For about 70 years, Saskatchewan’s Cypress Hills Community Centre was where area cottagers got to know each other. But by the early 2000s, it was in rough shape and the community barely used it. Then Mother Nature and stubborn bureaucrats reminded the cottagers what they were about to lose.
The moment of change came in April 2011 when a heavy snowstorm collapsed the roof. For two years following that, the Friends of Cypress Hills, a group of cottagers who take on improvement projects in the park, lobbied for funding from the provincial and federal governments to rebuild. They were turned down over and over. In 2014, they decided to build a new community centre themselves.
“There was a lot of nostalgia,” says Alvin Marshall, who retired to his Cypress Hills cabin in 2006. “We didn’t want to lose the place where we would get together.”
The Friends used $70,000 in the bank, from fundraisers and collecting returnables around the park, to start construction. Alvin and another cabin owner, Gerald Gartner, became the two-man building committee, doing most of the work, hiring professionals, and calling in volunteers when needed. Other Friends secured loans and donations, mostly from fellow cottage owners. They were efficient, finishing in spring 2017, two years ahead of schedule, under budget, and with all loans paid off.
In total, the brand new 5,000 sq. ft. community centre cost $500,000; the Friends also added $80,000 worth of equipment, including a portable stage and appliances for the industrial kitchen.
Demand has surprised Alvin. This year, the centre is booked almost every weekend from May through September for weddings and family gatherings. Every Wednesday, the knitters and quilters take it over. There’s even been talk of a regular farmers’ market.
“It’s more satisfying knowing we did this all ourselves,” says Alvin.