Sunset: Unlikely arts centre full of memories

Since 1959, Moberly hall has been a hub for community activity

Tom Holmes had just moved to the Sunset community when a neighbour came to his door asking for money.

“I’m a young married guy making all of about $125 a month and my wife gave them money,” the 83-year-old said. “So when they got my money to build [Moberly] hall, I figured I better get involved in that.”

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The year was 1959, and residents raised money, put hammer to nail and built a hall on park board land on Prince Albert Street near East 60th.

Holmes served as president of the hall’s association for years.

Area Little League and minor football groups, the NDP and Social Credit parties and the nearby Sikh temple have all held meetings at Moberly Hall. Phil Daum, who grew up on 60th, remembers the wild New Year’s Eve parties where Holmes dressed up as the New Year’s baby.

But as the decades wore on, members of the association felt worn out. The hall had become mainly a rental space and Holmes dreamt it would be transformed into an arts centre. “We didn’t have that much in the way of arts in the neighbourhood,” he said.

Sunset Community Centre association annexed the space in 1991. “The board members were probably more valuable to us than the building at the time because there wasn’t a lot you could do with this place,” said Daum, who sits on the board of the Sunset Community Centre association. “It was run down.”

Satellite programs from Sunset ran at Moberly but then wound down. The space needed a new lease on life.

The building was upgraded in 1999 with community centre money and what Daum called a “rare” provincial capital grant secured by the Sunset Community Centre Association, a grant that wouldn’t have been available to the parks board.

Moberly Arts and Cultural Centre officially opened in 2000. “It’s a Roundhouse East, as we like to call it,” Daum said.

Holmes says the arts programmers the park board has hired have made the place. Moberly hosts concerts, plays, dance performances, piano lessons, an Indo-Canadian women’s health clinic and an adaptive musical theatre group that trains people with an array of disabilities.

The centre’s vacant caretaker’s suite was also renovated and the space served as the test case for the park board’s artist in residence program, which has since spread to seven locations.

But 62-year-old Daum, who remembers the old farmhouse, stone walls, greenhouses and cows that occupied the land where Moberly Arts and Cultural Centre stands, says that because of its location, the arts centre isn’t well known.

The centre, which includes a black box theatre, a sprung floor and a kitchen and is perched on the corner of a large swathe of leafy green in the middle of a residential area, is a revelation to anyone not familiar with the area.

But it was once a home away from home for Holmes. He and his wife, Norma, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary there in 2005 and an artistic depiction of the couple is featured on a tile on one the walls. The community and an artist in residence created the tiles.

Holmes doesn’t get to Moberly as often as he would like, but he returns for the annual university and college big band day and special functions.

Seeing arts programmer Danita Noyes sparked a fond memory for him, Tuesday afternoon.

About a decade ago, a passerby heard music coming from the building, stopped and knocked. Holmes said when Noyes asked the stranger what he wanted, the man said he wanted a dance. So they did.

Daum credits community members with creating magical moments like that.

“This place would never have existed without the community going out and knocking on doors,” Holmes added.

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