All buildings have stories, as is the case with the Taghum Community Hall, a gathering place that has lived along the shores of the Kootenay River — ten kilometers east of Nelson, British Columbia — since the 1950s.
Its ceilings have heard the harmonic hymns of a Dhoukhabour church choir, its walls were plucked from structures in the Slocan Valley that once sheltered those living in a Japanese internment camp, and its hardwood floors scuffed by platform-wearing teenagers running late to their Trafalgar algebra class.
Although the Taghum hall was built mostly from salvaged materials in its beginnings, it has seen substantial renovations over the past decade. A new roof, accessible doorways, and most recently, an outdoor upgrade with a brand new playground, a large gazebo and a mural-clad concession booth.
First of hall
‘The Hall’ is what hardworking volunteers—and Taghum Community Society board members—Jude Stralak and Heather Haake call it. And when they refer to ‘the hall,’ it’s clear they are talking about more than the single-level building shielded under a flashy green tin roof. To them, ‘The Hall’ is synonymous with community.
“The hall has a fantastic history,” says Jude. “It sort of dwindled for a while, and then it came back quite strongly. We just keep working on trying to expand it, to be more of ‘the community,’ an old-fashioned community hall.”
Jude moved to the Kootenays in 1973. She found a rustic cabin for rent in neighbouring Blewett.
“I loved the fact that there was no running water and that I would be a back-to-the-lander,” Jude says. “There was some farming and amazing old-timers. You knew people. They were there if you needed them.”
Heather also arrived in 1971. Her husband at the time was offered a job as a math teacher at Nelson’s Notre Dame University. Being fresh from Montreal, Heather experienced a bit of a culture shock when she arrived.
“I came to the Kootenays as a ‘faculty wife,’ Heather laughs. “I went to a job interview to develop daycares and kindergartens in the [Slocan] Valley and one of the fellows that interviewed me had on his wife’s overalls and no shirt. The other one just had long hair. For some reason they hired me.”
Fast forward fifty years and a couple of children and grandchildren later, Jude and Heather are good friends and your go-to people for anything Taghum Hall-related. And the past six years, they have poured their hearts, souls, and hundreds of hours of unpaid time into it.
From running watercolour painting classes to supervising children’s summer camps to organizing the popular Robbie Burns dinner, they live out the society’s vision to ‘build community one event at a time.’
In it for the long hall
Heather has been actively involved in the Taghum Hall since 2015, when she and another local were hired to bring life to the newly renovated space.
“Two of us worked for five months, full time, developing programs for this empty shell of a beautiful building,” Heather remembers. “We worked like mad and did the first Christmas [event], markets and stuff. We got the ball rolling. Then the grant was over, and it was like, ‘now we need a fully engaged board who are willing to continue.’ It is a mountain of work.”
Heather and Jude think there are several reasons why they can summit the mountain of work time and time again.
“The hall is 100% community owned and there’s nothing done in this hall that volunteers do not do,” Heather says. “Our volunteers are treated very well. We feed them, acknowledge them, laugh a lot with them. We love them.”
“Also, I’m here two days a week, and people have gotten used to that,” Heather says. “If this was an empty hall and nobody was here, it probably wouldn’t have the vibrancy that it has.”
In Jude’s opinion, the sense of belonging that the hall creates is also what keeps the momentum going.
“It’s part of being a community,” Jude says. “You go through life, and you want to be financially secure, you want to have spiritual stability, and if you’re taken care of there, you need, want and search out a community, and that’s what we are. When something happens, and there’s a crisis, you can count on the hall actually being there for you.”
And both women agree that keeping things fun is key.
“One of the things about the hall that I appreciate and being on the board is that it’s fun!” Jude says. “Yes, it’s super hard work at times, it’s frustrating;, we don’t agree all the time, but it’s still fun, and that’s what keeps me. It’s being able to have fun with people and then see an end product.”
When hall is said and done
The end products Jude is referring to involve revenue- generating events like the ones that involve musical guests or wedding parties and community-building ones such as Harvest Fair, Christmas Fair, or the annual Earth Day event.
Although, like most organizations or groups over the past two years, the Covid-19 pandemic has changed what the Taghum Hall offers. Their last indoor event was in April 2020.
The halt in activity could have been an opportunity for volunteers to reassess and pull back from their tireless efforts. Instead, volunteers have dug deeper into their cause. They have applied for grants, built fences and walkways, and adjusted programs to meet provincial health guidelines.
By sticking and working together, the Hall community has made a difference that can be seen and felt. And this culture of hard work and helping out is something that Heather thinks she and her peers were born with.
“I think we are a generation of volunteers. It’s part of the ethic of our age group,” Heather says.
Having seen the Hall’s resurgence over the years, Heather has advice for those wanting to build community and the halls that come with it.
“If I were going to start with an empty hall, I would try to gather some people who had a variety of different skills and give them each a project, something to get them up and running,” she says. “And then they really do have a momentum of their own.”
She also admits that while her hard work may seem incredibly selfless, the personal benefits are invaluable and that during these isolating times, volunteering can offer deep and lasting connections to one’s community.
“I cannot imagine my life without being involved in Taghum Hall at this point,” Heather says. “My friends are the people that come here, and that’s even more so during Covid. This is my bubble. Apart from the Taghum Hall, I go grocery shopping.”