiscences of bachelors’ balls and flannel dances with couples strolling on the moonlit verandah overlooking the lake wake nostalgic memories for pioneers still living in the community. In fact every Saturday night basketball game ended with a dance, up into the 1930’s.


Entertainments were fewer than in the present age, and residents came to the Hall from miles around, often by horse and buggy. One entertainment during the 1914-18 period netted over $600 for war purposes — a lot of money by modern standards. In fact, during the first World War the Hall was handed over to the Red Cross and became the centre for all voluntary activities for many of which the organizer was Col. I. Eardley-Wilmot. More prosaically, the Hall was kept busy with meetings, sports and other functions, one of which was a successful spring Flower Show run for several years under the auspices of the Shawnigan-Cobble Hill Farmers’ Institute.


The original hall was an attractive building, with verandahs on the lakeside, living quarters above, and rooms below where the Shawnigan Lake Library Association was housed. Of great local pride was the polished floor of the main hall, which was covered by a huge canvas except for dancing. The floor was a tribute to Charles Morris who conceived the idea of constructing it so that dancers were always dancing with the grain of the wood combined with an enjoyable springiness.


On the aquatic side of sport the S.L.A.A. was also active. Shortly after the incorporation of the company, the young men of the community organized a rowing club under the auspices of the S.L.A.A. A one and a half mile course was surveyed on the lake by Mr. Denis Harris, B.C.L.S., and a charter for the course was granted to the S.L.A.A. by the Dominion Government. Two second-hand four-oared lapstreaks were purchased from the J.B.A.A., Victoria, and many exciting races took place between the two clubs. The local boys had many hard-won trophies which were destroyed in the fire of 1930, which will be dealt with

later in this chronicle.


The ladies of the lake also won a trophy with their four-oared crew. In 1914, following the natural demise of the two original boats, a new four oared semi-lapstreak, built in Vancouver by Pocock Brothers, was bought by public subscription. It escaped the fire by virtue of being in the boathouse. The annual S.L.A.A. regatta became the outstanding aquatic event of the year. Also the N.P.A.A.O. held several of their events here using the Hall and the course. George Kingsley, a charter member of the rowing club, brought honour to the Association by being champion single sculler in one of these international events.


History also relates that Shawnigan was the scene, one summer, early in the century, of a world championship sculling race with Eddie Hanlan, world champion at that time, as defendant. In addition to the main hall building, the S.L.A.A. owned a spacious boathouse and float. The boathouse helped to finance the institution by rentals of boat lockers, it also housed the company’s racing shells.


Years later, in 1955, the dying J.B.A.A. Rowing Club of Victoria gave the S.L.A.A. a present of a number of racing boats, all needing repairs. However, the modern gas-age influence, which had killed rowing as a general sport in Victoria, had also made itself felt at Shawnigan. Some of the boats were fixed up with money raised by selling one of them to the Boys’ School, and periodically a crew would get together.


But the interest was only half-hearted at best and, in 1960, the S.L.A.A. turned the boats over to the Shawnigan Boys’ School to be repaired by them and used, while still being available to the local boys. Fire destroyed the hall in 1930, but the S.L.A.A. lived on, and in 1931 the present hall was built, not as attractive as the first, but more roomy and convenient. A grand opening dance was held on October 10, 1931, with the Hon. R. H. Pooley, M.P., as the guest of honour, and with Art Minnis’ Orchestra in attendance. Apparently typical of all eras was this cryptic excerpt from the S.L.A.A. minutes of October 5, 1931: “if the power is not hooked up to the Hall by noon on October 6, the secretary was instructed to telephone the head of the B.C. Electric Power Department and demand action.” The Hall continued to be run by a board of directors and still functioned as the community centre for all community events and indoor sports. But in spite of the fact that it had been run all those years virtually as a community hall with no profit accruing to anyone, the feeling began to spread in the village that the Hall should be a Community Hall in fact as well as in intention.


In the forties and on into the fifties community interest in the hall started to lag. Whether it resulted from the aforementioned slight dissatisfaction in its ownership or whether it was because of a general slump in close-knit community affairs as a result of the motor age is not known. However, the directors saw the futility of carrying on and, on February 1, 1963, they dissolved their company after 53 years of continuous operation and gave the Hall to the community to be run by the Recreation Commission as the S.LC.C. (Shawnigan Lake Community Centre). During the entire life of the S.L.A.A. the Association had had but four presidents: F. T. Elford, S. J. Heald, H. E. Hawking and R. P. Weber. It is hoped that the new S.L.C.C. will have just as long and useful a life, providing for the community the same services, but in a package more acceptable to the times.


ED note:

The “Old Community Hall” was sold in the1990s to Godi Streit after the completion of the new Community Centre in 1994. (Whenever someone expressed an interest in the old Shawnigan Lake Community Hall, Gody would take them on a tour and give them a brief history lesson on the building.)


After the death of owner Mr Streit, the building was sold to the CVRD. The demolition was financed by a “green demolition” with the proceeds of the salvageable wood paying for the cost.


The demolition was completed in 2016.

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