For what may be the first time in a century, the church building at 1620 Fernwood Ave. known as the Orange Hall will be closed to public gatherings.
The two-storey 1912 structure has been sold by the Protestant fraternal and charitable Orange organization to a family expected to convert it into their home - spelling the end of everything from Tuesday night sessions of the Victoria Blue Grass Association to yoga groups, theatre and other community events.
St. Mark's Traditional Anglican Church, which worshipped there for the last two years, is moving to St. Saviour's in Vic West. The roughly 20 other community groups that rented space in the Fernwood hall on a regular basis - for $25 per hour - will have to find somewhere else to meet.
"We didn't think we wanted to put it any higher," notes Premier Loyal Orange Lodge secretary George Ferguson, who says in a letter to renters that it was his "sad duty" to tell them it was no longer available. "Our time was up, basically, in that location."
"All of this has happened so fast our heads are spinning," says Rev. Stan Sinclair of St. Mark's, noting the owners are expected to take possession in October. The hall wasn't a hard sell. Three offers came in within four days of it going on the market before it was sold for about $425,000, Ferguson says. "We kept it in pretty good shape."
But with only about six local Orange members left among what used to be three Victoria lodges, it was time to sell.
After the church's moving day on Tuesday, a large portrait of King William of Orange crossing Ireland's River Boyne remained propped on the lower floor.
The Fernwood hall was first built as a Unitarian Church for about $3,000 in 1912. The building was later used by Presbyterians, and finally by the Orange Lodge for 50 years or more.
"It was good to know it was built as a place of worship," Sinclair says, adding his flock grew from eight to 60 in their time at the hall.
Ferguson, also a traditional Anglican, helped the congregation from the first. A Sept. 4 church bulletin praised him for the many donations he provided the congregation.
"[T]hrough him we obtained our altar, altar rails, and so many precious gifts," the bulletin states. "Now he is making one further gesture, and deeply appreciated: He is giving us the piano, the large standing cabinet and the dishes and utensils from the hall! The piano will benefit the school of ballet (at St. Saviour's) as well as ourselves."
Proceeds from the hall's sale are being held in trust.
Members of the local Orange organization will now look at amalgamating with the Maple Ridge Orange Lodge or using the funds to construct another lodge elsewhere in Canada, Ferguson says.
Michelle Schroeder, manager of the building, says the hall's many renters will likely have a tough time finding a replacement space that's as pleasant, especially one with free parking.
"It had an atmosphere about it that was really very inviting, very cosy," she says.
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