The Sampo Hall

The Sampo Hall in the mid-1930’s. The large boxy shape on the back was a stage with dressing rooms above and then a dressing/change room for lacrosse players below. The lacrosse box was east of the hall.

Finnish settlers started arriving in Webster’s Corners in 1905.  Their goal was to live in a Socialist commune and to that end they purchased a 159 acre property with its northwest corner – a one-acre chunk – already set aside for Webster’s Corners School.

When that original utopian settlement, called Sampola, broke up for a variety of reasons in 1912, the land holdings were sold off to individual families but the acre which now holds the Sampo hall was given to the first Finnish Club which was called the Socialist Club.  This was later renamed “The Finnish Organization”, part of a nation-wide network of Finnish community clubs.  “Sampo” is the name of a magical mill which ground out corn, salt and coins for hardworking people in the Finnish epic poem Kalevala, written by a country doctor named Elias Lonnrot.

Cast of the play “Karkurit” (the Fugitives) presented at the opening ceremonies of the Finnish Hall on January 16, 1916.

The Sampo hall was built in 1915 entirely using volunteer labour from the Finnish community with men, women and children participating.  After its opening in 1916, the hall was home to a number of Finnish community groups and hosted a variety of performances from plays to concerts to folk dancing and sports activities like wrestling and gymnastics.  A library was also housed in the building.

The hall has been much added to over time.  The large room with the stage at the south end is the original Hall.  At one point, there was a large addition behind the stage to provide dressing rooms with change rooms below for the lacrosse box located behind the hall in the 1930s and 40s.

The Hall was the heart of the community.  In addition to the important entertainment function, it also served as community meeting space for more serious events.  Each year at election time, a car would race from city hall in Haney to the Sampo Hall to deliver the results.  As the school population waxed and waned, the hall was also used as overflow classroom space. It also served as a place where funerals could be held if the crowd was too large for the church.

The Hall was closed for a time during the Second World War. According to Uno Soderholm of Webster’s Corners, speaking to the Gazette in 1984, this was because the Mounties were tipped that the hall might be being used as an arsenal for communists.  The hall was broken open and raided by police but no weapons were found.  Despite the absence of weapons, the hall was padlocked and the community lost its use during the war years.

After the war, the Finnish community regained the hall but it was never again used to the extent to which it had been before.  The hall had deteriorated slightly from lack of use, and membership declined as children assimilated into the general population and the initial Finnish residents began to age. One Finnish resident claims that “to add insult to injury, the local was forced to pay the retroactive property taxes for those years and hold fund raisers as they did not wish to lose the hall.” Eventually, the stage addition was torn down.

Difficulty in meeting the costs of upkeep lead to ownership being transferred from the local Finnish club to the Vancouver branch which funded some restoration work.  Finally, after 68 years of ownership by the Finns, the hall was sold in 1984 to Alex and Priya Kucher who maintained the hall and made it available to the Webster’s Corners community until their deaths.  The hall was demolished on November 12, 2019 after standing empty for many years.