Club History Our Lions Hall

Author:  Past Lion Ken Macdonald, 1990

Updated:  Past President Joe Sparrow 1997

     The Lions Hall building has been serving the community, in one guise or another, since 1894. It was built by the Temperance Society, using volunteer labour, and the hall is mentioned in a 7 July 1894 indenture which listed the trustees as Harry Tanner, Alfred Gale, Harold Oates, William Michell and Andrew Stewart. Less than five years later, on 8 April 1899, a Certificate of Absolute Title was issued to them by the Victoria Land Registry Office.

     The hall was built to provide a place where abstainers could conduct social activities, and where they could “endeavour to lure the young people from the vice of intoxicants and the evils attending its indulgence.” The Temperance Hall was available for use by others strictly on a nonalcoholic basis, and was in fact used regularly by many organizations, not the least of which were the South Saanich Women’s Institute and the South Saanich Farmers’ Institute, both of which were formed in April 1913. In 1919, the South Saanich Women’s Institute established an interest in the building by contributing $450 towards the cost of building an annex. The hall was of course built in the horse and buggy era, and it originally had a shed at the back for the stabling of horses. With the advent of motor vehicles, the stable then evolved into a woodshed; finally it was torn down. The hillside on which the hall is sited was cleared of timber during the lifetime of the son of one of the original member. So it is possible to imagine the hall in its original state in a remote rural setting, and in the words of that son, WW Michell, “you could go all the way to Victoria and maybe meet half-a-dozen people.”

     In 1917 ornamental trees were planted on the lot to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Temperance Society Branch as a constituted group. Later, an oak tree was to be planted on the grounds to commemorate the coronation of King George VI in 1937. The oak tree came from an acorn grown in Windsor Great Park in England, part of a gift of trees from the Women’s Institute in England to their Canadian counterparts.

     The membership of this branch of the Temperance Society dwindled away over the years, and in accordance with the instructions of the last surviving trustee, William D Michell, the Temperance Hall was transferred on his death in 1949 to the joint ownership of the South Saanich Farmers’ Institute and the South Saanich Women’s Institute; picking up the name of the Institute Hall in the process.

     William D Michell had in fact been a major figure in the history of the hall. He had originally donated the piece of property for the three-cornered park on which the hall was located; he was one of the original Temperance Society trustees; he was President of the Farmers’ Institute for 25 years; his wife was prominent in the Women’s Institute. And in the end he was to decide the disposal of the hall on his death.

     The building has served a widespread community in may ways. One local lady recalls being the “Sugar Plum Fairy” in the hall in about 1917, wearing a mother-made cheesecloth costume as part of the Sidney Public School Christmas concert. In the hall in World War I, the Women’s Institute worked for the Red Cross, and made many knitted woollen articles for Canadian troops serving overseas. The hall was used for card games with as many as 50 tables! People would walk from Brentwood to attend card parties and dances. It was used for church services, Sunday school, quilting bees, basketball, dancing school, and badminton. It was used by the Fruit Growers’ Association, the Bulb Growers’ Association, and many others. Between 1926 and 1965 it was used by Keating Elementary School to stage Christmas concerts. The “Home Towners” band operated in the hall from about the 1940s into the 1960s. During the same time period the hall and its grounds were used as a farm implement trade show site by both the John Deere Company and the Massey-Harris Company.

     Eventually, the building started to show signs of advanced deterioration, and its usage dropped off. On 1 April 1970, the building was turned over to the Central Saanich Chamber of Commerce, on the condition that it be improved and be put in good order. The problems associated with the run-down building were, however, not solved and the property then passed from the hands of the Chamber of Commerce to the Central Saanich municipality by the default process. The opinion of the Central Saanich Council was that the building had at that time developed into a liability; accordingly, the formally condemned it and planned its demolition.             

The Lions Involvement

     About this time, the Central Saanich Lions Club was looking for expanded meeting space, having outgrown the space at the Keating Coffee Shop then existing near the Co-Op store. In 1974, Lions Club President Ron Tidman, along with Lions Ed Gait and Dick Gibson, convinced the Council that the hall had a viable future, and that it could still be valuable to the community if placed in the hands of the Lions Club. The council agreed, and since that time the club has held the building on a $1 registered lease, on a five-year renewable basis.

     So the November, 1974 Lions Club Membership and Activities Report to Lions International stated that the hall had been leased from the municipality for a den, and records that $5000 worth of materials and 600 man-hours of labour had already been expended by the club by that time to begin restoring the building to a usable state. Much more of both were subsequently to be needed!

     The official opening of the new Lions Den was on April 5, 1975 and the event was attended by the Lions District Governor and by Acting Mayor George McFarlane. Much more followed: cement sidewalks installed by members in 1975, new ceiling and lighting system in November 1976, major repairs in March 1977, general upkeep on hall and grounds in March 1978, new floor laid in hall in February 1979, new front porch in February 1980, rebuilt stage area in March 1980, major work parties in June 1980, painted the exterior in October and December 1981, painted the interior in March 1982, insulated the hall in November 1985, and so on, and so on!

This is a summary of the changes made:

 •  The front steps were removed, the central front entrance and cloak room/foyer was added on the south east corner of the Hall. The former front entrance become the site of the present bar.

•  The interior balcony which had been above the front entrance was closed in and the area became storage space.

•  Another doorway on the east side of the Hall was closed off.

•  The building was jacked up and leveled. New structural beams were added.

•  The foundation pillars were framed in the front of the Hall and large rooms were added to create more storage space.

•  Two chimneys and wood burning heaters were removed.

•  Two new fire doors were added.

•  The stairs on the south side of the stage were closed in to create a large storage cupboard.

•  All walls were covered with drywall and new trim.

•  A ceiling was installed throughout the Hall (it had previously been open to the rafters).

•  The wooden shingles on the roof were replaced with asphalt shingles.

•  Plumbing and cupboards were installed in what is now the kitchen.

•  Many other cosmetic changes were made.

     In the early 1990s there was concern that roads leading to a new overpass at Island View Road and the Pat Bay Highway might go through the Lions Hall site. By 1994, it seemed that this would not be the case and some more renovations took place including: complete renovation and repainting of the interior, installation of new drapes, reshingling of the roof, replacing the gutters and downspouts, and repainting the exterior.

     In the spirit in which the club obtained the lease, the building is made available as a meeting place for community organizations such as Brownies, Cubs and local sports organizations (free of charge to such community organizations, although donations are in fact acceptable to assist in covering some of the overhead costs). In addition, the Hall is also available to organizations and individuals who wish to rent the premises on an occasional basis. The Lions Hall seems to fill a particular niche for many groups who need premises smaller than Community Centers. All of this use by others is in addition to the more obvious fact that the Lions Hall operates as the base of the Central Saanich Lions Club whose members raise and return to their community thousands of dollars per year, without even counting the value of hundreds of man-hours of voluntary labour contributed by the Lions Club to community service.

     So this historic hall, built originally by the Temperance Society, was restored by considerable effort and expenditure by the Lions Club, rescuing it from derelict status. It continues to support the community both directly and indirectly, and should continue to do so for many years to come!

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