Decades-old hall in rural Lakes District serves as crucial staging area for wildfire response

Tweedsmuir Recreation Commission

Wistaria Hall and wildfire smoke the day the evacuation order was issued.
Photo: Tweedsmuir Recreation Commission

Wistaria Hall used for three weeks by B.C. Wildfire Service in 2018

Nestled in B.C.’s Lakes District is the historic Wistaria Hall. For nearly a century the hall has been a mainstay in the lives of those enjoying rural living. Weddings, funerals, fishing derbies, educational sessions and emergency response efforts have all been hosted at the hall. In 2018, Wistaria Hall was used for an entirely new purpose.

From August 20 to September 14, 2018, the B.C. Wildfire Service used the facility daily for a range of purposes, including coordinating crews, transferring equipment and landing for helicopters while fighting the Nadina and Verdun fires. Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) also used the hall as their headquarters.

“Every morning and late every afternoon, crews and community members mustered at the hall to share information on the progress of the fires and to strategize firefighting efforts,” said Heather Anderson with the Tweedsmuir Recreation Commission. “Our area does not have cell service and the power lines and telephone landlines had burned down, making communication very difficult. This was the only way to get reliable information.”

Having capable community infrastructure is integral to an effective response to emergencies. In this case, Wistaria Hall is the only community gathering place for 50 kilometres. Having usable structures in close proximity to the emergency, regardless of the type, is crucial for responders. While emergency response is not the main purpose of community halls, it is important.

“A community that can never gather ceases to be a community,” Anderson continued. “Our annual functions include our Christmas Concert, Canada Day celebration and Mothers’ Day Brunch. The hall is also used for weddings, funerals, anniversary parties and numerous special functions. After the fires this year we held a Community Gathering Luncheon to share our experiences, to thank those who worked tirelessly to save our property and homes and to make plans to avoid such a disaster in the future.”

Equipment staged at Wistaria Hall
Photo: Randy Pudsey

Community halls are the hub of the wheel that makes rural life go around. They draw people in and provide a sense of connection between diverse people, facilitate interaction between those living in sparsely populated areas and prevent isolation.

The Tweedsmuir Recreation Commission has been diligently working to maintain the facility to ensure that it is capable of fulfilling the diverse needs of those in the area. Since 2015, Northern Development has granted the Tweedsmuir Recreation Commission $45,000 to assist with more than $300,000 worth of upgrades.

Northern Development is committed to supporting communities of all population sizes. In 2018, 52 per cent of the Trust’s approved projects were in communities of less than 5,000 people. This translates to $7,423,938 in funding invested into these communities in 2018 alone.