Over the past 100 years, the Gray Creek Hall has seen everything: christenings, funerals, weddings, birthdays, reunions, church services — the list is nearly endless, a sure sign of the hall’s importance to the community.
Built on wooded land deemed useless by the area’s orchardists, the hall overlooks its clothing-optional beach, with Pilot Peninsula and Kootenay Lake beyond.
“The place fills your eyes and your mind,” said Janet Schweiger, treasurer of the Gray Creek Hall Society. “You have ties between the old and new all the time.”
The hall’s 100th anniversary will be celebrated during the Gray Creek Historical Society’s Museum Days from July 27-30, where visitors can learn about the hall’s history through a special display of stories and photos.
Built — as with Schweiger’s North Woven Broom Co. in Crawford Bay — of logs from trees charred in an 1883 fire, it was constructed in 1912 to become a multipurpose community hall and schoolhouse, with funds raised by the local ranchers group selling $5 “subscriptions”.
“In those days, in order to have a school, the community had to provide the building,” said 83-year-old Gray Creek Store proprietor Tom Lymbery, who attended school there. “We didn’t need to tell the time because we could see the sternwheeler come around the point.”
Grades 1-8 were housed in the room, with the desks secured to two-by-fours, allowing them to be moved easily so the room could be used for other functions. It continued as a schoolhouse until 1944, when students began to be bused to Crawford Bay.
Lymbery’s family has been involved from the hall’s early days; his mom was the school board secretary, and even spearheaded the addition of the kitchen in 1930. She told Lymbery that his and his sister’s footprints are all over the hall’s ceiling — they kept running across the plywood panels while she was applying finish. Schweiger said that Lymbery’s name can be found regularly in the society’s minutes beginning in 1948; he is now the chair of the society.
The Gray Creek Hall has become the most rented community hall on the East Shore of Kootenay Lake, and has been used by a knitting club, for children’s programs, and yoga and dance classes. A small circular window in the kitchen door was used by the Crawford Bay film group, which showed weekly movies in the 1970s.
And as the most rented hall on East Shore, it is regularly used for wedding by out-of-town couples.
“Young people have come from the city and discovered this place and say, ‘We want to get married in Gray Creek Hall,’ ” said Schweiger.
There have been many changes made over the years, beyond the aforementioned kitchen addition. In 1958, workers tunneled under the building to put in a cement foundation, and that same year, a stage was added in celebration of B.C.’s centennial; the back wall of the stage features a stained glass window donated by Lymbery’s father, Arthur.
A terrace was added in the 1990s, with the ground level on the lakeside raised up to the hall’s floor level. Benches were added around the terrace’s perimeter, and a set of doors designed by David Johnston to fit in with the existing architecture allow access from the hall.
Next up is a $12,000 upgrade to hall’s water system — taking water from Kootenay Lake no longer meets provincial regulations. Fundraising is already underway for the project, allowing it to remain a vital part of a unique community.
“Gray Creek is a very special place,” said Schweiger. “I don’t know what it is, but for some, it’s very spiritual. They feel a very strong connection to the place.”