Building The Legion Hall

Tomorrow is Remembrance Day when we celebrate our veterans. It seems an apt time therefore to look at how our newly-painted Legion Hall at 6th & Commercial came to be. The story is told through the pages of our local newspaper, “The Highland Echo”.

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Branch 179 of the Royal Canadian Legion was founded in the summer of 1945 at the instigation of Tommy Thompson, a wounded veteran of Vimy Ridge and long-time manager of the Grandview Theatre. Reginald A. Bowcott was elected the founding president [1]. Their meetings took place at the Masonic Hall at First & Salsbury until they moved into their own hall in November 1945.

The newly-elected executive immediately sought $10,000 to buy the old roller rink/dance hall known as Grandview Hall at 4th & Commercial. Local businessmen quickly chipped in the funds required [2].

In early December of 1945, “extensive renovations” were already being made, and the building committee organized a “midway” style event for mid-December to raise more funds.  In January 1946, weekly dances for 50¢ and regular 25¢ whist drives were keeping the hall busy. However, as March 1946 opened, it was clear that the Legion Branch had bitten off more than it could chew so soon, the executive having to admit that they were experiencing a period of “financial stringency” [3].

By March 1946 they had sold their lot to a furniture upholstery company and moved offices to the Y building at Commercial & Napier. The quick sale was described as “something of a surprise” to those who had donated the original funds [4].  However, with the assistance of Commercial Drive fixer Charles Smith, the Legion made a decent profit on the sale of the old Hall.

In April 1947 the Legion used its profits to purchase two vacant lots in the 2000-block on the southeast corner of 6th and Commercial, and they leaked ambitious plans to build a new hall. The building, designed by architect Harold Cullerne, was to be “of concrete block construction with a front that is both unique and outstanding.” On the ground floor, reading, smoking and club rooms were planned, with a spacious auditorium and badminton court for a second storey. The branch’s offices and recreation rooms were to be on a separate mezzanine level. The Legion executive also decided to ask for a local plebiscite which, if approved, would allow them to sell beer and liquor to their members and guests. This would be the first such license in Grandview and it caused quite a stir. It also took a long time to get approved and completed [5].

The first date set for the vote was October 8th, 1947. A meeting called at Trinity United Church to oppose the license was only “sparsely attended” but that didn’t stop opponents from writing to the press and pushing their claims. Even the Legion’s supporters felt it necessary to say that, in general terms, they opposed beer licenses on Commercial Drive; however, for the “boys” who had saved democracy they were willing to make an exception. The plebiscite was delayed several times but was finally held on 18 February 1948. The voting population had been established as all residents between Victoria and Woodland from 5th Avenue to Broadway, but only 254 people took the time to register an opinion. Of those, 158 were in favor of letting the lads have a drink while they relaxed. The victory was all the Legion Branch needed to announce that the building at 6th & Commercial would go ahead at an estimated cost of $30,000].  However, nothing would happen on that front for another eighteen months or so. [6]

Finally, in November 1949 the Branch announced that work had begun on clearing the site and preparing for construction of its Hall on its lots on the east side of Commercial [7]. The Cullerne design was abandoned and the executive decided to go with a less ambitious one-storey affair of frame construction built by Miller Construction Company who had just completed a similar hall for a Legion branch in Burnaby. It would be about 30 feet x 80 feet and would sit in the middle of the two lots they owned. The foundations were laid and framing begun by early December [8].

The Canadian Legion held their first members’ meeting in the newly-built Legion Hall on the southeast corner of 6th in early January 1950. It wasn’t quite complete but the heating was installed and kept everyone warm. As the year went on, the monthly meetings continued to be held in the hall, each meeting breaking the attendance record of the last.  On 1st March the club liquor license finally arrived and 27th March was selected as the official opening day. It was “a gay affair” with a packed audience enjoying Louise Gallup and her all-girl orchestra with vocals by “cowgirl” Rocky Renner [9].

After a “lively debate” in September 1950, the Legion approved a $5,000 building fund that would be used to extend the Hall twelve feet to the north, bringing it to the corner [10]. However, that didn’t go ahead and in September 1951 they purchased two lots on the west side corner across the street. They paid $3,500 and the executive revived the plans originally drawn up by architect Harold Cullerne a few years before for a new two-storey building.  In February 1954 the Legion announced that they would be building a new $60,000 hall at the southwest corner of 6th & Commercial. The Commercial Drive frontage was to have two storeys but with windows spaced to give the appearance of three [11].

They had planned to start work by the end of March but there were the inevitable delays and the construction contract wasn’t let to builders Stewart & Slade until the middle of May. By that time, the building was to be constructed using concrete blocks covered with stucco, and the cost had almost doubled to $102,500.  The company wasted no time and the basement was built by the first week in June, and the building was ready for use by the end of the year. [12]

  1. Highland Echo” 1945 May 31, Jun 14, Jul 19
  2. Highland Echo” 1945 Aug 9
  3. Highland Echo” 1945 Nov 29, Dec 6, 1946 Jan 17, Mar 6
  4. Highland Echo” 1946 Mar 27, Apr 3
  5. Highland Echo” 1947 Jun 26, Sep 4
  6. Highland Echo” 1947 Sep 18, 1948 Jan 29, Feb 26
  7. This is roughly where J.J. Bean Coffee is today.
  8. Highland Echo” 1949 Nov 17, Dec 8, 1950 Mar 30
  9. Highland Echo” 1950 Jan 19, 26, Feb 23, Mar 2, 23, 30
  10. Highland Echo” 1950 Sep 14
  11. Highland Echo” 1954 Feb 18
  12. Highland Echo” 1954 Jun 3

Grandview Database v. 19

We have today uploaded a new and updated version of the Grandview Database.  

This version incorporates almost 900 new and amended data points since the previous release:

  • Another 370 additional households have been added from the 1921 census.;
  • An additional 350 entries have been aaded from the 1914 City Directory;.
  • Almost 50 new entries have come from the Changes on the Drive series, covering recent history on Commercial Drive;
  • And more than 100 miscellaneous entries have been added from the “Highland Echo” (1935-1980) and contemporary real estate listings.

In November we will once again be concentrating on completing the data available from the 1921 Census. We hope you find the Database of value, and we encourage and welcome corrections, and additions.