Fortune Hall: Heart of a community

A view of Fortune Hall, as it sat adjacent to the old schoolhouse. Date on image is incorrect.

A view of Fortune Hall, as it sat adjacent to the old schoolhouse. Date on image is incorrect.

One of the mainstays of the Fortune area has long been the Fortune Community Center, otherwise known as the Fortune Hall. Any resident of the area is no doubt familiar with the Hall, whether it be for weddings, anniversaries, yard sales, dances, or concerts. It just seems to be the case that Fortune Hall is always there to lend support to the community when it is needed, and the Hall has been serving the community for 90 years. It was built out of a need to bring the community closer together, and the Hall’s history, and its legacy of community connection, is one that is inextricably linked to the Fortune community.

A COMMUNITY NEED

Talk of the need for a community hall in Fortune arose in 1928 around the card table, when Art Campbell, Harry Francis, and Leon Johnson raised the issue the time had come for Fortune to have a community center of its own. Before that events were held in various locations, such as at the old school house, or in people’s homes, but it was felt that a more suitable location was needed to host the type of events such as dances which were becoming more popular, as the space inside the old schoolhouse was proving inadequate for the needs of the community (1).

The men set about to make things happen, and called a community meeting which found great support for the idea of a Hall, with the original goal of creating a space which could serve the needs of the community from Dingwells Mills to Rollo Bay. Plans were made to fundraise for the costs to be incurred, and events were scheduled, such as box socials, dances, and concerts at the old school (1).

GETTING IT BUILT

The issue of where exactly to build the Hall soon came to the fore, as the purchase of land would add a significant cost burden to the project. This was soon remedied by the aforementioned Art Campbell, who offered to donate any of the land necessary for the project.

It took three years of planning to get things underway, but in 1931 Harry Francis, Harry Burke, Eddie Reid, Reid Underhay, and Fred MacKenzie formed the Fortune Hall Company, under which they would direct the construction of the new Hall. Tenders were issued, with contractor Stephen MacAulay supplying the winning bid (2).

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MacAulay worked quickly, and by the end of the summer was Hall was built. At this time it sat on the same property that it is on at the present day, however, its orientation was somewhat different, and it was smaller than it is today. It originally faced east, with its front door and facade oriented in the same direction as the old schoolhouse which at the time sat beside it on the same property. It was later rotated to be more north facing, a move which permitted better use of the adjoining property for parking. 

KICKING IT OFF

The hall’s first event was a  celebratory day, featuring a tea party, picnic and dance. The music was provided by Alf McKearney and Les Alexander and their band from Charlottetown. Committee member Reid Underhay was doorman that night, and he recalled that the dance that evening made more than $100, with an admission charge of 35 cents per person, which works out to be almost 300 people in attendance in the little Hall. As Underhay put it, “the new Hall was pretty crowded” (1)

A wintry view of Fortune Hall from the exterior. Note the north facing orientation of the facade.

A wintry view of Fortune Hall from the exterior. Note the north facing orientation of the facade.

He further remembered the scene inside the Hall during the frequent dances which were held there. He said that “there was a great big heating stove right in the center of the dance floor with a great big pile of wood to fire the thing. The dancers had to do the best they could to dance around the stove.”

The exact date of the opening of Fortune Hall is not known for certain, however it is sure to predate 31 August 1931, a date in which an advertisement for activities and entertainment appeared in The Guardian. According to the papers at the time, this August event boasted “salads, meats, etc. Big dance in the new hall in the evening. Music by the McPhee Brothers.” In a short time the Hall had risen to prominence on the Island as a place for great entertainment, and from the very outset the Hall saw widespread adoption from the community (2).

By the fall of 1931, only months after opening, it was already being used by the Howe Bay and Eglington Women’s Institute as their primary venue to hold dances and fundraisers. Much of the money raised from these ventures was remitted directly back into the community, and as such Fortune Hall provided a much needed community service. Many other service clubs used the Hall for their meetings and fundraisers, as is well documented in many of the newspaper ads of the time. It was around this time that Bruce Yeo, a travelling movie projectionist, would on occasion set-up at the Hall, displaying movies for an admission cost of 25 cents, which was a fair sum back in those days (1).

One thing the Hall was often used for was community suppers, and one such event is touted in The Guardian of 22 September 1949, in an article which reads that “the Ladies Aid of Bay Fortune United Church held a delicious and enjoyable chicken supper and bazaar at Fortune Bridge Hall, on Thursday evening, September 8th. Those attending from Souris included Rev. Mr. Corkum and Mrs. Corkum, Mr. and Mrs. Roy White, Mr. and Mrs. Brenton Matthew, Mr. and Mrs. John McLean, and Mr. George Leard” (1). This listing of names was no doubt seen to lend a sense of prestige to Fortune Hall, as several of these names were well known in the community, and some of them, including Mr. McLean and Mr. Leard, would later rise to prominence in the Island’s political scene.

