The Heritage Playhouse opened its doors as a theatre in April 2000. The building began its life in 1929 as the Women’s Insitute Hall and is now a Designated Heritage Building.
During the 30’s the Hall was a busy place where dramas, basketball games, town meetings, bazaars, bake sales, dances and fairs were held. Since its new life as a 146 seat fully equipped theatre it has once again become the hub of the community. Read on for the full story…….
A Brief History
The Women’s Institute Hall
The Howe Sound women’s institute was founded. It was patterned after the Farmer’s institute
June 5 1929
The Howe Sound Women’s Institute purchased from the trustees of the Gibsons Landing congregation of the United Church of Canada, (formerly the Methodist Church) a plot of land known as parcel F, District Lot 688, Group 1:N.W.D.: Plan # 1345 for $250.00. The transaction was witnessed by: S.G. Armour, William W. Winn, Harry B. Winn, J.H. Drummond, Francis Bennet
It was not registered until March 26th 1930
In early autumn the H.S.W.I. borrowed $2000.00 from a local resident, Mr. William Edwards. Construction began on the hall with volunteer labour. Plans were drawn up and the construction overseen by a local carpenter, Mr. Fred Fisher of Gower Point. As the only man paid, Mr. Fisher received $6.00 per day. The women of the H.S.W.I. supplied a hot lunch to all the workers. The B.C. Government contributed $1.00 per capita. In late autumn a dance was held on the newly laid floor.
During the 30’s, the Hall was an extremely busy place. To pay off their debt the H.S.W.I. booked the Hall at every opportunity. Any occasion was an excuse for a banquet or celebration. In the summer a dance was held each Wednesday and Saturday night. In the winter the Hall was used for dramas, basket ball games, town meetings, bazaars, bake sales and fairs. A dramatic club was organized to perform in “the Hall”.
November 17th, 1934
“The Wild Oats Boy” was performed with Charlie Heino and his wife, Dollie; Hugh MacDonald; Peggy French; Mrs. Morton; Harry Winn; Wiljo Wiren and his wife, Florence; W.L. Ginther, Principal of Howe Sound Elementary School; Jack Lowden; Beatrice Hicks and Roy Kidd.
By 1940 the Hall was being utilized as a gymnasium by both the Elementary and High Schools. It was this use by students and others wearing hob nailed boots and heavy shoes that necessitated the laying of a new floor only ten years after the Hall opened. With the new floor in place, many of the H.S.W.I. members felt it would be a good idea to hand over the Hall to some organization better equipped to maintain the building. They needed an organization representing the community which would continue to operate the Hall as before. The answer lay in the Howe Sound United School Board.
On July 11th 1941 the H.S.W.I. passed a resolution to hand over the Hall, free of all debts, to the Howe Sound United School Board. This was not done without some dissenters. Some of the women believed this to be a bad decision. On the School board’s part, there was doubt that any-one could be so magnanimous. The Board could not resist the offer, however, and the deal went through. In modern parlance, it was a win-win situation, and for many years the Hall continued to be used by the whole community as it had in the past
The H.S.W.I. members, of course, “trusted” the School board to honour the spirit of the agreement. Some School Board members even belonged to the W.I. In fact, the secretary of the School Board, Mrs. Alice Inglis, had earlier used her own inheritance to guarantee that Mr. William Edwards would always be paid on time.
The 1950’s and 60’s
Throughout the fifties, the Hall carried on its multiple role as gymnasium, school assembly hall and community hall. By now it had been renamed and was known as “The School Hall”. With the passage of time, the school district had been expanded and reorganized. Many school board members were elected from areas unfamiliar with Gibsons’ history and traditions. Coupled with the changing needs of the school district and new school construction, the role of the hall came into question. A new gymnasium at Gibsons Elementary School made this use of the hall redundant.
In the mid 60’s the Hall was handed over to the school district’s maintenance department. About this time an asphalt parking lot was added to the west side of the property. In leveling the parking lot, the construction crew used the wooden structure of the hall as a retaining wall. Over the years the earth and run off from the roof encouraged rotting in the wood frame on the west side of the building.
The 1970’s and 80’s
Through the 70’s the building proved acceptable as a maintenance building but by the 80’s its natural shortcomings were becoming more apparent. By the late 80’s the need for new accommodation for the maintenance department was very real. The rot on the west side was beginning to take its toll and the maintenance department’s continued neglect of the roof only aggravated matters.
Renovation of the building began under the guidance of Fred Inglis and the Gibsons Landing Heritage Society working closely with The Town of Gibsons and SD#46. Construction took place whenever grant money and donations became available. Amongst many other things a new perimeter foundation was poured. The stage house was demolished due to rot giving the society the opportunity to create a green room under the back-stage. Exterior walls were trued and the interior gutted. All salvageable wood was saved and re-used.
April 29th, 2000
The doors of the Heritage Playhouse opened.
The building (designated a Provincial Heritage Site in 1998) once again became the community’s cultural heart. The Playhouse is located on Heritage Corner opposite St. Bart’s (the oldest church on the coast) and kitty corner to the original Gibsons Elementary School (which is also a designated heritage building) which has also been renovated.