ABOVE: The Langham

ABOVE: The Langham

Michael Guthrie’s Langham memories

How a Kaslo landmark was rescued from oblivion in the 1970s.

Eighth in a series

This story is based on my journal notes, press articles and public documents from the British Columbia provincial registry. The time frame is from early July 1974 to July 17, 1977, in which I first conceived of a society to purchase the Langham, my term as president of the Langham Cultural Society and the grand opening.

“Burn it down, didn’t you hear me” — These were the words spray painted on the wall of the old Langham Hotel in Kaslo. Like many historic buildings in Kaslo previously burnt down by residents, the Langham was facing this same fate.

The Village of Kaslo, in June 1974, placed a notice on the bulletin board stating that if the owner didn’t restore the building, or sell it to someone who would, they would condemn it and have it torn down. Bill Mellus from South Fork told me about the notice one day at his house.

I always loved the old building, with its grey wood and especially the old lettering on the front, which simply said “The Langham.” Being a sign painter I was always looking at examples of lettering from the 19th century that were occasionally found in the area. I couldn’t bear the thought of this great example of architecture being torn down.

I had met the owner, Walter Schmidt, at a party in 1972 at Dick and Karen Lampson’s house. I remembered talking with him about how he wanted to come back to Kaslo and try to get something going in the building. He and a friend had just taken out the windows to protect them and boarded up the openings. Walter had a house moving business in Cape Cod, Mass. and didn’t think there was any problem leveling the building.

Eve Carney, the village clerk, used to come into the Village Green Café, which my wife Darelyn and I owned and operated (February 1973 to June 1979). She was a reasonable person and wasn’t prejudiced against hippies so I went to her office and asked if she thought the village would be okay with me organizing a group of people to buy the building and fix it up. She thought it would be okay and gave me Walter’s address.

I wrote Walter to make sure he knew about the notice, and ask if he would be interested in forming a co-op with a few artists in Kaslo. I then talked it over with Ring Huggins and Rick Hanbury, a couple of local potters who also appreciated local history. They thought it was a good idea but both pointed out that none of us had the funds to fix the building up. Walter was like us, with no extra cash.

Darelyn and I had been producing live music shows at the Village Green Café and I tried to convince her we should buy the Langham and move our café business over there. She didn’t think it was a good idea.

One day I noticed the boards covering a window on the ground floor were loose so I crawled through and checked out the building inside. I noticed a hatch in the floor under the stairwell so I crawled down and looked at the floor joists and noticed what looked like a concrete foundation. I asked two friends, Roger Luckey and Fred Hiigli, to come over and check it out. Both agreed it was a concrete foundation but all the joists on the west side had rotted on the ends because the village raised the street level and backfilled up against the bottom of the building.

Several months before all this happened, I had been hitchhiking to Creston and was picked up by a guy who told me how he started the Creston Arts Council. Being an artist, I found the story very interesting. He said “Hey, you could start one in Kaslo.” I said I had never organized anything like that before and he said he hadn’t either.

Inspired by this meeting, I thought maybe I could organize some people to form a society of some kind. I asked some friends — Fred Hiigli, Barbara Scrivens and Alan Davidson — to come to the café and discuss my idea with Darelyn and me. We had a good conversation and they liked the idea. Alan said his wife Gloria would want to join in, and he thought Jim Van Horn would be interested. I thought Bart Darnell would also be interested, and Barb and Fred suggested Pat and Jackie Bowyer. We then all met at the Village Green Café to discuss my idea. Everyone was keen on it.

I wrote Walter again to see if he would sell the building to a society if we formed one. He agreed to sell it for what he paid for it, which was $3,500.

We asked the Kaslo Credit Union if they would loan our society this amount plus another $1,500. They agreed but said we would all have to sign for the loan so that each of us would be responsible for the debt should the society fail. The building was purchased from Walter in the name of the Langham Cultural Society which would own it, not these ten individuals.

The additional $1,500 we borrowed paid to change the title and publish a pamphlet to solicit membership and donations.

