When Ruth Byers uses words like “demolish”, “stunned”, and “tragedy”, thoughtful people in Springwater Township have listened up for decades.
Her April 7th Heritage Matters column:
April 7, 2016
Memories of the Midhurst Community Centre
The sign that hung for decades within the Midhurst Community Hall.
It is a man’s privilege some good to seek,
To lift up the fallen and to aid the weak.
To create a dwelling for frolic and fun,
That will cheer the aged as well as the young.
Dear Midhursters don’t let the hall go, it would be a mistake.
These words were spoken and recorded in an epic poem nearly 100 years ago when a battle was being waged over the location of the new town hall. The council of the day had decided to build a new town hall and the site had been selected but there was a desire for some to have it located at the reforestation area near the railway station.
Now, 2016, it seems there is a desire to demolish this landmark. The community centre has been serving (and still is serving) the Midhurst community in a variety of ways.
Dear Reader: this column is used to tell of Heritage Matters in an unbiased manner. I hope you will forgive me if I deviate from this format. I was stunned to learn of the plans to demolish the Midhurst Community Centre. To most of us, other than not being handicapped accessible, the building seems to be solid.
My first memory of the hall was attending a family dance as a little kid. The music was played by local musicians, and a local caller if a square dance was in the making. There were wooden benches down the sides of the room, piled coats underneath. When the toddlers got tired, they would crawl under the benches, lay on the coats and sleep. The highlight of the evening would be watching Orv Dash and Mrs. Dash schottische around the floor, their feet never stumbling. Perhaps it was Orv’s boxing experience that accounted for the great footwork!
Time passed: school, marriage, living elsewhere, babies and then building our home in Midhurst. As residents, we became involved with the community, and the Midhurst Community Centre. Before Forest Hill School had a gymnasium, school plays and concerts were held in the hall. Dinners, pancake suppers, baby showers, wedding showers, card games and more dances filled the community newsletter. Political rallies and elections at all three levels were held in this hall. Free trade was discussed in the 1930s, decades before it became an important issue.
Not all meetings were good. My father attended a council meeting concerning a situation with SS #1 Vespra School known locally as Cundles School. This was where my brothers and I attended. My father was told to go back where he came from if he didn’t like what was offered here. School Inspector P.M. Scott stood up and chastised the Council and demanded an apology, which was given. What a dear man, and courageous! That memory has stuck for a lifetime.
In 1967, the Vespra Township council decided once again to build a new hall. This one on Doran Road became excess property so it was sold to the Midhurst Community for one dollar.
Thus began the job of renovating. Volunteers worked hard to provide a safe and useable space adding washrooms, a decent heating system, a parking lot and a cover over the front door.
A board managed the business of the hall. As a member of the board for a few years, I was intrigued by the fact a fellow board member, Hunter Russell, and been one of the original volunteers building the hall before I was born.
Somehow, the hall became the property of the township again. Now the decision regarding the hall’s future lies with the council. Demolishing our heritage would be a tragedy. A logical solution would be to sell the land and building ‘as is’ and let the new owner do whatever needs to be done with the building. This solution worked well for the old St. Paul’s Church.
The opening two stanzas of the circa 1926 poem, recorded in History of Vespra Township, page 111:
Come friends, gather round and I will tell
Of a wonderful project and what befell.
Our fathers one day thought out and planned
A community hall, a structure grand.
They met the Council for an interview,
Laid before them their plans, faithful and true.
For a thousand dollars, and the old town hall
We’ll build you a new one, in reach of all.
Disclosure: Ruth, Bob and their family have given thousands and thousands and thousands of hours in support of the Springwater Township community. For our family, we received their gifts principally within the scouting movement.
I wrote about this in relation to saving Springwater Park in August 2013.