Association hopes to keep history alive with Dance hall renovation

By Allan Bradbury
Staff Reporter

An 83-year-old tragedy is still fresh in the minds of those fundraising to preserve a piece of history in the District. The town of Dance, about 30 km from Fort Frances, burned in a wildfire in 1938 and one of the few buildings rebuilt afterwards was the Dance Community Hall.

According to historical records, it had been a dry summer and fall in 1938 and fires were burning across the region from Manitoba into the Rainy River District and Minnesota. Dance was a community of small farms and many of the families made their money by cutting wood for the mill in Fort Frances. Cutting activity had left yards and farms littered with sawdust and other logging byproducts; that created disaster when fire swept through the area. A total of 17 people died on Thanksgiving Day in 1938. Tragically, the families in the area had been warned to evacuate days before by local fire officials.

The hall was rebuilt in 1939 after the fire and has been part of the area since. Joanne Hyatt is the vice-president of the Dance Community Club Association. The group is a non-profit organization that manages the hall and is behind some of the fundraising efforts to get the Hall back in good condition. The Hall has been used for many different things over the years, according to Hyatt.

“There was a school right across the road from the Hall, we used it for Christmas Concerts, parties and all sorts of get togethers,” Hyatt said. “And we’d just like to get it restored and be able to use it for functions again.”

A charity garage sale was held recently to benefit the renovation of the Dance Hall. -Allan Bradbury photo

Hyatt said the Association used to hold monthly suppers at the Hall as well.

Currently however, the hall is in a dire state.

“Right now it’s desperately in need of a new foundation and flooring,” Hyatt said. “They need at least $40,000.00.”

“We have applied for a grant and that’s why we’re fundraising,” Hyatt added. “We need heat too. We always had to close it in the winter and it was only used in the warm weather which is not reasonable.”

The association also hopes to renovate the kitchen at the hall.

Once finished the hall should hold around 100 people, and there are tables and chairs available for use as well. Hyatt says they’ve already been approached by some people interested in using it for family reunions.

In an effort to help with the costs, the association is holding a variety of fundraisers. Earlier in October they held a yard sale at Millenium Park in Alberton and there are currently tickets on sale for a 50-50 draw that could see a prize as high as $20,000.00 if all of the tickets are sold. Tickets cost $20 and can be purchased at a number of places throughout the District including Ski’s Variety, Rainy Lake Sports and Harbourage in Fort Frances. They’re also available at Devlin’s Corner Store in Devlin, and Tompkins Home Hardware in Emo, or from any member of the association.

The group hopes to start renovations as soon as they have the funds to do so.