As has been a tradition for more than two decades, Sunnyside Hall was alive with music, dancing and camaraderie Monday afternoon.
Dozens of seniors gathered at the 1845 154 St. venue to cut a rug to the tunes of their childhood – gliding to old-time waltzes, trail-dancing the schottische and joining in on some square-dancing.
But while there were many smiles throughout the three-hour affair, there were also notes of sadness, as those who’ve made the outing part of their routine pondered what they might find to replace it.
“We’ve been coming for 14 years,” said Delphinia Klee, a Langley resident who attends with dance partner Robert Kielhorn.
“We’re sorry that it’s closing. It’s a pleasure to get out on an afternoon to go dancing.”
Sunnyside Elder Citizens’ Association president John Wickham said his group learned about six months ago that the venue would no longer be available to them due to upcoming renovations and a plan to dedicate the time and space on Monday afternoons to a youth club.
Efforts to work around the changes were unsuccessful, he said, noting times offered wouldn’t work for many of the attendees.
“(City of) Surrey parks has made it impossible for us to continue,” Wickham said, noting the change also means the end of the association. “It kinda shuts the door on us.”
South Surrey recreation services manager Stacey Rennie confirmed $250,000 in upgrades and improvements are to take place at the hall through September and October, and that the White Rock Youth Collective – a group of teens that has been working with Alexandra Neighbourhood House and the cities of Surrey and White Rock to create inclusive and safe youth space – would be based in the renovated space.
But she was surprised to hear that the dance group felt forced out.
Rennie told Peace Arch News said it is her understanding that group officials who were involved in discussions with city staff indicated they were ready to shut things down.
“What I understand from this group is that their numbers were quite down,” Rennie said. “(They) basically communicated that they wanted to fold.”
Staff worked to accommodate all of the groups that wanted to continue, she added. If there has been a misunderstanding with regards to the dance group, “we just need to go back to the drawing board with the staff and see what’s available.”
Association secretary Julie Hall said she holds no ill will towards the city. Attendance at the weekly dances averaged 35 to 40, and no one has stepped forward to replace outgoing directors, she said.
As well, “the youth group deserves a hall to go to,” Hall said.
“They’ve been looking for a place for a long time. Everything is seniors here, they deserve a place.”
Rosemarie Patterson, however, said she is concerned about seniors for whom the afternoon dance is the only social event they can get to.
“Where do seniors go now, in the daytime?” said Patterson, a Cloverdale resident who has attended “pretty much every week” for 18 years. “A lot of these people don’t drive at night.”
Lani Hyde, who has been photographing the group – which includes her parents – for a number of years, described the event’s end as “absolutely heartbreaking.”
“It’s a real loss. A lot of these people, this is their community.”
Above photo and slideshow images (with the exception of one) courtesy of Lani Hyde