The Future of Sylvan Hall

Our Lochaber Community Center, the Sylvan Hall, is now 90 years old. For some time now it has been clear that the Hall is showing its age. For those of you who have not been able to attend our most recent monthly public meetings, the Lochaber Community Development Association (LCDA) Executive Committee made the decision to seek qualified advice for a proper evaluation of the building while at the same time investigate some options for the future of our common community facilities.

The assessment of the Hall as reported back to the Executive was not encouraging. Since having undergone its last major round of repairs in the 1970’s, the structure has now degraded to the point where either a major renovation or a replacement had to be considered. It was apparent to all in attendance that the Hall is in steep decline and doing nothing is not an option. At our August public meeting, the LCDA having learned that a proper repair would involve replacing most of the old structure at a cost as much and probably more than building a new halt, reluctantly, took the hard decision to replace the old building so Lochaber will have a community hall of our own for the next 90 years.

Towards this end we ask that you make time and attend our September public monthly meeting and get informed of our findings, which will be presented for your consideration and input. Please come to learn more and to share your ideas about a new Hall and the exciting opportunity this presents to shape the future of Lochaber.

DATE: TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 20, 2011
TIME: 7:00 9:00 p.m. PLACE: SYLVAN HALL

 

-Sylvan Hall History & Plans for the Future-

To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, four score and ten years ago our fathers brought forth on this district a new community centre, conceived in enthusiasm, and dedicated to the proposition that Lochaber needs a place where people can gather for community events.

Notification in The Antigonish Casket newspaper of proposal to transfer Sylvan Hall to the LCDA.

That community centre is Sylvan Hall and the associated facilities which have been in use continuously (with some ups and downs) ever since those 1921 beginnings.  Based on the Sylvan Hall Co. Record, it would appear that the concept of the hall originated with the United Farmers Club (more properly Local 49 of the United Farmers of Nova Scotia).  In a meeting of that group on March 4th, 1922 a motion was passed “to have the hall property incorporated”; and so was born the Sylvan Hall Company.  This company operated the hall until, at the Nov. 14, 1974 annual meeting, a motion was passed to convey the property of the Sylvan Hall Co. to the Lochaber Community Development Association (LCDA).  The LCDA continues to manage and operate the Sylvan Hall and associated facilities to this day.

Sylvan Hall was totally a community effort.  Residents participated by donating cash, materials or labour (including teams of horses).  A value was placed on the labour and materials and this amount added to any cash contribution.  Voting shares and fractions of  shares in the hall were then assigned, one share for every $10 equivalent contribution.  All this was duly recorded in the Sylvan Hall Co. Record.  There were no grants or donations from g0vernments or businesses to help finance the construction.  It’s a tribute to the people of Lochaber and area of that time that they were able to construct such a fine hall without the aid of outside financing or contractors.  It had to have truly been a labour of love.

Over the years the hall has been used for a multiplicity of purposes.  When there were schools in Lochaber, school Christmas concerts and end of school year picnics were annual events.  Dances were held on a regular basis.  There were concerts by well known performers.  Once when Don Messer and His Islanders were performing to an overflow audience, the floor in one corner of the hall floor collapsed into the crawl space below.  No one was hurt, and once the affected part of the audience got over the scare of suddenly dropping a couple of feet, the show went on.  The rhythm of the music must have matched the natural rhythm of the floor so that, when the audience got moving to the beat, they overloaded the floor structure.  During the 1950s Sylvan Hall was home to the Lochaber Strawberry Exchange, a marketing co-op serving the large number of strawberry growers in Lochaber at that time.

Sylvan Hall as it looked about 1970 - Photo provided by Wilfred Fisher

The hall following the first major maintenance program. Photo provided by Wilfred Fisher.

During the 1960s use of the hall declined and the building was neglected.  A much needed major upgrade and maintenance program was then undertaken.  Plumbing and central heating were added.  Steel beams were installed to support the second story and the central support columns were removed from the main floor.  Exterior siding and windows were replaced.  It was upgraded to meet the requirements of the building code in place at the time.  The hall had already been electrified prior to this program.

The LCDA recognized that the building was in need of, as a minimum, a second extensive  round of maintenance.  However, as we dug into what would be required, it became evident that the grand old hall had reached the point where, to restore it so that it would be functional for a few more decades, would require considerably more expense than to build a new and improved building that would long outlive the existing one (even if the current hall was fully restored to the greatest extent possible).  Our goal is to design with professional assistance a more modern hall that will provide the community with everything the original Sylvan Hall had and more, while at the same time retaining the class and character of the building it will replace.  As someone said, we want a building that will reflect the character and ambience of the old one, not something that looks like “a gym with a low ceiling”.  At this point we are in the idea gathering stage, and are eager to hear ideas from as many people as possible as to what they would like to see in the way of improvements that will make our community centre of the greatest use to the greatest number of people.  Your feedback is extremely important, to help us achieve our goal of maximizing the usefulness of the facilities.  Any and all suggestions will be taken into consideration, and community meetings will be held to discuss important decisions relating to the project.

This proposed program will follow a much different path than the original hall construction.  Life was not easy for the people of the 1920s, yet they managed to set aside time to volunteer their skills and labour toward the building of the hall.  Modern life will not allow for that degree of time commitment by local people, nor do they generally have materials to donate or the skills required to work on a modern building.  There will be a much greater emphasis on community financial support for the project.  It is expected that the majority of the financial requirements will be met by grants from governments and other interested agencies, but in order to qualify for such grants, residents will have to demonstrate their support by raising a substantial part of the funding locally.  To the extent possible, the LCDA will maximize the use of local contractors to carry out the project, so that money spent will stay within the community.

As the project progresses, the LCDA, through this web site, will do our best to keep the community informed and up to date on the steps we are taking so that no opportunity is missed to produce the best possible final result.

Presentation to Antigonish County Council – December 20, 2011

Download the Presentation (.pdf)