Research for this post was assisted by Archives Technician, Matthew Cook. Interested in more information? Consider stopping by the Museum or Archives to discover more Chilliwack history.
Before Highway 1, the Paramount Theatre, sprawling suburbs, coloured television, mass transit, and reliable vehicles, each of the individual communities in Chilliwack had its own central core. At the core of each community a hall acted as a central location for people to gather, hold major meetings, and organize social activities. Unique to each community they served, this is the story of Atchelitz Hall, today known as the Atchelitz Farmers Institute Hall.
The Atchelitz Union Sunday School held a “bee” on July 3, 1912, to clear grounds and prepare a building for the first Atchelitz Hall. The Atchelitz Union selected five trustees to govern the Hall in an official opening meeting on January 6, 1913. The trustees governed Atchelitz Hall as a non-denominational Sunday school, and used it as a central meeting location for any and everything except dancing [see Subject Files, Atchelitz Hall].
Students from the next door Atchelitz school frequently used the hall as a gymnasium. In 1922, Atchelitz students built slated wood racks to protect the walls of Atchelitz Hall and set up a basketball court. Residents used Atchelitz Hall for Sunday school, socials, sporting events, polling, presentations, bake sales, theatrical performances, and even holiday festivals such as the 1916 St. Patrick’s Day entertainment. There remained one exception. The Atchelitz Union Sunday School prohibited dances.
In 1925, the Atchelitz Farmers Institute (AFI) incorporated with the stated purposes to improve conditions of rural life, promote the theory and practice of agriculture, promote social intercourse, mutual helpfulness, and the diffusion of knowledge. In 1933, Trustees of the Atchelitz Union Sunday School transferred ownership of Atchelitz Hall to the Atchelitz Farmers Institute which had already hosted a number of events inside Atchelitz Hall. In 1933, the ATI expanded the Atchelitz Hall’s kitchen and washrooms and held a dance in the newly expanded facility. Although some secondary sources claim the infamous October 13, 1933 dance as the first dance held inside Atchelitz Hall, it is clear from advertisements in the Chilliwack Progress that the ATI and other organizations had already hosted a number of dances inside the building.
Friday the 13th proved to be an unlucky day for Atchelitz. The official opening dance ended around 2:00AM on Saturday morning. Roughly two hours later a fire burned the entire structure down. Rumours swirled on the cause of the fire. To this day the origin of the fire remains a mystery. One popular theory suggested that a cigarette stub possibly left on the balcony started the fire.
Undeterred, the community turned the disaster into a triumph. After collecting $2,350 in insurance, the AFI immediately began fundraising for a new hall. The Atchelitz Women’s Institute greatly assisted the ATI and helped acquire the remaining needed funds. Whether contributing to a bake sale or volunteering labour, the whole community helped fundraise and build a new hall. In a 1984 50th anniversary speech, John Kirkness explained that when the call came to help build a new community hall residents responded overwhelmingly. Up to thirty-six different workers helped build the roof. The committee in charge hired two carpenters for 40¢ an hour. Gravel for the cement came from the basement excavation. Robertson Bros. donated bricks for the chimney. Orion Bowman’s mill prepared the lumber donated by the Simpson Brothers. Construction of the hall brought the community together and each resident contributed however they could [subject files, Atchelitz Hall]. On February 21, 1934 the AFI held an official opening concert and dance for the newly constructed hall.
Once again, organizations booked meetings, students from the school started playing badminton and basketball inside the hall, committees organized socials and bake sales, and dancers did the two-step on Friday nights. Over time the ATI added small improvements to the structure including a second meeting room in 1939, a stage for school concerts and plays, a furnace, a piano donated by the Atchelitz Women’s Institute, and so on. When next door Atchelitz school burnt down on April 8, 1969, teachers and students turned the Atchelitz Hall into a temporary school for the remainder of the school year and the entirety of the following year.
Built in 1934, the current Atchelitz Farmers Institute Hall and grounds remains an integral piece of the Atchelitz community. Next time you’re driving on Lickman Road past the Atchelitz Hall, take a moment to think about all the wonderful memories, and regrettable dance moves, those walls have seen.