Mission

Our goal is to provide a modern and elegant facility, the "Hub" of downtown. To provide the highest level of customer service, and the perfect place for your perfect day.

History

Plans are currently underway to recogonize, the flyers and students of the #5 Elementary Flight Training School with a honor wall in the Highwood Memorial Centre. The honor wall deals with pictures from the era when the training school was in operation. It should be noted that several parts from the flight training school are now a part of the Centre. Volunteer committees, in post-war times, would tend to plunge ahead with their ideas, raise money for their pet projects, oblivious to the grant funds available, then look for available financial help with which to carry on.
Authority, later, would tend to forge ahead on projects in order to realize to the full the grant money available, sometimes oblivious to the cost of upkeep of the program, eventually requiring the assistance and efforts of fund-raising committees for maintenance.

The Memorial Centre, a product of the 1940's, was built in an era when government grants hadn't entertained the minds and lives of the community. It just seemed like a good idea and the community got on with it. That way, there were no generous governments to sneer at. The donors could just criticize among themselves.
High River's No. 5 Elementary Flying Training School had, during its four year lifetime, acquired a recreation hall. After many delays this was first used on December 20th, 1942. Two years later, in October, the station was to receive notice that it was being closed.

In 1946, Rotary, having established a fact-finding committee and interested other groups, found the building was available. Community Council was organized with delegates from the clubs and organizations to discuss a Community Centre.

An executive was elected in May and a site chosen and registered in the name of Town of High River. The site committee had considered locations near the then golf course (Senator Riley High School), Riley Park on Fourth Avenue East,Now called Birchwood Park, and land near the west ward school (Spitzee). The Town gave the site, the former Pioneer Hotel location. No one at the time foresaw the future parking problems.

The former Recreation Hall at the Air Station was to form the nucleus of the new complex, the idea of leaving the Centre at the airport site having been rejected. It was estimated a debenture of $35,000.00 issued by the Town would be required, with annual payments of $2,462.63, which would require a two mill tax increase. Contingent on this was the community raising $35,000.00. Exhorted by High River Times editorials and the committees, a plebiscite approved the proposal with an 81 % vote in favor.

Rotary sponsored an October ice carnival which raised $1,000.00. In late November High River's much publicized $1,000.00 a plate dinner, almost unheard of at that time, saw 17 contributors donate $15,000.00. Legend has it that a bank manager, member of the planning committee, by a bit of conniving was able to convince some of his better-heeled customers that a rather unpopular official, said to be lukewarm about the plan, had said he would donate $1,000.00. Seven contributors immediately felt obligated each to match the amount Richard Needham, then of the Calgary Herald, was to give the dinner considerable publicity. Some time later, after joining the staff of Toronto Globe and Mail, he referred to High River's enterprise during a Citizens' Forum debate, citing the Town as one which didn't expect government hand-outs.

His opponent's only comeback was that High River, with wealthy ranchers in its backyard, shouldn't need government assistance.
More than the wealthy were contributing to the Memorial Centre Fund which, in early 1947, reported over $20,000.00 in cash, $10,000.00 in pledges and $7,500.00 from organizations.
The Planning Committee was visiting other Centre's with a critical eye, looking for ideas as well as ways and means. The Recreation Hall was bought and dismantled, and an architectural firm, Stevenson and Dewar, consulted. This added another $15,000.00 to the original proposed $70,000.00.

Local carpenters Ed Johnson, Arthur Taylor and Leo Heywood were approached, the latter to be in charge. First snag encountered by Heywood was a meeting with the architect who considered the building could not be constructed for less than $150,000.00. Heywood eventually persuaded him otherwise.

By the summer of 1948 the cement had been poured (during the excavation period some interesting memorabilia from the old High River Hotel was discovered), the exterior of the main hall was roughly in place, and the walls of the dining room adjoining the south side of the hall were under construction.

There were some tricky moments. On one occasion the contractor is said to have appeared in the bank, claiming to have heard a rumor that no money was available to meet the payroll.I can build this G-- -----d building but my men have to be paid, was overheard. Calling on his years of experience in developing a stern managerial stance, the banker's reply was, Then you'd better get back to your job so I can get on with mine. With the contractor's departure he promptly got on the phone, there being no money in the building fund. When a few farmers contributed what they had been instructed they could afford, the payroll was met.
Another emergency arose over insistence that it would be cheaper to put the dining room in the basement. Fortunately this was over-ruled. Frequently the dining demands have called for overflow crowds into both main auditorium and the smaller dining area. During one year over one ton of turkey was consumed.

One oversight, which was to be rectified later, was the original size of that first kitchen, located where the Memorial Centre manager's office is situated today. In addition to its miserably small size, it lacked storage space. In fact, only one 129 tiny storage cupboard was included in the entire Centre's original design. These were matters which were to be rectified later.

The new facility was not ready for the November 11 the dance as anticipated, but did just meet the deadline for the annual High School banquet. With one day in which to complete their decorations, the students held the first event in the new Highwood Memorial Centre in December, 1948. The night before, it has been rumored, two committee men contributed to the mechanics of the dinner by lifting a stove and sink from what once had been the Officer's Mess at the airport.

The Memorial Centre Board and High River Hockey Club staged the first New Year's Eve Dance in the Centre, 850 people attending and the cost being $2.50 a couple. The new facility included foyer, cloakroom, upstairs washrooms (one of which was intended to replace the Farm Women's downtown rest room), the library, Legion Room, (in the north east end of the building, later relocated), Old timers' room, Teen Town room, Air Cadet's shooting gal- lery, main hall with platform for spot lighting, stage, downstairs wash- and shower-rooms under the stage, and the main floor marked for badminton and basketball.
Legion, the Old-Timers and Teen Town were responsible for decorating their own quarters, which were to be rent free considerable funding having been donated, and the Memorial being a tribute to both those serving during the wars and the pioneers who had built the community.

