Hooson’s last stand

After 22 years working to create a community hall, theatre advocate Paul Hooson moves on

Over the past two decades, you are more likely to have seen Paul Hooson getting theatrical in the municipal hall than you are to have seen him on-stage at Tir-na-Nog or Cates Hill Chapel. The clown and puppeteer says the reason for that is because he’s not an actor – just a champion for the theatre arts on Bowen Island. 

Last Monday, Hooson stood before council yet again, offering a brief history of the committees struck and reports written in an effort to move forward plans for a community hall on Bowen. After wrapping up, he told council that this presentation would be his last.

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“I’m feeling resigned,” said Hooson in an interview following the meeting. “I’m not sure if that’s a stage of grief, but that’s where I’m at.”

In the report he wrote up for council, called “Bowen Island Community Hall: A work in progress, or a project neglected?” Hooson lays out possible next steps for moving the project forward, but says he’s not optimistic that they will be taken.

His presentation to council last week, he says, was motivated by the fact that as each new council has assumed leadership it has misinterpreted the work and objectives of the Arts Council.

“I wanted to set the record straight before I quit,” he says. “What we want is a Community Hall, not a Community Center: a modest, multi-purpose space for the performing arts and public assembly.”

Among the uses of this kind of space, he adds, would be weddings and banquets as well as “soft” recreational activities such as yoga, and various kinds of seniors activities.

Hooson started his quest for such a space back in 1993, when he played the role of an advisor on the “theatre” aspect of a Community and Performing Arts Centre for the Bowen Island Parks and Recreation Task Force. 

The report they produced recommended the creation of a 20 thousand square foot building to accommodate artistic and recreational units beside Bowen Island Community School.

After the community rejected a proposal to build a “temporary” community centre (4,400 square feet) 1997, and after the creation of the Cultural Master Plan (2003), the Bowen Island Arts Council created another committee, and another report. This time the recommendation was for a 5,000 square foot hall.

“We had explored all the island events looking at needs and the number of people attending these events, the proposal came with a sound business plan,” says Hooson. “We knew how the funds would be raised, and we had plans for revenue sustainability. Our stumbling block, though, was land.”

Hoosen says that other small communities had land donated to them for the purpose of community halls or community centers, but despite their efforts, the Arts Council could not secure such a donation to help bring their plan to fruition.

In 2006, that stumbling block was lifted when council offered up Lot 2 of municipal lands, the area between the soccer field at BICS and Senior’s Lane. This was followed by more proposed next steps, analysis, timelines and committees. 

“For 10 years now each council has received well-researched reports offering them various options for moving forward on this project,” says Hoosen. “Instead of implementing any of the report findings, each council has chosen to do more research instead.”

On the final page of Hooson’s recent report, there is a photo of the Jericho Arts Centre, a roughly 6,000 square foot wood frame building that has been in use for 75 years so far, and will likely another 50.

“I could’ve used a prettier building as an example of what we could have here on Bowen, but something this simple, this is all we need,” he says. “Two years ago I was so down about this that I considered moving off the island, but I’ve been here 30 years and it is a great community. We will carry on. And the show will go on, even if it happens in a tent.”

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