The importance of place – a eulogy to Beaupre Hall

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, November 7, 2001

We have lost a most gracious coffee companion. Beaupre Hall, longtime meeting place for ranchers and villagers west of Cochrane, burned to the ground Halloween night.

No longer will our old friend greet us at the door with the aromas of homemade chicken soup, fresh-baked apple pie and coffee when we arrive for a community craft sale.

No longer will our old friend embrace the laughter of children or the toe-tapping tunes of a fiddle dance.

No longer will our old friend share in our joy at weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, reunions, graduations, gymkhanas and talent shows.

Beaupre Hall was a place of belonging, a place where neighbors got to know neighbors from miles around. It was a reminder of who we are, how we are connected to one another, and why we are here.

It was a symbol of life in the West Country at its very best.

I haven't always had such a high opinion of buildings, Beaupre Hall or any other.

When I was young, I thought buildings pretty much served their purpose if they provided protection from wind, rain, snow, cold, thieves and stray dogs.

White hair has caused me second thoughts.

I think my attitude toward buildings started to change big time in the 1980s when I visited a thousand-year-old Swiss cathedral. Stepping inside the stone structure, I sensed the walls around me exuding centuries of prayer and devotion. And just as one can know that smokers have occupied a hotel room, so also I could "smell" the history of holiness in that ancient place.

This was not unlike feelings I had also experienced at certain sacred natural places of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation in and around Morley.

Places have an evocative power for recalling people and events. Whenever I walk along a certain path above Niagara Falls, the sights, sounds, and in particular, the smell of maple trees, evoke memories of my childhood walks with my parents along that very path.

Whenever I drive along a certain section of road near Carstairs, the passing scene inevitably evokes for me memories of an especially gripping moment in a radio drama I had been listening to years earlier while traveling that same stretch of road.

And that brings me back to our old friend, Beaupre Hall. What started out as a one-room school in the 1920s was moved around, added to, and redesignated, until it finally emerged as the community centre we've enjoyed these many years.

Poured into this building were lifetimes of love and good times, along with irreplaceable photographs and paintings.

To saunter past its stage was, for me, to remember the great 60th birthday party my family and friends threw for me in that very place.

To fill my plate with potluck delights from its tables would cause me to recall the first time I met many of the genial folks whose roots go back to the beginnings of community in these parts.

At the same time that Beaupre Hall was burning down, arsonists in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, were destroying the 250-year-old St. John's Anglican Church. That building was full of stories for its community, too. And like our old friend, it, too, was a landmark for memories and life. We grieve for their loss of history, as we grieve for ours.

You see, there is a special symbiotic relationship that develops between people and buildings. People conceive and give birth to a building, then the building in turn nurtures the people, not unlike the relationship between mother and child in Robert Munsch's beloved book for children of all ages, Love You Forever.

As the philosopher George Santayana observed, "Parents lend children their experience and a vicarious memory; children endow their parents with a vicarious immortality."

Beaupre Hall, to whom we lent our experiences and memories, is gone. In its passing, life seems diminished. Nevertheless, we, its parents, are also its heirs. And like the phoenix, its spirit of community and celebration will rise from its ashes.

Let us raise our cups in a toast:

To the memory of Beaupre Hall, 1924–2001.

© 2001 Warren Harbeck

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