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Restored Willoughby Hall opened to community
The historic Willoughby Hall was officially reopened Saturday afternoon.
The hall, originally built in 1937 to replace one built in 1921 that was destroyed by fire, sits at 83 Avenue and 208 Street — amidst a sea of apartments, townhouses and single-family homes. At one time, Willoughby was completely rural, but it is now in the midst of development that will see it eventually become home to 60,000 people.
It was one of those developments, Athenry Gate, that led to the changes and improvements to the hall. Former Langley Township mayor Kurt Alberts, who acted as a volunteer advsor to the hall society during the move process, explained Saturday that the hall was on a 5,000 square foot lot and would be impacted by the development, and widening of 83 Avenue.
Athenry, proposed and originally owned by longtime Willoughby residents Tony and Gwen McCamley, planned to build multi-family housing on adjacent property. As part of that plan, it was prepared to move the hall a short distance and provide more parking.
While the McCamleys eventually sold Athenry to Peak Construction, the new owner of the development followed through and ensured that the hall was moved. In addition, the cedar logs that had served as the foundation (and are still in good shape) were replaced by a full concrete basement. The hall was also upgraded to meet current building codes.
Saturday’s reopening was a true community event. Willoughby resident and up-and-coming singing sensation Cole Armour sang O Canada. Members of 1st Willoughby Cubs and Beavers and 1st Walnut Grove Scouts raised three flags on new flagpoles in front of the hall, paid for by the Township.
Longtime president Karl Driese, executive members Alice Johnson and Linda Baker, along with MP Mark Warawa and Township Mayor Jack Froese, cut the ribbon to open the hall. The crowd then streamed in to look over the new features while enjoying seeing much that was familiar, including the original vertical tongue and groove interior.
Coffee, tea and snacks were served, and an Al Colton painting of the hall was on display on stage. Prints of the painting are available to help raise funds for the move.
The hall was designated a Township heritage building in 2000.
It remains a very busy place, with many community activities on a daily basis. The longtime members of the hall association are proud of the way the move turned out, and are hopeful that some of the new residents of the area will visit the hall, and get involved in ensuring that the hall continues to have a long future in serving Willoughby residents.
In addition to the work done by Peak Construction, the renovations were paid for by the Township, and a bequest from longtime members Roy and Shirley Baker, which was matched by Langley Heritage Society and the hall association. A fundraiser two years ago also helped raise funds for the restoration.
For more about the Bakers and the fundraising event, see an article on the Bakers by former Times reporter Al Irwin at heritagematters.wordpress.com.
At the reopening event, Froese noted that former reeve Noel Booth had been present when the second community hall was first opened in the 1930s.
Both he and Warawa applauded the workers and volunteers for working very hard to preserve the heritage of Willoughby, and specifically of the unique building.