Understanding the life story of Burns Lake’s community hall

A gathering place that survived massive disasters

© 2018 Michael Riis-Christianson and the Lakes District Museum Society

Community halls have always been an important part of the social fabric of rural British Columbia.

Burns Lake got its first community hall not long after municipal incorporation. Local residents raised funds for the facility and built it near the present site of the IDA Drug Store. On February 23, 1925, they incorporated an association to manage the facility. Membership fees were a dollar, and the founding members were local businessmen, members of the clergy, and the postmaster.

The community hall got a piano courtesy of the Bluebirds Concert Group, an organization established to raise funds for this purpose. Founding members of the group were the wife of druggist Gordon Wood, Mrs. V. Jewell, M.A. Tallon, Mr. V. Schjeldrup, and P.A. Thunder.

The facility hosted a variety of events. Concerts and dances were held there, one of the first being a St. Patrick’s Day dance on March 17, 1925.

Sadly, the original community hall was destroyed by fire on June 30, 1938. Cecil Steele of Smithers was showing a movie to a packed house of children and adults when the film snapped and burst into flames. Bill McKenna, chairman of the hall association, was sitting near the door when the blaze started. He quickly picked up the event tickets and ran across the street to the hotel for a fire extinguisher. Steele removed the top spool of film and covered it with sand while Mrs. H.D. McNeill and Jack Brown Sr. calmly evacuated the patrons.

By the time McKenna returned with an extinguisher, the fire had already burned through the building’s roof. Steele escaped by leaping from the balcony.

The village didn’t have a chemical fire engine, and no water was available to tackle the blaze. Residents could only watch as their hall burned to the ground.

The facility was rebuilt the following year. The hall association was one of the most active organizations in the municipality; by 1953, it boasted 255 members.

Disaster struck again on January 15, 1954, when the new hall – like its predecessor – burned to the ground. This time, no effort was made to rebuild the facility. The association’s assets were turned over to the municipality the following June. In time, the civic centre became Burns Lake’s new community gathering place.

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