Community hall built to leave lasting legacy

DEMMITT, Alta. – It’s not often carpenters build a hall that their great-great-grandchildren will be able to dance in or admire.

The last community centre at Demmitt lasted 30 years.

Carpenters working on the new community centre expect the building to last 300 years.

The timbers, which came from trees killed by the mountain pine beetle, are eight inches by eight inches and notched together with precision by carpenters working for less than half their normal wages to get a chance to be a part of history.

“It looks just absolutely stunning,” said Peter von Tiesenhausen, president of the Demmitt Cultural Society, which built the new community centre.

“The joinery is impeccable,” he said.

The horse logged lumber was resawn at local mills and the timbers were brought to the site at Demmitt, halfway between Grande Prairie, Alta., and Dawson Creek, B.C.

Dozens of carpenters worked to raise the walls and roof of the $1 million self-sustaining, energy efficient community centre made from local materials.

The grand hall has 30 foot walls and is 90 by 35 feet.

“It’s a real major timber framed project.”

Building the bridge to the main building last summer was key to helping government officials and local community members envision the potential of the centre, which could put the spark back into the hamlet.

“The bridge was the proof of what we were doing. They could envision what it was we were talking about.”

County officials recognized that the centre would be important for the northern Alberta region and contributed funding, which in turn loosened the provincial government’s purse strings.

A private donation of $125,000 allowed the society to access a final $560,000 provincial government grant, and the construction went ahead.

The once thriving community attracted hundreds of square dancers from across the Prairies when the old hall was built in 1980 to house the Ray Lake Dancers.

When the hall began to fall apart, community members decided to build a new facility.

“It’s totally revitalized the community,” said von Tiesenhausen.

“This is a dream come true.… There is no reason we couldn’t have this place booked every weekend.”

A new team of volunteers will now build the straw walls of the main hall, which have solar power and other energy efficient methods.

The society has set a deadline of next March for the completed community centre, which they hope will inspire other communities.

Von Tiesenausen said they will work all winter until the money runs out and then stop and raise more money until the project is finished.

“We made it this far. We won’t fail,” he said.

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