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Then & Now: The Kinnaird Hall

The Columbia Basin Trust’s heritage inventory, completed in 2016, first identified the Kinnaird Hall as a heritage building. However, they didn’t know a lot about its background.

The hall was also mentioned in the Regional District of Central Kootenay’s community heritage register report, produced in 2020, although no statement of significance has yet been created for it.

But here’s what I know.

The hall was built in 1944 by the Kinnaird Improvement Society, although BC Assessment erroneously pegs the date as 1940. At that time, Kinnaird was a fledgling and growing community popular with employees of the Trail smelter. It incorporated as a village in 1947.

According to the Nelson Daily News of Sept. 11, 1944, the hall was designed by Alec Creighton, the improvement society’s president, who also supervised its construction.

Plumbing and lighting is being done voluntarily by local tradesmen. The present size of the hall is 30 by 30 feet with a full basement and it is planned later to extend it to be 90 by 30 feet.

The hall’s grand opening was held on Sept. 23 of that month, consisting of a whist party and dance that nearly 80 people attended. Its completion came just in time to solve a problem for the Kinnaird school board: a sudden influx of students led to overcrowding, so the board leased the building for primary pupils.

“Many extra hours of work have been done in the last month in order to have the hall far enough advanced for the present school opening,” the Daily News reported.

Two years later, following the amalgamation of the Castlegar and Kinnaird school districts, Grade 1 to 5 students from Kinnaird were set to be bused to the Castlegar community hall.

Kinnaird parents balked at the notion. They pointed out that the Kinnaird Hall had already been fixed up as a school. After a two-week dispute, parents agreed to let their kids go to Castlegar “until such time as further improvements were made to Kinnaird Community Hall, slated for school use.”

In 1947, a new Kinnaird school opened on the upper bench (also built by Creighton), ending the hall’s days as a school. Two years later, Cominco provided a $10,000 grant ($125,000 today) to complete the building and improve Kinnaird parks, through a matching program that saw the company donate $2 for every $1 the community raised. However, I’m not sure exactly how the money was spent.

Here is the hall as seen in the June 1951 edition of Cominco Magazine.

The caption read:

One of the main projects of the [Kinnaird Improvement] Society for the past few years has been the construction of the Community Hall although the exterior is still not quite finished. It is now one of the main sources of revenue, through dances and various other events.

For decades afterward, it was home to banquets, wedding receptions, guide and scout meetings, and other social gatherings, as well as the Kinnaird library.

When Castlegar and Kinnaird amalgamated in 1974, the Kinnaird Improvement Society donated the building to the new City of Castlegar, along with $1,000 for its upkeep.

In early 1980, the hall found itself once again pressed into service as an elementary school after fire destroyed Kinnaird Elementary. Half of the students resumed classes in the hall, while the rest were distributed at vacant classrooms around the city. A replacement school was constructed on the same site.

But construction of the recreation complex in the mid-1970s and hotel meeting rooms lessened the hall’s use. The building began to deteriorate and fears were raised that it was headed for demolition.

Happily, on Sept. 30, 1992, the Carpenters’ Union Local 2300 bought the building from the City of Castlegar for $69,900 ($127,000 today).

The carpenters were glad to find a new home, for while they had previously had an office downtown, they always had to rent halls for meetings. But the hall needed major work, almost all of which was completed by volunteers from the carpenters’ union, as well as the Pulp and Paperworkers of Canada Local 1, which shared office space in the hall.

“It was really run down and ready to be pushed over,” union rep Paul Nedelec told the Castlegar Citizen for a feature published on Oct. 26, 2001. “So we put some offices in and did some renovations. We put in a furnace as there was no real heat and we had to bring the building up to code.”

Community members also offered their services.

“One older gentleman was walking by and poked his head in and ended up volunteering for two days,” Nedelec said. “I think he went to school here.”

The front of the building was refaced, rot was removed, an exterior walkway was covered, and the interior received a major overhaul. It took nine years to complete. Today the building also has solar panels on its roof. The hall has been drastically altered, but does retain some semblance of its original appearance.

In addition to union meetings, the hall is home to dance classes, music recitals, and other community groups.

“Today the hall is a constant reminder of Kinnaird’s proud history,” Karen Kerkhoff wrote in the Citizen. “It is also a reminder of what community can accomplish when it works together. It speaks of community spirit.”

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