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Looking Back: if those walls could have talked


John Kinnear

Feb 15, 2023

Recently the old dance hall at Crowsnest Lake was dismantled and levelled and all that remains now is a bare patch where this remarkable old pavilion once stood. 

It was just too much to try and save it and the time has come for a gazebo or small facility with wash rooms to take its place.  The popularity of the east shore of Crowsnest Lake has grown hugely in recent years and really deserves some attention. 

There were in-depth discussions on Facebook as far back as October, facilitated by myself and others, on its impending demise. It caught the attention of almost 300 viewers and with it came 107 comments. The comments were mostly a heart-warming blend of memories and warm reflections, some of which I would like to share. They revealed a deep appreciation for the old girl by people of all ages.  

Before doing that though let’s take a little harder look at the site history, which reveals, through its heritage interpretive sign and lingering remains, some rather interesting facts.  Firstly, the site area is ancient and archaeological inspections nearby in the early 1970’s revealed that the lakeshore attracted peoples as far back as 8,500 years ago. Several different ancient cultures gathered there, the last of which, known as the Pelican People, were direct ancestors of the K’tunaxa First Nation (formerly known as the Kootenay).  

That interpretive sign has a wonderful picture of the hall in its heyday and it was interesting to note that the hall had a tall pole with a flag and a weather vane on top of the roof. A big prominent sign also on the roof announced “Cabins for Rent, Dancing, Sailing” and above that was another sign that says “Coleman Motors, Expert Mechanics”. 

So it seems that people have been gathering there, for one reason or another, for a very long time and will continue to do so.   One of the lingering remains of the dance hall that I came across après it’s dismantling was a special refractory brick used in the base of one of those two wonderful stone fireplaces.  Being the detective that I am, I chased down its source from the prominent initials stamped on it.  HWR CO. which stands for Harbison-Walker Refractory Company, a brick manufacturer that has existed since 1864 in the United States. Refractory bricks are very resistant to heat and decomposition and are made in kilns using something known as chamotte.  Chamotte is calcined clay that is very high in alumina and it kind of blew my mind to find the remains of Pennsylvania-made refractory brick at the lake. Naturally that remnant had to come home with me to join my brick collection.  

I visited the site on January 4, just days prior to when the crew was contracted to demolish her and did detailed photography of the hall from one end to another. At that time the south fireplace was pretty intact but had suffered some vandalizing colour enhancements not very becoming to such a grand purveyor of warmth.  A second visit on Monday January 9, revealed the building down with a stockpile of the center support rafters nearby and a crew loading and hauling away the remains. 

I noticed that the south fireplace was still standing by itself like a silent stone sentinel: the last stalwart remains of a building that, by all reports from those who took it down, did not surrender easily. I liked the fact that the center structure, the true center of her spirit, stubbornly stood her ground until the very end and only after the center support post was pulled out and three of the four walls pulled away did she finally fall.

Getting back to the community response, I found that the October comments section on that Facebook post revealed a warm variety of sentiments. Annie Wesko shared the following line from the Mary Hopkins song, “Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end.” The first verse of that song could very easily be modified to say, “Once upon a time there was a dance hall. Where we used to have a dance or two. Remember how we laughed away the hours. Think of all the great times me and you.”

Later on Bruce Fairbrother chimed in with the following, “Oh did we DANCE!! Guys and Gals dressed to the nines, fireplace going, dance floor rockin, Harry Setla’s band and what a band it was. He always closed with a waltz “Goodnight, Irene” and YES, the kitchen was awesome!!! 

 Next up, Sophie Sedgwick (Baruta), weighed in with, “So sorry to see it go, I have so many memories of the Saturday night dances held there. Only remember the fire place being lit once as the warm evening’s required little heat. Such a special time— big band music , the moonlight over the lake , the solitude, the adults mixing with the teens and yes, Mr. and Mrs. Ondrus having a swinging  good time at each dance . Thanks for the memories - it was our night club minus the cost. Because the Pass in the 50’s knew how to have a good time.”

Denise Coccioloni -Amatto remembered dancing there and the fact that when Katimavik (youth volunteers) were here they spruced up the place. “The fire was roaring and it was Halloween!  It was a ripping great time!  Too bad it has passed the point of repair.” Cindy Lee Siegen chimed in with this Halloween memory. ”My best memory was the Halloween party in the late 1970s. Joe T. dressed up like a mummy and got too close to the fireplace.  The wrap bandages started on fire. Thankfully Joe was ok and we all had a bit of a scare but a good laugh too.” There can be no greater irony than the fact that the teardown contractor was that very same mummy, the one and only, Joe T.

Tim Wavercan recalled that, “I played in my band at the dance hall in the early 70’s, probably when the hall was nearing the downfall of its structure. In the early 60’s the Coleman Volunteer Fire Brigade had their annual summer picnics in the hall and at the lake. Such beautiful memories that we experienced. I am sure many families of the Pass spent much time having picnics and boating at this lake and groups that used the hall for different celebrations and gatherings. I can remember the crackling fires in the stone fireplaces!!.”

Larry Barris commented that, “My parents met there, she was from Coleman, and he was born and raised in Natal, BC. Talk about meeting in the middle, huh?” There were several others that weighed in, in this fashion. Brenda White’s parents met there as did CJ Yagos’s mom and dad in 1953/54 and Patty Plowman’s in-laws. Annie Wesko further commented later on that her late husband proposed marriage to her there in 1963. 

Lynn Girardi Makiev mentioned that her mother and father would walk from Coleman to go dance there and Kaydee DeRenzo stated this, “So awesome and boy did we all get gussied up. Guys and dolls.”

I laughed when Pat Allardyce shared that her partner Larry Cerny got caught with beer in the car there. She said he paid a $35 fine and that the judge asked him if his parents knew, because if they didn’t, his aunt worked at the Blairmore court house. 

 I remembered after reading this, a story from my brother Alex, who said the cops were after a guy there that had a case of beer one Saturday night. The guy walked out into the lake, in his suit, with the case held over his head and wasn’t giving it up. Told them they were gonna have to come in and get it.

Editor/Publisher Lisa Sygutek said that her parents loved to dance there and that both her grandmother Anne Kubik and Aunt Josephine Kubik played at the dance hall. Josephine played with the band the Blue Birds.

All in all it was Pat Lundy’s share that summed up, in a profound way, this really wonderful Facebook connecting experience. She said, “Memories, how precious they are. I hear the melancholy in your words, a happy sadness for what was.” 

The lake dance hall will live on in our minds forever, a time of connection on the dance floor and off. There is one thing that cannot be torn down and that is our memories. They remain forever entrenched in our minds and in our hearts.   

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