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Humble hall quietly passes first century

Still ‘bitchin’ and stitchin’ in rural Knutsford neighbourhood
November 5, 2015 4:00 A.M.
Donna Frolek and a close-knit community help preserve century-old Knutsford Hall.

Most neighbourhoods have historical roots, but few wear their history as prominently as Knutsford.

Knutsford Hall hasn’t always stood next to 5A, at the corner of Long Lake Road and Old Merritt Highway, it only looks as though it has. The rural hall has stood a long time — a full century as of last May — and still plays a central role in the community of about 300 residents.

“If we didn’t have the hall, I think it would fall apart, actually,” said Donna Frolek.

She’s referring, not to the hall — which features a new roof as of last week, though the building is still held together by wall jacks – but the community as a whole. There is no school, subdivision, parks, street lights, stores or other amenities, but make no mistake, there is a close-knit neighbourhood among the scattered homes and farms. At its heart lies the hall.

The sprung softwood floor, where generations have danced nights away, still comes up shining after a good cleaning. There is a small kitchen — city water was connected 15 years ago — and storage room, but no indoor toilets. A pair of well maintained outhouses serve the purpose.

“We’re just trying to hang onto the guy. We love our hall,” Frolek said.

The old building owes its existence to the surrounding agricultural community. They wasted no time once Knutsford Stock Growers Association decided they needed one on May 5, 1915. By May 24, the job was done with the hall located at the former Knutsford fairground, now the Dawson gravel pit. 

For its first 20 years, the hall was the focal point for homesteading life. The Knutsford Fair was held every July 1 with livestock judging and agricultural competitions for everything from pies to flowers to needlework. With the advent of automobiles, making Kamloops much closer, the last fair was held in 1926. The hall hadn’t outlived its purpose, though.

Two years later, William Finbow, who ran the nearby Knutsford Store, bought the place. He had the building relocated from the old fairground to its present location, hauling it over by horse-drawn wagon. The hall became much more of a social centre, accommodating meetings of the Rose Hill Farmers Institute, which still operates it, the Beresford Women’s Institute and the Beresford Athletic Club among other groups. 

Another 20 years passed and subsequent owners decided to tear down the hall since the dances there didn’t sit well with their religious beliefs. An association was formed, the community came together with donations and they bought the building to save it. That was 1948. Imagine all the dances, meetings, marriages that may have never happened otherwise.

Times have changed, but the hall still serves a fairly full calendar of activities and events. Margaret Huff was leading a yoga class there on Wednesday. Two of the women in the class are granddaughters of early residents. The heritage of the place remains in the blood. A fall fair is held every September, its potluck dinner, fundraising auction and dance always sold out. Last week’s Halloween party was a big success with more than 70 children turning out.

There are dances, dance lessons, 4-H nights, an AGM in March and, of course, the children’s Christmas party. In between dates, the hall is available for rent for private functions. 

“This place really does know how to rock, let me tell you.”

One local doctor insists on holding functions at the hall because he loves the quaintness of it. Omer Despins, who lives behind the hall, voluntarily maintains the grounds. Residents of a local group home for mentally challenged adults give back to the community by helping out as well.

Then there are the knitting circles, the “stitch and bitch” gatherings. Yes, sewing gets done, but these are social get-togethers more than anything. “It’s a nice group and we’re just like family.”

That degree of familiarity and intimacy within a rural community — some folks love it, some loathe it — is the glue that holds together Knutsford. Newcomers arrive and feel as though they’ve always lived there.

Frolek has lived in the community for 48 years and published a newsletter for 20 of them. Residents would await its arrival and save copies as mementoes of births, weddings and other special events. She gave it up when the job became too demanding.

With practically everyone on email now, that same community cohesion is reflected in a collective crime watch. Everyone knows when there’s a break-in in the area.

While community mailboxes have replaced mailbox delivery, a bulletin board nearby still keeps residents connected. A Telus phone booth next to it may as well be in the Kamloops Museum, though, permanently out of order. It’s easy to forget that you’re a few minutes away from the city.

“Some people say they can’t move from here. When I moved here from Kamloops, it felt like I had come home.”

Once a year, volunteers fan out, going from door to door, collecting membership fees.

“Here, it’s a huge diversity of people,” Frolek added. “You’ll get doctors, lawyers, dentists, machine operators, electricians — we’re still missing a plumber — and we all interact together.”

An invitation-only Heritage Tea, usually held every first Sunday in November and popular with senior residents, is set for this Sunday, Nov. 7.

Margaret Huff says:
November 5, 2015 12:15pm

Donna Frolek ~ the grande-dame of Knutsford and the hall!


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