On a misty Thursday afternoon, a row of firefighters, some in uniform, others in civilian clothes, watch a solitary excavator tear away at history.
As the large machine does its work, ripping apart wooden walls and floors, tearing out steel girders and knocking down concrete blocks of the old View Royal fire hall, comments such as “there goes the bar,” or “Hey Bev, there goes your office,” are overheard against the noise of the demolition.
Once the new View Royal public safety building was completed and opened earlier this year down the road at 333 Island Hwy., everyone knew the old hall on Four Mile Hill was not long for this world.
Even though they knew this day was coming, watching the old fire hall come down brought back a number of memories for those assembled Friday afternoon.
“It’s two-fold for me, but I think for a lot of the guys too. Being a member, my children grew up there. They grew up with family functions and the fire hall,” said Lt. Rob Marshall, who joined the volunteer ranks in 2002.
As educational officer for the View Royal Fire Department, Marshall is the guy who conducts tours of the fire hall for school groups and others.
“A lot of children have come through this (building), and those children’s children have been coming through the fire hall,” he said. “It’s a real change in generations here. It’s really sad, actually.”
The old hall was constructed with two bays in 1957 for $13,500 and was added on to two different times, bringing the capacity up to five bays. It was part fire hall, part clubhouse and a real community meeting place for volunteers and others.
“It’s more than a building,” Marshall said. “We never noticed it as much until experiencing it coming down now. The way we refer to it, the new building is fantastic, as it is, but it’s work, it’s where you go to work. This building was more like a home.”
As he watched the excavator smash through what used to be the weight room, with its large mirrors along the back wall; the former bar – the department removed alcohol from the premises some years back – and the second-floor offices, Marshall recalled how the upper floor was mostly a large open space when he joined the force.
The hall was enlarged, with more facilities installed, to accommodate the size of the department and its needs, he said.
“The biggest thing that we miss in the new hall is that closeness. In here the old kitchen was the focal point and all the offices were around the kitchen, so you were always in the know, everything that was going on. It was such a tight-knit small space.”
Longtime friend Lt. Heath Bevan, who became a volunteer the year before Marshall and serves today as the department’s full-time training officer, mans the GoPro camera taking video of the demolition on the day.
Asked for his thoughts on watching the demolition, he said, “Kind of good, but it’s kind of bad. We’ve got the new hall … but there’s a lot of history here. It definitely brings a tear to your eye to see a building like this coming down.”
While the new building was sorely needed, is much more efficient and has everything contained inside a climate controlled area, he said, “it’s bittersweet … Unfortunately for this building, it did its time.”
The footage taken by Bevan will form part of the department’s archival history, but it will also allow Fire Chief Paul Hurst – he was at an out-of-town meeting this day – to see the place come down. Hurst, a lifelong View Royal resident whose father was a volunteer firefighter, volunteered himself at age 14 in 1984 and has been full-time with the department since 1987.