Tseshaht celebrate groundbreaking for new Somass Hall | Ha-Shilth-Sa Newspaper

Tseshaht celebrate groundbreaking for new Somass Hall

Port Alberni, BC

A parking lot with an unpaved patch of weeds and scotch broom – that marks the site of the 70-year-old Somass Hall, which was demolished in 2019. But that is about to change as Tseshaht people came to witness the ground breaking ceremony for the new $9 million-plus project that will replace the old beloved hall.

According to Tseshaht elder Cody Gus, the original Somass Hall was built by the forestry company Bloedel, Stewart and Welch at the end of World War II. The company ran railroad tracks through the Tseshaht reservation beside the Somass River and the hall was given in exchange for use of the land.

Over the years, the old Somass Hall served as a community hub not only for the Tseshaht, but also for the larger Nuu-chah-nulth community. It was used for graduations, weddings, funerals, cultural events and political meetings. Eventually, there came a time where the building became structurally unsafe, and so the difficult decision was made to demolish it.

Good news came in August 2022 when the federal government announced it would contribute $3.4 million, about 75 per cent the cost of a new, better Somass Hall. Tseshaht First Nation would cover the remaining $1.1 million.

The new 7,000 square foot building will stand on the footprint of the old Somass Hall, but it will have a basement.

Indigenous Services Canada said the new Somass Hall will be constructed to post-disaster standard, meaning that it can be used as an emergency shelter by the community for two or three days.

It will have a commercial kitchen, meeting rooms, washroom facilities, storage and parking space.

On April 2 people gathered at 6200 Gallic Road to witness the ground breaking ceremony. Surrounded by both elders and children, Tseshaht Chief Councillor Ken Watts got things off to a proper start with a traditional prayer chant. Elder Helen Dick joined him to say a prayer in the Tseshaht language.

Watts acknowledged people that were instrumental in getting the project off the ground. He went on to say that they are excited for the new building and want it to last for many generations. With that in mind, Watts said the nation was successful in securing another federal grant in the amount of $6.3 million, bringing the price tag for the new Somass hall to over $9 million.

The new funding is provided with child safety and support in mind, so Chief Watts said the entire basement of the new facility will be dedicated to programs and activities for youngsters.

“The basement will be dedicated to prevention services and keeping kids safe,” said Watts. “It’s more than just a hall four our people – it’s very special and we’re looking forward to be able to dance here again.”

Tseshaht elder Cody Gus and young Lanaley Hassell were invited to break the ground with a beautifully designed ceremonial shovel.

A timeline for construction was not shared, but Watts promised there would be a big opening ceremony when the building is complete.

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