Christina Nelson

Christina Nelson

Examining the role of Fishermen’s Hall

In two years, the Fishermen’s Hall in Prince Rupert will be 50 years old and the building is really starting to show its age.

In two years, the Fishermen’s Hall in Prince Rupert will be 50 years old and the building is really starting to show its age.

Since the Fishermen’s Hall opened its doors in 1967, it has become the central meeting place for unions in the community, a home for environmental activists and poverty advocates and a place for community celebrations.

The hall’s origins go back to 1945, when Prince Rupert’s first general local union was officially chartered after the formation of the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union (UFAWU).

After years of pushing for a hall to be built, the union purchased the lot on Fraser Street that the hall currently sits on, for $40,000 in 1966.

After spending another $280,000 to construct the building, the Fishermen’s Hall officially opened its doors in August of 1967.

Although there have been countless volunteers throughout the years helping with ongoing repairs and upgrades at the hall, some major renovations are needed in order to keep the building in operation.

“The Fishermen’s Hall is an important part of our community and has been for many years. I think it would be a tremendous loss for the community to not have the Fishermen’s Hall,” said Christina Nelson, manager of Fishermen’s Hall and northern organizer for UFAWU in Prince Rupert.

The Fishermen’s Hall Society doesn’t collect a significant amount of revenue from rental fees as it has kept its fees below market rate.

Nelson noted that while revenues from rentals have provided a maintenance fund for smaller jobs, the society has not been able to set aside funds for large projects, like its much-needed roof replacement.

“We don’t rent for profit … We have made our hall available at the best rates we can,” said Nelson, adding rental of the auditorium is restricted to community or not-for-profit events, progressive causes, First Nations functions and meetings, and employee or private function such as weddings, showers or family events.

Now, the Fishermen’s Hall Society must find the funds to replace the building’s roof — at an estimated cost of $90,000.

The society has applied for a number of grants and is trying raise a portion of the funds itself.

“What we want to do is put the $30,000 in and hopefully we get the other grants,” explained Nelson, adding the society has already held fundraising events such as garage and bake sales.

The Fishermen’s Hall Society’s most recent endeavour is its “Raise the Roof” raffle and the manager is calling on businesses, organizations and individuals in the community to make it a success.

Nelson said the Fishermen’s Hall is a valuable asset in the community and is well-used, with approximately 18,000 people coming through every three months.

“It’s a really busy place,” she said.

Associations currently housed in the hall include the Prince Rupert District Teacher’s Union, Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Canadian Union of Public Employees, Carpenters’ Union, Labour Council and United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union. Nelson also noted that the International Longshoreman and Warehousemen’s Union has held its meeting at the Fishermen’s Hall for a significant amount of time, along with an array of other unions holding meetings in the community.

Furthermore, the hall is home of Prince Rupert’s T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation branch and the Unemployed Action Centre.

While the Fishermen’s Hall has been a labour and union hub since its inception, it also became a hub of social activity in Prince Rupert. There have been countless rallies, vigils and community celebrations hosted at the hall, as well as huge fundraising parties such as the annual Toy Run dance and Pig Jig.

“This was always the centre of social life in the town. Talk to anybody our age, they’ll say if you haven’t partied at the Fishermen’s Hall, you haven’t partied,” said Joy Thorkelson of the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union, who has worked at the hall for many years.

It has also housed the Prince Rupert Karate Club for more than 15 years, along with an array of other activities.

Recently, the Fishermen’s Hall has become a place people living in poverty can go to for help and advocacy.

“We have turned a corner in Prince Rupert where we are seeing more and more people who require the services of the Unemployed Action Centre,” explained Nelson.

“It is common to have people come to the hall who need a warm, dry place to sit, a quiet room to nurse or change a baby or they need something to eat or drink. There is a general information section in the common area that provides assistance with where to find shelter, soup kitchens, food banks, drug and alcohol rehab centres, AA and NA meeting schedules,” said Nelson, adding there is also public washrooms and showers, a public computer station and free fresh fruit for people passing by.

The Fishermen’s Hall Society encourages anyone interested in supporting its “Raise the Roof” raffle fundraiser by either selling or purchasing tickets to call Christina at 250-624-6048. There are 4,000 tickets available in the raffle.