Bart Darnell knew a lawyer in Nelson, Mr. Kirby of Hamilton, Kirby and Brown. We went to consult with him on the purchase of the building and discuss forming a society. He was supportive but thought ten members of the board was too many and that five would be enough. We left it at ten.

There were no realtors involved. Walter Schmidt came to Kaslo to sign the papers and accept his payment in Canadian dollars. The exchange rate at the time was in favor of the Canadian dollar so Walter actually lost money on the deal. He asked if we could make up the difference but a vote was held and the majority decided not to make up the difference saying “a deal’s a deal.” I felt we should have and still do. Walter was so good about it, and his generosity should be noted for without it there would be no Langham Cultural Society. Not having a realtor involved also kept the price down.

Jim Van Horn, who was familiar with government affairs, suggested I go to the provincial government building in Kaslo and get a copy of the Societies Act of British Columbia.

We then had our first formal meeting using the Societies Act as a guideline. Votes for officers were held. I was unanimously elected president, Jim van Horn was elected vice-president, Gloria Davidson was elected secretary and Darelyn Guthrie was elected treasurer. The six others were elected members at large. I proposed that, aside from restoration of the building being the main reason for the society, we have a performance space, art gallery and rent the upstairs out as studios. Jackie Bowyer made a motion to accept my idea and the vote was unanimously in favor.

The first six to eight meetings, to draft the constitution and by-laws, were held at the Village Green Café, sitting around the big oval table in the corner, upfront. Pat and Jackie later hosted some meetings at their house and of course Jackie, being the fabulous cook/hostess she was, served us amazing Chinese food! The original constitution and by-laws were democratic, open for participation by the community at large, and drafted in such a way that the society would continue without the presence of the original board.

When the incorporation documents were finished, we all met at the Village Green Café to sign them and Murray and Ruth Ford signed them as witnesses. The documents were then sent off to the registrar of societies in Victoria on November 17, 1974. The minimum time for processing at that time was six months. The society was officially registered on June 16, 1975.

I think a lot of the success of the Langham Cultural Society is due to the broad diversity of this group. Although we have since been called hippies, this term hardly describes who we were at the time. Darelyn and I were business owners who, like anyone with a small café business, worked very hard to keep the doors open while raising our daughter Joli, and building our own home.

Barbara Scrivens was a teacher and strong advocate for women’s rights. Fred Hiigli worked hard at one of the local sawmills before getting a job in construction working for Jack Hale. Bart Darnell owned and operated Kaslo Insurance, had a family (wife Deloris and daughter Mandy), and was a strong activist for political and social awareness in the area. Jim Van Horn was a professional plumber, had a family (wife Fern and kids Jim, John, Elisabeth and Sara), and also served on village council. Alan Davidson worked for T&H sawmill as a carpenter, had a family (wife Gloria and daughter Andrea), and built domes for local residents.

Alan’s wife Gloria had the hardest job on the planet, motherhood, and also contributed to her local community. Pat and Jackie Bowyer owned and operated the Red and White grocery in Kaslo, Pat was the local coroner, and they were raising three kids; Susan, David and Nicola. Not only was the group diverse in their occupations, they varied in age, I was only 25 when I started organizing this group. Pat and Jackie were the elders.

Shortly after we sent our documents off to the registry, Bart Darnell resigned. Murray Ford, who had recently moved to Kaslo with his wife Ruth and had been coming to the board meetings, was keen on the project, so he was elected to replace Bart.

Ford was a brilliant photographer and took a lot of black and white photos of the building while it was in disrepair. Thanks to this, the Langham Cultural Society has some wonderful photos documenting the building. He also helped write the recreational facilities fund grant that we received for capital expenses to go along with our second LIP grant for labour.

We started having work parties at the Langham, clearing out junk and wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. We were determined to start off doing everything with volunteers to show our intent was worthy. Some people in Kaslo thought we were hippies and hippies in the Kootenay had a bad reputation for use of grant money, which of course was blown out of proportion. All the physical work on the building in the first year was done with volunteer labour.

In February 1975, Gloria Davidson resigned. Alan Dobie, a friend of hers, had just come to town. He was keen on the project and offered to take Gloria’s place. He was elected and went on to become the third president, overseeing the finishing of the second and third floors.

