The Cobble Hill Halls
The first Cobble Hill Fall Fair was held in 1909 at the Good Templars Hall located near the Cobble Hill/Hutchinson Road intersection. As with many community buildings erected during the settlement years, this one was supported by public conscription and was constructed by a group of young Cobble Hill men who formed a local Chapter of the Independent Order of Good Templars. The Good Templars was an American sponsored temperance organization founded in 1851 and popular in rural Canada during the 1890s. The hall was completed in 1893 and immediately became a welcome addition to the social fabric of Cobble Hill and surrounding communities. Dances, concerts, political meetings and many traveling shows were held in the hall much to the delight of the locals. According to the stories told, an acting troupe would arrive by train in the afternoon, stage their show and then stay overnight in the Station Hotel before leaving on the morning train for parts up Island. In 1903 a young Robert Service was the lead actor in a play produced in the hall; this was before he headed for the Klondike and fame as a major Canadian poet.
The primary purpose of the Good Templars was to further the aims of prohibition. Even though they had sworn oaths of abstinence, it would seem that the young men tasked with building the Cobble Hill Hall often found the call of the Station Hotel beer parlor, located just a few short steps away, far too strong to resist. After toiling all day they would sneak off under the cloak of darkness to make merry and drink away the sweat of the day.
The building served as the community hub until the new hall opened in 1921.
The present Shawnigan Cobble Hill Farmers Institute Hall was under consideration by 1909. The Good Templars building was deemed too small for many activities and its condition was deteriorating. In March of 1909 a committee was formed to explore the possibility of erecting a larger facility with recreation grounds surrounding it. The effort to raise money stalled and then halted with the outbreak of World War 1. Community halls were the hubs of rural life during the first half of the twentieth century and by the end of the war Cobble Hill truly needed a new one. Mr. Fred Gisborne, manager of the Cobble Hill branch of the Canadian Bank of Commerce began a public subscription in 1919 to fund the project. There were donations from the general public along with money pledged by the Independent Order of Foresters, the Farmers Institute and the Women’s Institute and, just as happens today, many local business people donated materials and individuals volunteered their labour. The Cobble Hill Hall held its first function on the 24th of May, 1921; the Girl Guides put on a pageant. Kenneth Duncan MLA officially opened the hall at the end of May.
The dining room, kitchen, stage and the outside stage were added to the building over time and it has been the centre of Cobble Hill activities since it was built. By the end of the Second World War major repairs were in order with the badly leaking roof the most crucial. It was decided to hold a series of dances to raise the needed capital for restoring the structure. The community answered the call and the dances were a terrific success bringing in about $18,000 permitting the repairs to be made and ensuring the hall remained the Cobble Hill centrepiece.
When first completed, the Independent Order of Foresters, the Farmers Institute and the Women’s Institute shared responsibility for the building. By 1942 the number of Foresters had dwindled to the point where the Order disbanded and relinquished their share of the hall. Then in 1978 the Women’s Institute turned their interest in the building over to the Farmers Institute. By this time the expenses entailed in the upkeep and repair of the structure were growing beyond the capacity of the membership and the hall was once again in dire need of major renovation if it was to remain in use. Once again the community rose to the occasion and in a 1985 referendum voted to provide an annual contribution to assist in the necessary funding to repair and maintain this familiar and historically significant landmark.
The Cobble Hill Historical Society meets on the second Tuesday of the month at 7:00 pm in the Youth Hall at 3665 Watson Avenue in Cobble Hill.
Cobble Hill Historical Society
c/o Brenda Krug
785 Red Oak Drive
Cobble Hill, BC V0R 1L4