The Upper Clearwater Hall became the heart of the community, busy year-round. Local musicians provided waltzes and polkas for dances, and the women of the community brought cakes, pies, and sandwiches for a late-evening lunch. A number of valley residents supplied music: the Ludtke boys (Charlie on violin, Laurence on banjo, Fred on accordion), helped out by Henry Hogue and Jennie Helset with violins, John Hogue on the jew’s harp, Jack Norman played the mouth organ, jew’s harp, spoons, and beat on a drum, while Jessie Shook and Clara Ludtke played guitar.
In the 1950s, Charlie Shook, Colin Mann and Earl Mann played accordion, Herb Green played banjo, and Roy Helset called for the square dances.
When the Women’s Institute organized, there would be various fundraising events throughout the year, with sales of baking, sewing, and crafts, or a turkey-shoot with prizes for all ages. The community harvest dinner was a wonderful occasion, with every cook bringing her specialty, and pies of every kind for dessert. Until the Upper Clearwater school closed in 1964, the students provided entertainment for the community Christmas concert, with one of the local men cajoled into being Santa Claus for the occasion.
Hallowe’en too was a community event. Homes were so far apart that trick-or-treat was never an Upper Clearwater tradition. Instead, families would gather at the hall for games and goodies, and some visitor from outside the valley would be asked to judge the children’s costumes – the winner choosing a prize of either $1 or a pair of Gladys Archibald’s warm and colourful hand-knit mittens.
With the arrival of telephones and electricity in the mid 1960s and the major upgrading of the Clearwater Valley Road in the 1970s, families were no longer so isolated. Not only were people then able to commute to Clearwater to work, but women did not depend on the Women’s Institute for a break from household routine and family demands. The WI, as it was affectionately known, gradually faded out of existence – as did the many events that used to take place in the community hall.
After a number of years of standing empty and neglected, a group of valley residents decided that the hall should be repaired and made useable again. Prior to expending any tax revenues on the site, the Thompson-Nicola Regional District required that the building be moved out of the highway right-of-way – a location of no concern when the fastest thing on the road was a homeward-bound horse, but a major issue with motorhomes and the occasional freight-truck. A cement slab was poured and in the summer of 2009 enterprising locals with big machinery dragged the hall away from the road and onto its new foundation. The kitchen addition was not in good enough condition to move, so it was piled and burned.
The TNRD now administers a grant-in-aid that is based on land taxes paid by Upper Clearwater landowners to support the hall. Additional funds have been donated from gas tax revenue and the BC Lottery Corporation, as well as by local families, clubs, and businesses, ensuring that the hall now has washrooms (cold AND hot running water!) and a lunch room. Beautiful birch flooring was donated by the Pelton family, with installation provided by valley residents. The Dohms family of Vavenby was hired to caulk the log walls and ceiling rafters, improving insulation and denying access to bats. Wells Gray Community Forest donated funds to assist with the purchase of tables and chairs.
The hall is once again the heart of the community, used for potluck dinners and musical evenings, art and craft displays, and a perfect location for the informative talks provided by the Wells Gray World Heritage Year program. Additional community events are scheduled for the coming winter.
The hall is also available for rent, and, with dishes, tableware, and seating for 64, is the perfect size for small wedding receptions and family reunions. Anyone wishing to rent the hall is asked to contact Ellen Ferguson at 250-674-3627.