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Looking Back: The Italian Hall Stands Tall


John Kinnear

Jun 26, 2024

The old Italian Hall in Coleman has been given a bit of a work over

Throughout the last couple of weeks the old Italian Hall in Coleman has been given a bit of a work over.  The back half, which had small apartments, was beyond saving and that part of the structure was systematically and carefully stripped away from the upper hall and main floor that faces the street.  Often the process of restoration of historic buildings requires strategic decisions, as was the case here. The owner has begun the huge job of stabilizing and bringing the old store and hall back to life.  It was kind of serendipity that as I stood, one day last week, surveying the pile of wood that once was the back end of the building, I spotted a board with writing on it. It read, in black letters, Coleman Hdwe Co, Coleman Alta.  It was a simple affirmation of this amazing building’s origins.  

According to the Municipal Heritage Survey, done for Coleman in 2013, it was in fact a hardware story, built in 1904 which was bought in 1912 by the Italian Benevolent Society. That society had been founded in 1906 at Lille and once the Lille Mine closed, it purchased this then two-storey clapboard building and repurposed it. The main floor was an Italian Co-operative which was at times “a last resort for Italian families that could not get credit at other stores. “ The second floor was used for dances and meetings and had residences at the rear.  

The building underwent a major renovation of its exterior in 1935 and still retains some of the interesting Art Deco architecture added.  There are scalloped fluted pilasters on either side of the building, a ghost image of a painted sunburst and most fascinating of all a pair of molded clasped hands at the bottom of the burst in the upper gable of the second-storey. Also, there is a special insignia on the metal railing of the second floor balconet.  It is a diamond with an S in the middle and I wondered at its significance. A little research revealed to me that the clasped hands are emblematic of the Italian Benevolent Society.  

In the early 1960’s I went to teen dances in that upper hall, the ones where the boys sat on one side and the girls on the other, staring at each other, with no one having enough nerve to ask for a dance. Caroline Holyk taught dancing upstairs and it was very nostalgic for me to walk through those double paneled entrance doors on last time and up that staircase to the hall entrance doors. They are now exposed to the outside with a tiny door off to the left swinging open. It almost looks like a ticket door for admission or perhaps a more sinister use, that being a “whisper the password and you can come in” door.  The now exposed north wall has no less than 8 doors in it, of every size and description. One in particular (#4) looks like I would have to go through it sideways.

I’m told my Scottish carpenter grandfather, of same name, laid the hardwood floors in that hall.  It is heartwarming to know that the Italian Hall will once again serve as a functional building and become yet another part of the slowly transforming restored downtown Coleman. 

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