| Jul 09, 2009

Back to HomeFeature Article - July 9, 2009 Residents rally to save the Bellrock community hallBy Julie Druker

Kevin Wenkoff and Doris Ritchie at the Bellrock Community Hall

It has been said that history often repeats itself. Such is the case for members of the Bell Rock Community Hall Association who, because of dwindling finances and membership, have been struggling to keep alive the last and only public building and outdoor park space left in their community.

The hall was originally a one-room school house built in 1870. Back in 1949 the school closed down when Prince Charles Public School opened in Verona. In an effort to keep the Bellrock school open as a community center, 20 concerned members of the community held a meeting and formed the Bell Rock Community Hall Association.

With 100% community support they collected donations and were able to purchase the school and its adjacent playing field, which houses a ball diamond, basketball nets and a playground. By purchasing the building, the 20-member volunteer group took on the responsibility of funding, maintaining and operating the hall and the adjoining field.

An entertainment committee was quickly formed that organized dances, receptions, reunions, card tournaments, movie nights, seasonal festivals, annual holiday celebrations and regular fundraising events making the hall a popular gathering place and a focal point in the community for the last six decades.

In the past, members have donated a well, constructed indoor plumbing and washrooms and carried out other numerous tasks involved with the building’s upkeep.

Now 60 years later, the members realize that they are in desperate need of some new volunteer muscle and, of course, money. The cost is roughly $5,000 annually just to keep its doors open.

Doris Ritchie, who is now 75, was one of the original members of the association. She was the association's secretary from 1995-2009 and understands the social and historical significance of the hall, having attended the school and celebrated her wedding reception there in 1950.

In Doris’s words, “The problem now is that a lot of the original members have either moved away or are getting on and can’t do the things that we used to.” But that is not the only issue. Doris explained, “Another problem is that some of the new people in the community have no historical connection to the hall and so are not even really aware of it." Doris still plays euchre at the hall and has been a regular visitor since she was five years old.

On May 25, in an effort to raise community awareness, Doris walked door-to-door speaking to the people of Bellrock about the historic hall. She delivered to them a letter stating the precarious financial situation the hall was in and invited them to attend an emergency meeting. Her efforts were successful. Eighteen interested people showed up, just two less than the original 20 that showed up in 1949.

Next, members of this initial small group wrote up an historical outline of the hall with a survey asking for new ideas and interested volunteers. A total of 150 surveys were sent out along with an invitation to attend a second emergency meeting.

At the second meeting held on June 15, it was found that of the 30 people who responded to the survey, 100% of them wanted to see the hall preserved. At that same meeting a new Bellrock Community Hall Committee for 2009/2010 was formed and the group immediately began brainstorming new ideas for fundraising and community events.

Kevin Wenkoff, who moved with this wife to Bellrock four years ago, is the new chair of the committee. He needs no convincing of the importance in keeping the hall alive for present and future generations. He explained, “There are a few people who definitely want to see the hall kept. A big part of the problem is that some of the younger people here are finding themselves too busy. I’m hoping, though, that we can still convince these people to come out and give any small amount of time that they do have.”

Kevin sees the issue of saving as having come full circle since 1949. He explained, “We’re asking the same questions now: ‘who can help? How can we pay the bills and who can physically help to do these things?’”

The community's wheels are once again turning and thanks to the newly formed committee, a number of events are starting to take shape. Yoga classes will begin on July 13 and a raffle, potluck and vegetable exchange will happen on September 19. Like many good things that exist in our communities, it is the initial impetus and effort of a few that bring about a common good. Thanks to the efforts and Kevin and Doris and many others too numerous to mention, the Bellrock Community Hall looks as though it is entering an exciting new era.

The committee will meet again on July 20 at 7PM and everyone is invited to bring their input. Anyone wanting further information can call Lynn Hutchison at 613-374-1470 or visit www.bellrockcommunityhall.reztel.ca

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