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Then & Now: Ainsworth community hall

Last year, the family of the late Lawrie Duff, former owner of the Silver Ledge Hotel in Ainsworth, kindly let me look through his papers and photos before I took them to the Kootenay Lake Archives in Kaslo. I scanned quite a bit of stuff, some of which I used for a post on the ruins of the Henry store and another on ads and postcards showing the hot springs pool. I now wish I had scanned even more, although the Kootenay Lake Historical Society will eventually take care of that.

One particular photo I regretted not digitizing showed the community hall when it was newly built in the early 1890s as a provincial government office. I thought I had seen the photo before or that it was readily already available from an archives, but upon describing it to others, I realized that was not so and the photo was very rare. Lawrie copied it but I don’t know where he found the original. So I went back to the archives this week to find it, which turned out to be easier said than done. 

I went through four boxes without luck, and as I got toward the bottom of the fifth and final box, I began to despair that I must have overlooked it. There are hundreds if not thousands of images in the Duff collection if you count all the duplicates and contact sheets. But then, in the second-to-last binder, with about 25 minutes to spare before closing time, I found it! Archivist Elizabeth Scarlett kindly scanned it on the spot and here it is.

(Kootenay Lake Archives 2023-06, Box 4, Binder F)

I love that we can read the sign, which says: “Government office/Office hours/10 a.m. to 4 p.m./Saturdays 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.” The man in the centre behind the kids is almost certainly mining recorder and police constable Thomas J. Lendrum, based on another more famous Ainsworth photo in which he appears. I don’t know who any of the other folks are. 

This building is interesting for several reasons, chiefly that it is one of the oldest in the West Kootenay, although its construction date has been given as both 1891 and 1892 (as well as some earlier but less likely dates).

In fact, it was supposed to have been built in 1891, for that year the government set aside $800 for a “lock-up” ($300 for the site and $500 for the building) to replace an existing mining recorder’s office and jail built around 1885 (which remained standing until 1913).

But according to the Nelson Miner on July 18, 1891:

There is some trouble about the location of the government office at Ainsworth, the lots purchased or reserved for the purpose not being considered suitable. The owners of the townsite might be liberal and present the government with lots in a suitable locality.

In October, assistant lands and works commissioner Napoleon Fitzstubbs issued a tender call, but no contract was signed, much to the consternation of residents. The townsite company evidently held out for a higher price and won, for the government was forced in 1892 to approve another $200 to acquire Block D, Lots 10-11, Plan 245A, whose modern address is 3624 Highway 31 (formerly Wright Street).

The BC Archives has the original contract for the building’s construction, which reveals it was awarded on Aug. 10, 1892 to A.L. McDonald of Kaslo, who was given just one month to build what was described as a “recorder’s office and lockup” for $1,220 (very roughly equivalent to $30,700 in today’s currency). If there were any other bidders, they are not reflected in the file. You can find the whole thing below. (If it does not appear in your browser, you can also find it here.)

BC Archives GR-0080.9.254, Ainsworth record office and gaol

Angus Long McDonald later moved to Grand Forks, where he advertised in 1897 as a contractor and builder and in 1899 served on the inaugural city council of Columbia, a rival city that amalgamated with Grand Forks in 1903.

The Ainsworth building was based on a government plan that unfortunately was not included with the contract file, but was probably used for a number of buildings of its type and era. In particular, I was hoping the plan might show us what the basement jail cells looked like, for no photos of them survive. The report of the superintendent of police for the year ending Oct. 31, 1895 reported: “There are three cells, a hall and a kitchen, all furnished, which form the base of the building.”

How often the jail had guests is not known. In a story published in the Nelson Daily News in 1910, Sidney Norman wrote of an incident circa 1892-93 where someone threw a rock at the posterior of a stooped-over Kaslo police officer. The officer threatened a suspect (the wrong man, as it turns out) with “a considerable term in the district jail at picturesque old Ainsworth.”  

