This then and now series was taken in one of my favourite places, Coleman Alberta in the Crowsnest Pass, and here we see two views of the Polish Hall, one from the late 1920s and ours from 2012. Taken from almost the same angle, only a large tree prevented me from lining up the shot better. I think it was pretty good though.
The Crowsnest Pass has a long history of coal mining and so does southern Poland, so it only seems natural that miners from that region would eventfully find there way to this area. The promise of a better life in Canada must have been quite a powerful draw and while coal mining here in the pass was hard, it was much worse back home.
So they came, a trickle at first, settling in various coal mining communities in Alberta. Places like Bankhead near Banff, and Coleman of course. More came and over the years our little community in the Crowsnest Pass would be home to one of the largest concentration of Poles in the province. It was large enough that by 1916 an association was formed, the Polish Brotherly Aid Society, a benevolent group that helped Polish families and promoted Polish culture.
It’s understood that prior to construction of the building that meetings and such were held in a private residence. However they outgrew this arrangement and the hall we see today was built some eleven years later, in 1927, and it was the first Polish Hall in all of Canada. By that date the society numbered well over two hundred souls.
Designed as a general purpose hall, it was put to good use hosting meetings, dances. weddings and Polish celebrations and cultural activities. And a garage sale and we were there in 2008 or so attending one. In additional members of the society formed an orchestra, a hockey team and a drama group.
It’s not clear who the people in the first picture are and why they got together for a photo but it sure would be interesting to know. Perhaps it was a heated union meeting, and one can only imagine.
Of interest, it’s believed that the bricks for this building were salvaged from another structure, perhaps the Rocky Mountains Sanatorium in Frank which closed around the time this hall was constructed (see update below).
I’ve seen this building refereed to as the Polish Miners Hall, and this makes sense since most Poles were employed at the local coal mines. The building was constructed by volunteers.
You’ll see in my picture that the date is proudly proclaimed on the front facade. Although in the first picture it does not appear to be visible, even under close examination. Perhaps it was added later or maybe its there but impossible to see due to the contrast and graininess of the picture.
The parapets at each corner in the front are topped by sculptures in the shape of lumps of coals, something I did not catch right away. I thought they were crude or damaged turnings and gave them little attention after that, but Connie pointed out what they were. It’s a very cool detail!
You’ll note some changes have been made to the Polish Hall building in the years since it was built. Most obvious is the stucco that now covers it. In the first picture of course you can see the building was made of brick, but in my shot it’s plastered. It’s not clear when this change happened, only that we know fairly early on as this author has seen a picture from 1933 showing it in its current form, with plaster covering the brick.
The front porch structure was added early on too and that same picture from 1933 I mentioned above shows it in place, so it was added not longer after the building was constructed.
It’s not clear who owns the Polish Hall now, perhaps descendants of the original organization, or maybe others. I do believe however it is a protected heritage building and as mentioned it does see some use, we attended a garage sale there as I mentioned, although it probably not near as busy as it was in the past.
Update: January 2013. Ian McLenzie, from CrowsnestHeritage.ca believes that the bricks used to build this structure came from the closed zinc plant in Frank instead of the Sanatorium as was stated here. That is certainly a real possibility.
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date: December 2012.
Location: Coleman, AB.