“That I loved the old wooden walls, the cold toilets, the scent of seaweed when the doors were open?”

shirley hall

On Monday, John and I took Angie and Craig out to Point No Point for lunch. This has been a favourite destination of mine since the early 1970s when friends and I would drive out on a Sunday for tea in front of the fire. Miss Packham served the tea and I remember there were little squares and perhaps cucumber sandwiches. It was my dream to stay in one of the little cabins and John and I did just that in 1982. There was a fireplace, a basket with old New Yorkers, a bed that filled a tiny alcove looking out over salal to the sea.

Where does the name come from? I’d wondered but never looked it up. The little brochure on our table at lunch provided the answer and I’ve found it again on the resort website: “The unusual name “Point-No-Point” comes from the original survey of this stretch of coast. It refers to a secondary point of land that is apparent, but doesn’t extend farther than the two primary points on either side of it, commonly referred to as a “point-no-point”.”

The little dining rooms—there are two— hang out over the salal and spruces and you feel that you could drop a stone into the surf below. There are binoculars on each table so that you can determine whether you are seeing seals or kelp. The food is delicious. I had chowder and soda bread and a glass of Quail’s Gate Chasselas-Pinot Blanc-Pinot Gris. After lunch we walked down through a tunnel of green to the rocks by the water.

point no point

As we drove towards Point No Point on the West Coast Road, I asked John to stop the car opposite the Shirley Community Hall. If you’ve read my novella Winter Wren, you might remember the dance at the Hall, circa 1974. I believe that’s the year I went to a dance there and never forgot it. I think there were dances of that sort at community halls all over the province. Long tables filled with food, a raffish band, wild dancing: in short, memorable.

But do we remember? Will we remember? Last year John and I went to a concert at the Cooper’s Green Hall in Halfmoon Bay. It was wonderful, Tube Radio (Boyd Norman, Gary McGuire, Brent Fitzsimmons, Ian McLatchie, and Andrew Bate, joined by Simon Paradis) playing great music and people dancing and talking at tables pushed against the wall. At the intermission, I went to the bathroom and joined the line of women waiting for their turn. A woman in front of me turned around and said, “I’ll be glad when they tear this place down and build a new hall.” I was so surprised I didn’t know what to say. And what would I have said? That I loved the old wooden walls, the cold toilets, the scent of seaweed when the doors were open? The dark field you crossed to where you parked your car, lit only by stars? The memory of apple butter being stirred in a huge cauldron at the Apple Festival in front of the hall each autumn?

I’ve been thinking about the old community halls and talking to people about them. In our own small community, we have several. The one in Madeira Park where we’ve attended some of those grand old dances, including a Fishermen’s Homecoming where portraits of the boats were all drawn by school children and hung in fish nets on the walls, weddings, funerals, awards ceremonies, spring bazaars and Christmas craft sales, and if we were gambling types, we’d have gone to the weekly bingo too, and it’s where we vote, where the rowdy community meetings rattle the roof when new bylaws have to be introduced, and where more than a few all-candidates debates have shown that people we like don’t necessarily vote the same way we do! There’s a wonderful old hall in Egmont where we’ve danced at weddings and cried at funerals and where the hippie-stomp dances are legendary, as are the community seafood feasts.

I have in mind a grand gathering of profiles of the halls of British Columbia. I can’t do this myself and even tremble at the thought of trying to organize the project but I think it’s important that we record and commemorate these places before they disappear. As Joni Mitchell so beautifully sang, Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone? (And she once sang “Unchained Melody” at a wedding in the Madeira Park Community Hall!) I know that the British Columbia History Magazine did feature community halls in an issue in 2016 but I’d love to see more, know more. If you have a story about a community hall, please contact me (theresakishkan at gmail. com) and if I find there’s critical mass, I will try to take this forward. I have several people on board already. The wonderful Matt Rader wrote of the Dove Creek Hall near Courtenay:

Tell me, who hung the hand-stitched stars on the wall?
Who hung the evening light from the windows?

And that’s it. That’s it exactly. Let’s find out!

4 thoughts on ““That I loved the old wooden walls, the cold toilets, the scent of seaweed when the doors were open?””

  1. What a great idea, Theresa. I’ll try to cast my mind back to when I was touring with the Vallalujah Rangers, a bunch of crazed hippy performers of theatre and music from the Kootenays – New Denver – in 1974 or 5. We played at some grand old halls. And in a field or two, too. That was a long time ago, tho’.

    1. When I think about this project, Beth, I really hope for texture, for every kind of profile. Those Kootenay halls — so beautiful. And imagine what they’ve seen over the years! If the walls can’t talk, maybe we can!

  2. Oh, so much in this post to respond to!

    Point No Point – we stayed there our first and only time in May of 1996, with our two-year-old son and three-month-old baby girl.

    The only reason we managed to book a cabin was that someone else had cancelled in a huff because there were “bugs in the cabin!” – they (city folk?!) were appalled by the presence of a few spiders and ants. We were the lucky call just after the cancellation. Being “country folk” ourselves, “bugs” were a non-issue, though I must say there is a coastal species of exceedingly large and long-legged spider which gives me pause when I meet them scuttling about in a bathtub, which seems a favourite spot!

    The food in the tearoom was astoundingly good. Our wee children raised eyebrows from fellow guests, but we assured them that we would leave if a disturbance seemed imminent. The two-year-old was an angel – exhausted by his treks through rainforest and along rocky shores he was very happy to sit quietly and gaze out at the ocean. The baby – bless her heart! – slept serenely in her basket. Our fellow diners smiled upon us; perfect peace.

    Subsequent attempts at staying and/or dining at Point No Point have met with little luck – that place is very popular – the cabins are always booked, the tearoom full on our random trips in that region. But we retain fond memories of the time it all clicked.

    Rural community halls, oh my. What a rich field for exploration there! I am intimately acquainted with one, have a happy relationship with several others, and have witnessed the sad demise of some, too, to time and gravity. Yes, the stories those walls could tell…

    1. Yes, it’s a special place. We’ve eaten lunch there several times in recent years and each time the food has been just wonderful. I remember the cabin (bugs wouldn’t have troubled us…) as cosy rather than posh and that’s what I loved about it. I tried to figure out which one it was and a young man working there helped me to determine that it could have been one of three.
      And yes, the halls…I hope to gather profiles and then perhaps construct a book. In a way it’s daunting but then if not now, when? Time and gravity — that’s exactly right.

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