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The 1960s brought continued use of the Hall for all sorts of purposes, and by 1964, in a celebration of Canada’s Centennial celebrations of the Charlottetown conference, Lem Paquet’s Centennial Roadshow was presented at Fortune Hall, sponsored by the Rollo Bay Women’s Institute. Admission was 75 cents for adults, and 35 cents for children. A dance was sponsored afterwards.

The 60s also brought a need for greater space within the Hall. By now the Hall had expanded to hold upwards of 125 people, and wedding receptions were a common occurrence in the Hall. The wedding of Gloria Verva, of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, to John Albert Mitchell of Fortune Bridge, was a remarkable one at the time, and it celebrated its reception at Fortune Hall in December of 1962, with a wedding party so large that it filled the Hall to capacity. The Hall was long seen as a staple of entertainment in the greater community, and dances were held there regularly every Wednesday night for more than ten years, with music by the Cliff Peters orchestra, as well as the Websters Orchestra, among others (2). Cliff Peters and his orchestra was well known at the time for performing around the local area, and Cliff is remembered for hosting barn dances at his own property in Rollo Bay.

It was around this time, just prior to consolidation, that the Fortune Bridge School began hosting its extracurricular events, such as school concerts, inside the Hall as well. Dramatic performances, including the locally written “Have A Heart”, made its stage debut at the Hall, and talent shows began to be hosted here as well, which often drew a crowd. Some of Adele Townshend’s plays were performed here as well, and it is remembered that her drama, For The Love of a Horse, which dramatized the events of the Pearce and Abel story, was performed in the Fortune Hall by members of the local community theatre group.

Vacation Bible Schools were held on site during the summer months, and politics too had its place in Fortune Hall, as it was at times used for political rallies, such as the one held in May of 1963 for Herbert Cheverie of the Liberal Party. Many of these events served as fundraisers for the Women’s Institute, or the Ladies Aid society. They often catered the meals at many of the weddings as well.

An interior view of Fortune Hall, decorated for a wedding.

An interior view of Fortune Hall, decorated for a wedding.

In 1978, for the 50 year commemoration of the construction of the Hall, an attempt was made to round up all of the bands who had once played there. Five of them were procured, and they had a commemorative dance in the Hall, celebrating this momentous occasion. That night many members of the community were recognized for their tireless and continued support in favor of the Hall. Among those named were Beatrice Johnson, Mrs. James Bennett, Mrs. Major Reid, Mrs. Peter Davis, Wanda Dixon, and Tillie Coffin. As Claude Dixon, Master of Ceremonies for the evening remarked, “they really kept things going” (1) 

FORTUNE HALL TODAY

Fortune Hall continues to be the lifeblood of the Fortune area and surrounding community. Many wedding receptions are held there, as is the annual farmer’s harvest supper. Yard sales and bingos keep the Hall vibrant, as do ceilidhs, dances, darts, and cardplay. Weekly Bingo is held, and always draws a sizeable crowd. Today, after undergoing several remodellings and expansions, the facility can hold more than 300 people. Community youth groups such as the 4H Club and Girl Guides have always made extensive use of the Hall as well.

Skating on the outdoor rink

Skating on the outdoor rink

Christmastime was always an important occasion at Fortune Hall, and events often featured a tree lighting ceremony, visits from Santa, arts and crafts for children, and dessert parties which catered to some of the older residents in the area, while Halloween time saw other activities planned for children, such as costume parades and pageants, as well as spooky haunted halls which would be set up in the basement.

Canada Day celebrations often center around Fortune Hall, which at one time included an ‘pet parade’, and in recent years there has been the development of a Fortune Fun Days Festival, which has placed great emphasis on the Hall as well.

One component of the Fortune Hall which has seen great community support and interest has been the creation of the Fortune Hall outdoor rink. When the idea of a rink was first floated, many in the area were quick to get on board, and many of the supplies and materials required to build the rink were donated through local companies and individuals. It has been in operation since the early 2000s, and operates entirely as a community effort. Thanks to the hardwork and dedication of a committed team of volunteers, youth from all around the Fortune area have been able to enjoy the pleasure of skating and hockey in their own backyard, for little to no cost. 

AN ENDURING LEGACY

It is surely then a testament to the strength of our community to know that within the decade Fortune Hall will celebrate its 100th anniversary. And while much has changed in our community, and in our province in those 100 years, what has still remained strong is the people’s commitment and concern towards community. In rural areas such as ours, it is the as much the case now as it was way back when, that we are only as strong as our community, and if that sentiment has any truth to it, well it can surely be said that Fortune is as strong as they come.

REFERENCES

  1. Townshend, Bonnie. “The Road To Fortune”. 2012. Print

  2. The Guardian Archive. Island NewsPapers. Web. 19 December 2018.