(Top photo) The Campbellton Community Hall roof collapsed the night before New Year’s Eve

Roof collapse spells near disaster New Years Eve 1949

LOOKING BACK: the roof and walls of the hall collapsed from the heavy weight of over two feet of show that had been piling up

Catherine Gilbert

Museum at Campbell River

 

Fifty-four years ago, in 1949, Campbell Riverites were looking forward to attending a New Year’s dance being held at the Campbellton Community Hall.

In the early hours of the morning of Dec. 31 of that year however, around 3:30 a.m., the roof and walls of the hall collapsed from the heavy weight of over two feet of show that had been piling up on the roof. Only the two end walls were left standing.

Fortunately, no one was in the building at the time – had it happened during the evening of the dance, there could well have been a number of injuries or even fatalities.

The Campbell River Courier on Jan. 4, 1950 reported: “The loss of the hall is a great blow to residents of the district as it was the only hall in the immediate vicinity large enough to accommodate large size gatherings.”

The 49- by 68-foot hall, located on the Island Highway where the Mohawk service station stands today, had been built by volunteer labour in 1925, but the interior was not actually completed nor equipped with sanitary facilities until November of 1949.

A busy place, it served as the town’s social centre for concerts, receptions, films, dances, parties, high school graduation exercises and wedding receptions. Around the time the hall collapsed, people had been talking about the need for a better and larger hall, “as the old hall was proving inadequate for the amount of activity that was going on.” (Helen Mitchell, Diamond in the Rough)

As it happened, the Royal Canadian Legion had been thinking in the same vein and donated land it owned on 11th Ave for that purpose. By 1952, a new community hall was under construction owing to fundraising efforts by the Kinsmen and Rotary Clubs, and plenty of volunteer help. Although only partially built, it was already in use as early as 1954. In 1958, a union strike at the paper mill meant that out-of-work tradesmen – electricians, carpenters and plumbers – were called upon to help with completion of the project. It was speculated that if it wasn’t for this, the building may never have been finished. By 1964, the Village of Campbell River took over the hall from the Kinsmen Club for the nominal fee of one dollar.

Although it served the community well when Campbell River was just a village of a few thousand people, the town eventually outgrew this hall, and it was demolished entirely in March of 2000 to make way for the present day community centre.

Like the old Campbellton hall, it had served various purposes and many had fond memories of dances and even roller skating activities that went on there. Incidentally, the unique edge-grained plywood floor that was the centrepiece of the original building was salvaged by the Daybreak Rotary Club and used in the Maritime Heritage Centre.

If you are looking for the history behind any of Campbell River’s buildings, visit the Museum at Campbell River archives and museum staff will be pleased to assist.