Community cashes in on old bank

Fundraising events and volunteer labour turn heritage building into a hub for dance, arts and social events

HAMIOTA, Man. — In a Manitoba community known more for baseball than fine art, a repurposed 1903 bank building is making inroads.

The Hamiota Heritage Arts Centre provides space for art displays, art and dance classes and live shows, the Hamiota and District Archives and a gift boutique.

As the Baseball Capital of Manitoba, Hamiota has hosted many provincial and national baseball tournaments and fielded teams into the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame.

These days, people also know the town as the home of weekly farmers market with up to a dozen vendors and Thursday teas that attract as many as 60, both of which are held at the centre.

While there, patrons can view an ever-changing array of original artwork by Manitoba artists and peruse local crafts housed in the old bank vault.

Joan Trott, a former journalist who now serves as the centre administrator, is responsible for accessing necessary funds to support it.

A mural on the Hamiota Heritage Arts Centre displays the rural community’s history.
The bank vault serves as a gift shop. | Karen Morrison photo

“Because we’ve been able to show the worth of an arts hub, now we get support from each of the (rural municipalities) as well. It’s a big step to perceive this as worth it,” she said from the old bank manager’s office that bears much of the original woodwork.

The building began its life as the Union Bank and continued as the Royal Bank until its closure in 1977.

Purchased by the Mid-West Arts Council from a private owner for $5,000, it sat empty for two decades and was in disrepair.

It was designated a municipal heritage site in 1995 and retains such original features as skylights, a tin ceiling and fireplace, despite a fire in 1928 that destroyed its third storey.

The refurbishment took 10 years and cost $270,000, paid through grants and fundraising, mainly with volunteer labour.

Money for the $88,000 annual operating budget comes from government grants, rentals, gift shop sales and fundraisers such as hotdogs and Tea at the Old Bank.

Mary Ann Stevenson, president of the Midwest Arts Council board, credits Trott with finding funds and developing programming.

“She looks around to see what the community needs,” she said.

Stevenson called the fine arts a lifelong pleasure.

“When you stop here, you are also inadvertently at a gallery,” she said, citing the gallery space for Manitoba artists’ work.

“It’s a shame to see someone drive by and not know what’s there for them, too.”

The regular Paint Nights are a social outing serving up drinks, appetizers and art.

“We’re a community with not many facilities for going out at night. No real place to meet for a drink,” said Stevenson, citing its appeal to different age groups.

Elaine Rawlings, president of the Hamiota Midwest Art Club, said artists gather here to hone their skills and learn from one another.

“Because we get together every week, we can’t help but improve,” she said.

For the public, it serves to educate.

“It gives people an understanding of the value of art, one of a kind original art,” said Rawlings.

Paintings and sculptures by Bev Karnes of Oak Lake Beach are on display this day.

She said the centre provides a home for artists’ work, but it’s more than mere bricks and mortar.

“It’s not just a building, it’s the people,” she said of the community of artists here.

“It’s such a lovely venue for art.”

Trott agreed: “You have to have the right people with the right enthusiasm to make it work.”

A recent addition to the centre marking Canada 150 is an exterior mural depicting a 1925 street scene encircled by the prairie.

“This is meant to make people feel good,” said local artist Mary Lowe, who with her daughter, Erica, received a $7,000 commission to create the highly visible mural.

“Hamiota is a sports town and now we have this vibrant arts centre and it’s changing,” she said.

The centre also houses the Hamiota District Archives, which catalogues collected items and does genealogy searches.

Volunteer archivists Ken and Vicki Smith are retired schoolteachers with a great love for history who have written two history books about a town created by the railway and a community that’s never had a complete crop failure.

“If we don’t do this, it will be lost,” said Ken.

Added Vicki: “I do it because it needs to be done. Otherwise, they would be thrown out.”

They cited unique items such as the 1890 map of Hamiota that hangs in their second floor office, early tax rolls and school registries and a cupboard full of personal diaries.

Early electoral lists dating back to 1884 record its earliest residents.

They say it helps their work that descendents of many of the original families remain in the district.

“We feel we are helping preserve this for the future,” said Ken.

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