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Heffley Creek hall gets new, energy-efficient lease on life

September 2, 2015 4:00 A.M.
Deb McDougall, secretary of the Heffley Creek Community Recreation Association, outside the centre of the community.

You can tell a lot about a neighbourhood with a visit to its community hall. Be careful where you sit, though.

One spring day 35 years ago, a friend and I were hiking in the Gulf Islands when we stopped for a break at North Galiano Community Hall. A converted one-room schoolhouse built in the 1920s, it was typical of clapboard halls that were the hearts of rural communities across B.C. at one time. The place looked all but abandoned as we sat down on the front porch. That was when an angry swarm of wasps flew out of the old bench seat.

The welcome at Heffley Creek hall on Saturday was a little sweeter. Deb McDougall — secretary of the Heffley Creek Community Recreation Association and publisher of the Heffley Creek Holler, a community newsletter she distributes — presented me with a jar of alfalfa honey. Her husband, Lawrence Bergstrand, maintains the hives at their Sun Hill Apiaries up the road.

“That’s not a bribe,” McDougall said, making light of the gift.

A neighbourhood within the Municipality of Kamloops, Heffley Creek is one of the last living links to the rural past of the North Thompson valley. Most people who drive through “downtown” Heffley these days are headed for the snowy slopes of Sun Peaks, but the 1911 general store has seen plenty of history pass by. A century ago, this was the heart of a thriving farm community and the neighbourhood has yet to be “suburbanized” the way others have.

Heffley Creek hall originated when the village was in its hey day. Known as Union Hall in those years, the original building hosted the North Thompson’s first agricultural fair in 1912. Kamloops Mayor J.T. Robinson was the master of ceremonies for a day of activities that included a turkey shoot and tug-of-war. 

While the population hasn’t changed a whole lot in the century since, the old hall is long gone, destroyed by a fire in 1970. The existing hall was built in its place in 1971-72. Though substantially more fireproof, its green-brick exterior reflects that vintage.

McDougall, who grew up in various B.C. communities, including Merritt, was drawn to quieter locales. Ask her about the hall and she’ll reel off a list of a calendar full of community gatherings, including monthly coffee houses, fundraisers such as the spring sale and harvest sale, and a popular Father’s Day show and shine, as well as regular meetings of the gun club and the water board. There are, of course, weddings, funerals and memorials in between. 

“It’s sort of the centre of the community.”

The dances are no exception, locally famous in the valley.

“Everyone remembers dances at the hall,” she recalled. “And the Gator.”

A relatively recent arrival, McDougall had her induction into the Gator tradition at the hall. As evenings progress, the livelier dancers climb on stage, jump off and wriggle on the floor. When she saw this the first time, she thought the party-hardy wriggler was having a seizure and summoned the guys on security.

There’s another list that she keeps in the back of her head — the list of expenses that the association’s 82 members must bear in mind. The bills add up and don’t leave much left over for hall improvements by the volunteer board. 

That’s about the change, though, with the association receiving up to $45,000 in gas-tax credit funding as well as a $10,000 Canada 150 grant. The funds will pay for new energy-efficient fixtures, which will reduce utility costs and improve comfort, as well as a new hall floor for all that dancing and “Gatoring.”

The need for fundraisers remains, a good way to pull the neighbourhood together. There’s a coffee house evening coming up on Sept. 26. Starting at 6 p.m., Wilf Bennett will be performing on stage for a welcome-back barbecue hosted by the association. Admission is a toonie.

Oh, and then there’s the October Sale-a-Bration on Oct. 24, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (donate your gently used items, baking and harvest goods). Plus Rendezvous 2015 continues until Monday, Sept. 7.

You can read all about them in the Heffley Creek Holler, tucked in alongside a recipe for Cinnamon Honey Butter. McDougall just marked the Holler’s first anniversary of publication.

“I always preferred out-of-the-way, small town things,” she said.

Barrie Ogden says:
September 3, 2015 09:48am

GREAT story, Mike. Miss you in print. Deb & Lawrence -- Leigh and Ted Moore are MY connections to your community and I'm so pleased to hear about the new hall which is, obviously, a special gathering place on so many levels!


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Lee Brietzke says:
September 2, 2015 11:48pm

Great story! I love our Community and there are so many great people here.... Thanks Deb and Lawrence! And of course all the volunteers.....


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Deb McDougall says:
September 2, 2015 10:11am

Hi Mike - great story! Thank you for the visit. We had to change the date of our October Sale-A-Bration to Saturday, October 24 because Elections Canada will be using the hall for advance polling from October 9 through 12. Hope to see everyone soon!


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