Ahousaht – The oldest gathering place in Ahousaht, Thunderbird Hall has served the community for more than 40 years. Built on a budget so tight, only the construction materials and freight could be paid for. The entire community stepped up, volunteering labour from kids hauling materials up from the dock to men labouring at the construction site, to women, cooking for everyone that helped; it is truly a monument to community spirit.
Over the decades the hall has seen new floors and has changed colour a few times but the kitchen has always stayed pretty much the same; a couple of kitchen stoves, a sink and counter space. There were not enough appliances to preserve and cook large quantities of food and hosts have to rely on volunteers willing to cook and deliver food from private kitchens.
According to Stephanie Hughes of Ecotrust, about two years ago an idea for a dream kitchen in the T-bird Hall was born. Women in the community talked with elders, caterers and each other about what it was they needed to preserve and prepare foods for a traditional diet.
With Ahousaht Band Adminstrator Pam Frank working on funding, work on the dream kitchen soon began. Funds for the project came as an investment from the band.
The women designed and built a four station island in the expanded kitchen where they could cut fish, facing one another for a more social experience. Each station has a large sink.
An important new addition to the kitchen is a large, walk-in cooler. Ahousaht is remote and perishable food must travel unrefrigerated for at least an hour.
The walk-in cooler is especially important it times of potlatches and such. Previously, perishable food was sent to homes of those willing and able to make room in their refrigerators and freezers.
Cooking traditional foods for large crowds means plenty of boiling in large pots. Heavy pots of boiling crab, potatoes or soups are difficult and can be dangerous to move. “The women designed huge, custom gas burners right at floor level with a swivel-out faucet right there so they can fill the empty pot right on the burner without ever having to lift it,”said Hughes.
Also brand new to the kitchen are two double-door convection ovens. Hughes says they are so big that they can take huge cuts of meat, great for roasting deer meat, turkeys, beef or ham.
In order to reduce waste, the kitchen is equipped with an industrial dishwasher and has ordered dishes adorned with the band logo.
The landfill has been capped recently and trash is now barged to the the Tofino/Ucluelet landfill. With the dishwasher and re-useable dishes, there will be no more need for the thousands of disposable dishes and cups that went to the landfill each year. “This is a long-term sustainable approach to designing the community kitchen,”said Hughes.
Part of that approach includes the introduction of food composters. Food wastes will be turned to food for the community greenhouse rather than going to waste at the dump.
Hughes is excited about the community greenhouse project, which she says is nearing completion. “All lumber for both projects came from Ahousaht and went through the Ahousaht Sawmill,” Hughes explained. This is part of Ahousaht’s efforts to connect all of their projects and to keep the work in the community as much as possible.
The greenhouse will be finished by the end of summer and grades 3 – 4 students from Maaqtusiis School will be in charge of managing it. Hughes says they are at the perfect age to learn about growing food and to get excited about it.
“This is a huge accomplishment and it’s great to see something tangible at the end,” said Hughes.
A grand opening celebration for the kitchen is expected sometime in August, well before the opening of the new high school in mid-September.
By Denise Titian