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Lost buildings: Trail Legion

Updated: Feb 14

The old Trail Legion (also known as the Memorial Hall) was built in 1924 on Victoria Avenue to honour those killed during the First World War.


“This memorial … means a recognition by the citizens of the sacrifices made by the fathers and mothers and relatives of those men who fell, fellow citizens,” the Trail News of April 6, 1923 wrote as a fundraising campaign kicked off.


“But it means even more than that, it means a place where the descendants of heroes will be able to acquire some physical benefit as a result of their sacrifices.”

Memorial Hall, ca. 1930s, Hughes Bros. photo. What was the little structure to the right? It disappeared long before the rest of the building. (Greg Nesteroff collection)


Citizens and businesses raised over $25,000 (about $381,000 today) by the following February towards the final cost of $40,000 ($610,000 now). The three-storey building was designed by Archie Broderick, the city’s busiest architect during that decade.


His other commercial and institutional buildings included the Knights of Pythias temple (1922, now Shoppers Drug Mart); the fire hall (1923, now part of city hall); the Trail-Tadanac high school (1923, now Selkirk College and the Charles Bailey Theatre); the Trail-Tadanac hospital (1925, since demolished), the Colombo Lodge (1927), and the Union Hotel (1939). He also designed homes, garages, and warehouses, as well as industrial structures for Cominco.


Jenny Cowell wrote in the spring 2001 edition of the Trail Journal of Local History: “His style is unmistakable: unsophisticated box-like brick buildings commonly ornamented with decorative brickwork, shallow pilasters, cornice line decoration, and peaked parapets.”


The Memorial Hall was officially dedicated on Nov. 11, 1924 and became a recreation centre, with a basketball court, gymnastics area, public library, club rooms, and bowling alley.

As depicted on the 1935 fire insurance map.

Cominco Magazine, June 1940

Cominco Magazine, April 1948


The city’s first public swimming pool was built next door. Bill Burns recalls:

Jubilee Pool was part of the Legion complex, with the girls change rooms in the basement of the main Legion building.  A five-pin bowling alley (three lanes I believe) was also part of the complex, wedged in the back between the main building and the boys pool change rooms. Interesting dimensions of the pool: 100 feet X 30 feet. Depth three feet to seven feet at the drain. Imagine diving off a 10 foot tower into a maximum of 7 feet of water. I remember it all well having been a pool rat and then a lifeguard and swim instructor at the old Jubilee.

Pictured below is Bill jumping off the three meter (10 foot) diving board into seven feet of water in August 1958.

Construction after World War II of the nearby Trail Memorial Centre and Wright pool in East Trail saw the Legion building’s bulb began to dim. (The Memorial Centre was dedicated to the fallen soldiers of both world wars.)


In 1972, Selkirk College bought Mrs. Cook’s School of Business and leased the building. The business careers program was on the third floor, adult basic education on the second floor, and the Legion continued to be open evenings on the first floor.


By the early 1980s, the Legion moved to East Trail and the college was the sole tenant. The college moved out in 1988 and the building was empty for a few years before the Legion decided to sell it. Its last function was as a second-hand store.


I was only ever inside once, in the mid-1990s, and was amazed at the building’s sheer immensity.


In 1999, the City of Trail bought it for $135,000 and indicated it would be demolished and the vacant property sold to attract new development (a similar regretable situation later played out with the Union Hotel).


Local businesswoman Sharla Goddard was appalled and started a society and a petition to save the building. She gathered 800 signatures. Goddard, whose grandfather fought in World War I, felt that demolishing the building would dishonor the memory of those it was intended to remember.


“But that’s not the only reason,” she told the Trail Times. “In Europe, a 100-year-old building is young. I don’t like this throw-away attitude where just because something isn't being used, we should get rid of it.”


She also described the demolition as “a triple burden on the environment,” since it was a waste of the original building material, would consume landfill space, and whatever replaced it would consume more materials.


She ran unsuccessfully for city council that fall. The following May, the new council decided the building wasn’t worth saving.


“I don't think the previous council had any other reason in mind for buying it than to possess a prime piece of commercial real estate,” said then-mayor Sandy Santori. “We have had the building on the market for a year with no expressions of interest. Council believes [the site] would be of more interest to potential businesses if it was torn down. It is not feasible to spend $1 million to renovate it.”


The cost of renovating the building was never formally estimated, but city manager David Perehudoff guessed that would be at least that amount to replace the roof, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems and bring it up to fire code.


The cost of demolition was pegged at $100,000 — nearly half of it for landfill tipping fees. The city didn’t expect to recoup its costs through the sale of the property, but figured that it would eventually make its money back through property taxes of whatever was built on the site.


Goddard made a last-minute plea to council to give her a year to find a buyer or raise enough money to buy the building herself and come up with a development plan. Councillors Gord DeRosa and Jack Balfour were sympathetic to her request, but the rest of council said no.


Santori said he might have been convinced if the building had been occupied, “but it’s been in a state of disrepair for years.”


And so, in July 2000, an $85,000 demolition contract was awarded to a Castlegar company. Some of the lumber, bricks, metal, windows, copper, and hardwood floor were to be salvaged, but I don’t know what became of any of it. The job was completed by the end of the month, as seen below.

Goddard was not impressed.


“I’ve been so upset … It’s a piece of heritage, [but] council is temporary. They don't have the right to make this decision — they don't own it, the people of Trail do.”


By 2002, a new Lordco Auto Parts was on the site. The latter building is identical to the company’s branches in Grand Forks and elsewhere.

Sources:

• “Candidates believe better times ahead for Trail,” Trail Times, Nov. 18, 1999, p. 5

• “City plans Legion building demolition, woman vows fight,” Trail Times, Raymond Masleck, May 4, 2000, p. 1

• “Council rejects plea for time to save building,” Trail Times, Lana Rodlie, May 9, 2000, p. 1

• “Many fighting to save building,” Trail Times, Sharla Goddard, June 2, 2000, p. 4

• “Legion building coming down,” Trail Times, Lana Rodlie and Tracy Konschuk, July 12, 2000, p. 1

• “Charles Archibald (Archie) Broderick – An early Trail architect,” Trail Journal of Local History, Spring 2001, p. 35-38

Journeys Taken: Selkirk College – The First 50 Years, 2017, p. 107-08


Updated on July 3, 2022 to add the photos from Cominco magazine. Updated on Feb. 14, 2024 to add the image from the fire insurance map.

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