The community hall was heart of any small town, village or region, its social centre. Anywhere there was a population you’d find one of these structures. Typically long and rectangular, usually plain and unassuming, they were located somewhere close to “downtown”, or at some important crossroads intersection in more rural regions. Inside there would be a large open area maybe flanked by a stage, a food preparation room and perhaps a some storage closets for chairs and tables. And that would be it.
Most of the time they’d be locked up and quiet, but every so often the doors would be opened wide to what ever event was taking place that day. Maybe it’d be a dance, a social, fund raiser, a Christmas dinner, Halloween party, poker tournament, a wedding, a play, a bingo, beer gardens, family reunion, a film presentation. We could go on and on (and typically do). No matter, fun and frivolity were often in the cards and a good time pretty much guaranteed. They could be a busy place in the old days.
Today, very few of these community halls, those were not demolished that is, still see regular use. With the rural population in free fall, most are empty or at best used very infrequently, or like in the case of this one, located in the small burg of Queenstown Alberta, bought up and used for other purposes. For the last quarter century, the date of the last event here, this one’s been used for storage by two separate owners, the most recent who invited us in for a look.
Queenstown dates from the mid-1920s. It’s a fairly young place, as towns go. It sprang to life with the coming of the railway. Never more than a couple blocks square it was once home to a few dozen people in the town proper, but a good number living on farms in the area. Today, there’s a couple occupied houses here, and an old garage, and that’s it. Well, plus the Queenstown Community Hall.
The building dates from the latter half of 1920s. Old records show it a hopping place back then. Sometime around the World War Two the structure was moved from it’s original location, a block or so away to where it stands today. No mention was made why this happened.
The building’s main room has a wood floor with a stage at one end with a fold up screen for movies above. The entrance way has a small ticket booth. Connected to it, but open to the main hall is a concession booth, the projector room directly above it. Biffies were pit toilets attached to the building. In back of the building is a kitchen. Wiring and signage appears fairly modern. The ceiling shows sign of some water damage. The roof however appears in good shape and the building overall quite sound. The roll up garage door is a more recent thing.
The interior of the main hall is this sickly shade of green, which admittedly made it difficult to properly colour balance a shot. With the glow (no need for light, the colour created its own) everyone inside had this hulk-ish like quality about them. Was there a sale on paint way back when?
Films we’re always a popular event at the hall. In earlier days a travelling agent would present them, bringing with him the things needed to do the show. In the 1950s they acquired their own equipment and put in the a projector booth – this feature is pretty unique and we’ve never seen such a set up in a small town community hall. That room is for the most part empty and is lined with pressed metal siding clearly salvaged from some other building. Not completely sure the purpose – to seal it from light, fire mitigation? No idea…
In addition to all the other events and occasions mentioned earlier, the hall also hosted the meeting of the Queenstown Women’s Institute – we found their ledger book from the 1940s – membership $0.25 per annum. Interestingly, there was a least one male member listed. This group remained active into the 1960s. Also making an appearance on at least one occasion (date not listed), the stars of Calgary’s Stampede Wrestling. The building saw its fair share of interesting things!
In the early days, a group called the Queenstown Community Hall Company ran the show and even issued shares.
Records show the building being used less and less as the years past. By the 1980s it very infrequent. The final event, a New Year’s party, took place in 1990. At that point it was sold to an individual who up until fairly recently, used it for the storage of antiques and collectibles. The current owner keeps a few vehicles in it…for now. Long term plans are do something more. The person recognizes its historical significance.
This owner has a thing for vintage Saab cars – on our arrival one was being taken away to be worked on. This make (from Sweden) was never that common in Canada. Those who love them seem to love then a lot. Got that impression right away. A look under the hood of these strange beasts leaves one scratching their head. Wait…the engine…it’s backwards! (Google it). I understand they were cutting edge (for the era), when it came to safety. Saab closed down just a few years back.
In spite not being used as a community hall for some time, many little bits and pieces from the building’s heyday can still be found inside its walls. Piles of “theatre” chairs are stacked in the corner, there’s pots and pans in the kitchen, speakers on the wall, curtains hang in the windows, orange from age or maybe that colour was in style at some point (I swear I’ve seen that pattern before!). It’s like they up and left, hoping one day to return. A tub of “dance floor” wax is found on a shelf. Some old 45s (Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians) are not far away and beside them that Woman’s Institute Ledger Book we touched on earlier. It’s been here since the 40s.
An “Old Style Pilsner” label is plastered on the concession room door. Always a popular beer in the prairie provinces especially with the blue collar crowd, it’s cheap-ass brew that strangely is highly revered even among more than a few beer connoisseurs. Call it Vitamin P, call is Saskatchewan Champagne, it’s iconic label has little changed over the years (that it shows both imperial and metric tells us this one is from the 1970s or so).
A neighbour down from the hall spotted us doing our thing and invited us over to take a look their bought new 1970s Triumph TR6. This is about the last car one would ever expect to find in rural Alberta. All the roads near Queenstown are gravel. A bit strange, but we like it that way.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: October, 2016.
Location: Queenstown, AB.
Article references and thanks: Paul D, Archives Society of Alberta, Milo Library Archives, Book: Snake Valley – a history of Lake McGregor and area.
BIGDoer.com visited the Queenstown Community Hall with permission. You can view it from the road.