Providing equipment for the Centre became a community project and the above-named organizations and many other groups were to contribute regularly for equipment and upkeep. A caretaker was hired. The kitchen use was restricted to the private caterer.

In March, 1949 Town Office was moved into the building at a rental of $100.00 per month, in order to boost the Centre's revenue. Vera Wilmore of the management committee was to present such a pathetic story to Mr. Barrons of the Grand Theatre that he donated a complete set of stage curtains. Hanging these in time for their first use kept the committee up most of the night.
In fact, the management, like all other committees, were to discover their positions included much back-breaking labour in addition to administrative duties. They were literally on their knees in the foyer, up to their elbows in scrub pails, when the Duke and Duchess of Windsor came to inspect the new building, slightly ahead of schedule.

By the end of 1950 outstanding bills for the Centre were over $ 19,000.00, and were covered, by debentures, by two local citizens.

The Centre has seen many large gatherings, some in protest, some in praise. Of the former, the largest, about 1,100, gathered in 1970 to protest tax proposals and talk vaguely of western independence. Main speakers included some from Central Canada.

In 1960 almost 700 attended the banquet introducing Leaves From The Medicine Tree. In 1957 six hundred Jehovah's Witnesses met in the Centre. The Western Stock Growers convention saw 660 members present in 1954. Several Teen Town gatherings drew capacity crowds, as did U.F.A and Active 20/30 conventions. Prominent political figures attracted audiences, in a time when attendant media did not make up a large percentage of those present. Annual meetings, car shows, Frontier Nights, symphonies, talent nights, ballets, Town and Country Fairs, art exhibits, plays, fashion shows, auction sales - all have involved the community at every age level.

One citizen recalls wryly the Talent Night when the audience sat through eleven renditions of Blueberry Hill. There have been, too, funerals, weddings, dances, meetings and teas. One newspaper reporter still recalls an evening when seven separate events were to be reported. Adequate visits were made to five, all being under the one roof.

Through the steady community support, the Centre was able to make much needed additions to the kitchen area which included rearrangement of sinks and stoves, storage space, 130 and an outside entrance on the south side. Eventually even this proved inadequate and the large kitchen was added to the east end of the dining room in 1970.

The day when the foyer was covered with tile brought a sigh of satisfaction and sense of achievement to both caretaker Freddie Fisk and the general public. The object of pride now is covered by carpet.
In 1967, before the library expansion following the remova1 of the Town Office insurance assessment on the building had reached over $200 000,00. Meeting utility and insurance bills was keeping the Centre Board's financial committee hard pressed. When it became evident in 1975 that redecoration was a necessity it was a reality difficult to face. In total, almost $150,000.00 was spent on this project, more than the original cost of the building and its furnishings. The Town of High River covered the cost by debenture, and fortunately government in 1979 made municipal grants to repay such loans.
The redecorating program drew one positive reaction from the Old-Timers. An enthusiastic young interior decorator met with the group and outlined her plans. The old-fashioned furniture had to go. (One piece, salvaged, brought a handsome profit as an antique.) The passe pictures wouldn't fit in. Silently, the Old-Timers set their jaws, stored their pictures from the past, to re-hang them once the new wave had swept clear and vanished. The only point over which they voiced their resistance, and stubborn resistance it was, occurred over the enthusiasm of the day, barn wood decor.

The eager decorator extolled the virtues of the new fad, the need for keeping up with the times, her excitement over the delightful finished product, the popularity with which modern sophisticates viewed this latest trend, the high cost of the material and the bargain it would be to the Memorial Centre. The impasse was broken when the Old-Timers volunteered to find for her enough old barns and granaries to refinish half the rumpus rooms in the community - just as long as she kept the material out of the Old-Timers' room.

They considered that they had viewed enough unpainted farmyard wood during their lifetimes, without being surrounded by the new status symbol during retirement. They won the argument, although the decorator was bewildered by their obtuseness.

Unfortunately, the Old-Timers or any discerning females were not around when the color scheme was chosen for the women's powder room. Many a women has emerged from applying fresh make-up in the yellow room, jaundice-eyed concerning her own appearance and that of the Memorial Centre generally. Perhaps the color choice was a last lingering touch of chauvinism. Or perhaps it was a wise financial move. It certainly increased the beverage sales to females hopeful of artificial stimulus or seeking to drown their despair, following a glimpse in the yellowish mirrors.

However, the Memorial Centre never has been able to please everybody. Those patrons who were sorry to see the swordfish vanish from the dining room wall are The same ones who discreetly avert their eyes from the Windmill Players' gruesome pruning-shears prop displayed in the foyer today.

To each his own taste. That's what makes it a Community Centre.

Hopefully, the community, in its search for more sophisticated surroundings, will appreciate the hopes, sweat and tears which went into the Centre, back in the days when volunteer ism was considered a way of life, and hand-outs something to be avoided.

And, after 35 years, patrons of the drama are about to be seated on comfortable chairs.


The above article is by permission from the High River Library
From a book Life and Legends
By Lillian Knupp
Calgary Sandstone Publisher, 1982
 


Please note, Some early signatureS differ from present day family spellings, The Alex and William MacDougalls' and the SexSmiths' being cases in pointIn 1982 Bill Nelson, formely caterer at the Highwood Memorial Centre, took over management of the entire complex. Also continuing as caterer, his banquets and meals are continuing in popularity


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