Fixing what’s broken at Upper Clearwater hall

Upper Clearwater hall. (ucfi.ca photo)

Upper Clearwater hall. (ucfi.ca photo)

The TNRD board of directors was put in the position this week of trying to help a community heal a rift. Two delegations spoke to the board on Thursday (Jan. 21, 2016) with differing opinions about financial support from the regional district for the Upper Clearwater community hall.

After listening to the delegations, the board approved a survey of residents to find out if they want to hold a second petition process to overturn the original petition that established a grant-in-aid for the hall.

Here’s a news story on it by Mike Youds published in NewsKamloops:

Upper Clearwater Farmer’s Institute hall is a 1937 log building, restored and upgraded, a pastoral scene from Wells Gray Road on the way into the provincial park.

Tourists often stop there and sometimes camp as though it were a public facility, which is why a wagon-wheel style sign now stands out front, hinting, “UCFI Hall and Grounds.” Since its earliest days, the hall has been a community gathering place.

The bucolic setting reveals nothing of a feud within the surrounding community about the hall, a dispute that arose from circumstances apparently well-intended a dozen years ago, yet which now divides the small community.

“In 2004, a rift formed in our community,” Shane McGrath told TNRD board Thursday. “It’s become increasingly acrimonious and bitter.”

In a discussion that dragged on for more than two hours, McGrath asked the TNRD to survey the 58 upper valley residents to determine support for holding a new vote on a residential grant-in-aid property levy that supports the hall. Nick Frost, who manages the hall for the UCFI, followed, seeking a letter of support, a vote of confidence for the institute and its management of the hall.

With a dozen or so other residents of the rural community attending, TNRD directors listened, patiently at first, to accounts that seemed to trace the issue back to the original petition for the levy, which wasn’t conducted according to the rules.

McGrath tried to explain the heart of the matter.

“We can trace this to a grant-in-aid process and petition to provide a grant to the farmer’s institute to manage a hall,” he said. “The rift that exists is a major concern to me as it is to others,” he said.

The petitions weren’t properly collected and submitted by deadline to the TNRD, which gave rise to suspicions that it was not conducted fairly or impartially.

“I’m not interested in revisiting history and change what happened, but I would like to fix the situation.”

He said he doesn’t object to the taxation and the $5,000 it provides to run the hall, but feels it’s not a community hall and should be run more openly.

Nick Frost, who manages the hall for the UCFI, painted a different picture.

“Maybe the process was flawed, maybe it wasn’t, but it was done for all the right reasons,” he said.

To hold another petition would be to invite a negative response, one that might result in the loss of the levy and funds to run the hall. The facility fits the definition of a community hall, he maintained. Access is provided to all residents, he insisted.

“From your version of things, there have been rising tensions because of the way the hall is run,” he said, addressing McGrath. They had to re-establish the legitimacy of the UCFI as a result, he said.

“In the process of putting it right, it would be fair to say we ruffled a few feathers.” he said.

It was the feud, not so much the issue that gave rise to it, that tested the patience of some.

Merritt Mayor Neil Menard told them they should get together at the hall, leaving guns and knives at the door.

“You can’t have it both ways,” Menard said. “I think the community needs to get into the hall and let their hair down.”

Carol Schaffer, TNRD director for Area A (Wells Gray) said the fairest way to settle the matter is to re-do the alternative approval process entirely as originally intended.

“If it’s a clean, open and fair process, it will remove the flaws of the 2004 one and we can at least start moving forward,” Schaffer said.

Schaffer raised another complication in the hall dispute, the notion that part of the community favours using another nearby hall built as a TRU field research facility.

The UCFI hall itself is in good shape, she noted. Its restoration was a volunteer community effort and subsequent improvements have included an arena.

The board voted unanimously to conduct a survey of residents to determine whether to hold another petition.

It’s a dispute that seems to have grown bigger than the issue that started it, Frost agreed.

Frost said afterward that neighbours know each other well and they would do anything to help one another despite their differences over the hall.

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