(Phil Melnychuk/THE NEWS) Sampo Hall at Webster’s Corners, was torn down on Tuesday.

Another old Maple Ridge building bites the dust

Sampo Hall torn down Tuesday

The old turquoise pioneer building that loomed over Dewdney Trunk Road is no more.

On Tuesday, an excavator was making short work of Sampo Hall, which stood for decades as a focal point for the Finnish community at Webster’s Corners and 256th Street in east Maple Ridge.

The hall was built in about 1915 or 1916, but had fallen into disrepair.

“It’s a sad thing,” said Mel Soderholm, whose parents came from Finland in the first two decades of the 20th Century.

His wife Lynda said she was hoping the city would repair the building and that a new community hall there would be a dream come true.

Soderholm remembers a thriving Finnish community in Webster’s Corners when the hall would host weekly dances and bands. It was also hosted community dinners, card game tournaments, plays and badminton and gymnastics.

The premises included a Finnish sauna.

“That was real Finnish culture. We were brought up with that hall,” Soderholm added.

Mel and his dad Uuno mowed the lawn and kept up the grounds and also replaced the floor in the colourful building.

Maple Ridge Museum and Community Archives curator Shea Henry said that for the first half of the 20th Century, Sampo Hall was “the heart and soul of the Finnish community in Webster’s Corners, and because of that, its historical value cannot be measured.

“It will join the list of other community halls like the Albion Hall, Hammond Hall, Japanese Hall in Whonnock, Reedsdale Hall, and the 1st Whonnock Community Hall that are now gone, but not forgotten,” Henry said.

“Sampo” is the name of a magical mill which ground out corn, salt and coins for hardworking people in the Finnish epic poem Kalevala, written by a country doctor named Elias Lonnrot, according to the Maple Ridge Museum.

The current owner of the property said the building was taken down because it was deteriorating.

Ernie Wiens bought the property about a year and a half ago.

“It was in very poor condition and any kind of renovation would have cost far more than rebuilding entirely,” Wiens said Thursday. “How do you take care of a building like that?” There was no insulation in the building and it wasn’t built on a concrete foundation, he added.

As well, the Maple Ridge Fire and Rescue issued several fines related to the state of the building. Wiens though said that the old hall was regularly checked and no one was getting inside.

“Right now, we have no plans for it. We’ll see in the future what happens,” Wiens said.

He pointed out that he hasn’t refused any offer to sell the building to the community, as noted in some online comments.

The demolition of Sampo Hall follows the tear-down in 2013 of one of the old Co-op buildings at 256th Street and Dewdney Trunk Road, leaving only the old store, formerly known as the Webster’s Corners Co-op Exchange, as the lone remnant of the Finnish community in that location.

Soderholm, 80, notes that the Finnish community also donated the land on which sits Webster’s Corners elementary.

He’s spent his whole life largely on the family property on 252nd Street that his mom bought from her uncle in the 1930s for $500.

Soderholm said that when Finns settled in, a priority was getting a sauna built.

“That was the first thing Finns would build on their property when they moved in,” Soderholm said.

His property still has its sauna, looking the same it did when it was built in 1940, with a wood-fired stove.

Friday night used to be the main night for saunas when people would get cleaned up after a week’s work.

While it’s sad that Sampo Hall is no more, Soderholm said that’s just the way life goes.

“Nothing is forever.”

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Mel Soderholm shows still functioning sauna built in 1940s in Finnish community in Webster’s Corners. Phil Melnychuk/THE NEWS

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