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Quite a history for original Legion hall

The White Rock Canadian Legion building on the day of its dedication in 1929. Right, soldier Earl Barge, an active White Rock Legion member after returning from the war. - White Rock Museum and Archives photo
The White Rock Canadian Legion building on the day of its dedication in 1929. Right, soldier Earl Barge, an active White Rock Legion member after returning from the war.
— image credit: White Rock Museum and Archives photo

Last week, we acknowledged the sacrifices made by the men and women who have served Canada over the decades.

The Royal Canadian Legion, #8 White Rock Branch, has an interesting history in which one building in particular stands out.

The first Legion hall which stood next to the White Rock pier is now only a fond memory, but during its short, distinctive life it went beyond the expectations of the men who built it, serving not just the Legion, but the entire community.

In 1919, just after the First World War, returned servicemen of the area were looking for a place to call their own, while the community was trying to decide on a suitable way to honour its heroes.

When a local contractor suffered a tragic accident while constructing a building adjacent to the pier, the veterans bought the building materials, and with volunteer labour and public subscriptions, the long anticipated Legion hall became reality.

The formal opening was held in July 1929. An impressive stone plaque in the main hall was inscribed with the names of four White Rock men – John Wicks, David Wix, J.W. Robertson, and Charles Severn – who did not return from the Great War.

The first president of the branch was Frank MacKenzie, who served through the name change from the original Great War Veterans Association to the Canadian Legion in 1926, and on into the ’30s.

The euphoria of the ’20s soon dissipated in the gloom of the Great Depression. During the early ’30s, minutes of Legion meetings record the hardships of members, and their comrades’ efforts to alleviate them. Dances were held to raise the dues of members unable to afford them.

An entry in 1934 illustrates the general tenor: “The treasurer was instructed to put up the $7 needed to finance the purchase of a gramophone. It was decided to purchase up-to-date records to the value of $2 to make the gramophone a success. At the close of the meeting, the gramophone was tried out for the benefit of those who had not heard the same.”

The machine was rented out at a $2 fee.

The greatest blow soon struck. On Aug. 27, 1935, the building was completely destroyed by fire.

The Surrey Leader newspaper reported, “The blaze, which is thought to have been caused by the explosion of a gas stove, could be seen for miles out to sea, and attracted a large crowd of onlookers. Damage is estimated to have reached $10,000.

White Rock and Blaine fire brigades battled to save the hall and store, but unavailingly, their efforts being handicapped by a receding tide making it difficult to obtain water.”

Legion members rallied quickly, announcing that the branch was willing to contribute $1,000 – the major part of their bank account – to rebuild, and asked for public subscription.

Spare cash was hard to come by, and the response was disappointing, to say the least.

The following summer a concession hut was built, added to bit by bit, but never attained the character of its predecessor.

Having mulled over the idea of relocating to hilltop for 10 years, Branch #8 finally made the move in 1949.

The waterfront lost a caring and generous presence.

The Peninsula’s best-known mother-and-son historians, Lorraine and Hugh Ellenwood, are dedicated to preserving history through the White Rock Museum & Archives. Call 604-541-2222, or email whiterockarchives@telus.net

 

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