The public accounts tell us something of the money expended on operating the jail. In 1892-93, T.A. Garland’s store in Kaslo was paid $8 for blankets, Green Bros. received $40.33 for “prison supplies,” and Dr. John Henry was paid $3.50 for “attendance on sick prisoner,” but we don’t know who the prisoner was or what ailment they suffered from. The 1893-94 public accounts recorded only a 25-cent payment to the Giegerich store for lye.

Thomas Lendrum resigned as mining recorder in October 1893 and was replaced by E.M. Sandilands, who was in turn replaced by Charles S. Rashdall. However, in September 1894, much to the dismay of Ainsworth citizens, the government moved the mining recorder’s office to Kaslo, apparently to fulfill an election promise.

What then became of the building? This is a question I haven’t been able to answer. The only mentions of it in the next few years are in the 1897-98 public accounts, which recorded a $4 investment in coal oil, and in 1898 and 1900, when the building was used as a polling station.

Then we have to fast forward all the way to September 1949, when the Ainsworth Community Club bought the building to use as a community hall. It officially opened for that purpose in April 1950 and was also used for United Church services, as the community’s lovely but dilapidated church was demolished in 1965. At some point a kitchen was added at the rear of the hall, overlooking the lake, and the building gained a verandah.

In 1978, Chris Lind of what was then known as the Ainsworth Recreation Commission wrote to the provincial Heritage Conservation Branch, suggesting the community hall was of “considerable historical value and should be preserved.” “In the last several years the commission has spent considerable time and money on the foundation,” she said. “Now the rest of the building needs extensive repairs and painting.” She asked for financial help, but there is no record of a reply.

I’ve only been in the hall twice. The first time, memorably, was June 24, 2001 for the launch of the Ainsworth book High Grade and Hot Springs by Ted Affleck (pictured below), who sang about it! (Kaslo’s Singing Grannies also performed, pictured below.)

Then in March 2024, Gord Rexin, of the group that looks after the hall, kindly showed me around, including the basement, where it is still possible to discern where the jail cells once stood, although the bars are long gone. 

A couple of assessments have been done on the building with funding from the Columbia Basin Trust. The first found it structurally sound except one of the four posts supporting the kitchen needed resetting. That has since been done. The other assessment found ways to make the building more energy efficient, at a potential cost of about $80,000. 

“We’d like to fix up the hall in such a way that it would be on the list of things for visitors to see here,” Rexin told the Valley Voice in January. “We could hold weddings and other events here too, being we’re on the lakefront. The hope is to get it to sustain itself.”

The building is pictured below in 2007 (harvest gold, as painted by Doran Amatto that year) and 2024 (green, as it was repainted circa 2012).


I mentioned the hall is a contender for the oldest building of any stripe in the West Kootenay. Remarkably, another is also at Ainsworth: the former office of the Mermaid Lodge (pictured), which started out as Henry Anderson’s house (he was one of T.J. Lendrum’s predecessors as mining recorder and constable) and may date to 1890.

At least a couple of homes in Nelson are of similar vintage: the Fred and Lydia Hume home at 424 Hoover was built in 1891-92, while Drs. E.C. and Isabella Arthur’s house at 515 Silica was built in 1890 or 1891. It stood at the corner of Stanley and Victoria until it was moved in mid-1909 to make way for the YMCA, now the Royal Canadian Legion. 

Finally, the Leland Hotel in Nakusp has been around since 1892. 

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3 comentários

Ron Verzuh
Ron Verzuh
30 de jun.

Another excellent one, Greg. Makes me want to jump in the car and head for Ainsworth where we visited the hot springs as kids. Thanks for giving us a vitural tour. Question: Doesn't the Leland Hotel claim to be the oldest in B.C.? I guess Mofford's book will tell me. Once again, thanks for this post.

Greg Nesteroff
Greg Nesteroff
30 de jun.
Respondendo a

It is not the oldest in BC, but it is the oldest in the West Kootenay.


30 de jun.

Re:Ainswoth Community Hall:

“How often the jail had guests is not known.”

I had to smile at this. When you build something you kind of get anxious to use it!

However given the rowdy times and add alcohol and it might have been needed before it was built.

Great research work and telling us the story!

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