We held bake sales and dances at the scout hall and the Legion to raise money. Memberships were coming in and some folks gave donations. Councillor Peggy Bildstein and muralist Doug Riseborough each contributed $100 and many others gave as well.

In the summer of 1975 we held a benefit to raise money to redo the roof. We raised $1,350 to buy new shingles. Some local contractors, Paul Schipper and Don Dow, donated all the nails and the first half of the roof was completed with all volunteer labor. I led a work crew of volunteers to restore the first half of the roof, facing the Legion hall.

Jim Van Horn noticed an article in the paper advertising a workshop on restoring heritage buildings at Fort Steele. He showed it to me and I gave it to Fred. We thought it would be good to contact them and participate. Their response was very generous. There was some doubt whether the building was worth restoring. Fred’s boss Jack Hale convinced him it was rotten to the core. I invited the Fort Steele folks to have a look. They sent their supervisor and their head of restoration over. I invited Mayor Jack Humphries and a member of council to meet them. It went well and the Fort Steele reps told council the building would cost $250,000 “just to frame it up without any finishing.”

They said “all the framing and siding were cut from yellow pine, the most rot resistant wood out there.” What would have happened if Jim hadn’t seen this article?

After Jim’s first year as vice-president, he resigned and his wife Fern was elected to take his place. She went on to replace me after I resigned shortly before my term was up.

We received our first Local Initiatives Program grant to finish the roof and gut the building, and repair the wall along the Legion side. I appointed Fred Hiigli in charge of the renovations and to supervise work on our first grant. Fred did an amazing job of getting the most bang for our buck. He led a small crew through the dead of winter to finish the roof and the tough job of gutting the building. He then finished the ground floor with the aid of another LIP grant and a recreational facilities fund grant.

The second Langham benefit was held at the Kaslo curling rink in July 1976 and was even more successful than the first. Future benefit events were in the main skating rink and then moved to various farms and even on the street next to the Langham.

The Langham Centre had its grand opening July 17, 1977. I was very pleased to be asked to cut the ribbon, even though a rift occurred within the board of directors prior to this event and I resigned as a result.

The Langham Centre required a fulltime administrator. Arletta Byers (Arletta Stevens at that time) was hired. She applied for and received a Canada Council grant to pay her salary. Arletta also worked on the first LIP grants. With enthusiasm she contributed a great deal to getting the Langham Centre up and running. The contacts she made led to her getting a job in Victoria in the office of grants management where she remained many years. This is a great example of how the Langham Cultural Society created jobs in the community and how those jobs sometimes led to other jobs elsewhere.

During my time as the first president, we received two LIP Grants and one recreational facilities fund grant totaling close to $85,000. I spearheaded the first two Langham benefits using musicians from the Village Green Café roster. I did my best to govern in a democratic way even though some on the board thought I was a dictator. I was never hired on any of the grants received.

I am overwhelmed at the success of the Langham Cultural Society and forever grateful to all the people who contributed to its success. Fred had once said to me “Mike, what would happen if you and I quit?” My reply was “If the society doesn’t continue without us, then it wasn’t a good idea.”

Ideas are like doorways of opportunity. if we don’t open the door and walk through, we’ll never reach the other side. Thanks to all who walked through the Langham Cultural Society’s door of opportunity.

Michael Guthrie now lives in Seattle. He has performed all over the Pacific Northwest of the United States and has done numerous performances in British Columbia as well as the Calgary Folk Festival. He still contributes to his community in Seattle as well as Kaslo. He was given an honorary membership on the board of directors of History House of Greater Seattle for spearheading and producing their concert series Music in the Sculpture Garden. He also wrote a monthly column for Victory Review Magazine (“The Ramblin’ ‘Mike”) and volunteered for Victory Music for five years as a sound engineer. His website is moorafa.com.

Next: The Langham today

Previously

Part 7: Legends of the Langham, revisited

Part 6: The Langham in wartime

Part 5: The Langham’s changing faces

Part 4: Rowdy days for the Langham boys

Part 3: The life and times of Charles Kapps

Part 2: Birth of the Langham

Part 1: The Langham’s lost years