When I think of my home community, Attawapiskat, on the James Bay coast, many of my memories have to do with certain landmarks or buildings. When my parents first moved to the community there were very few buildings. By the time I was born the community had developed quite a lot and there were many houses and community buildings.
One of these buildings marked the many changes that took place in the community while I was growing up. In the 1960s and 70s Attawapiskat had a major sawmill operation that provided the community with plenty of local lumber for constructing new homes. One of the buildings that was created from this lumber was a large warehouse that was built on the edge of the then-small town to store newly cut lumber. In time the sawmill business was slowly replaced by the development of acquiring lumber and plywood from modern mills in the south. The town also grew and soon the old warehouse, which continued to be used as storage for wood products, was located in the midst of a growing community.
During this time, my parents acquired a new home across the street from this old green coloured building that I knew well in my childhood. This old warehouse held many memories for me. My younger brother Joseph and I spent many afternoons in the old building collecting scrap pieces of wood blocks to bring home to play with. I come from a large family of eight brothers and sisters, so toys were a luxury we did not enjoy often. The wood blocks provided us with toys to play with. The old warehouse was also an exciting place for us as we often watched carpenters work and often we approached the building in awe of what was taking place inside. We would peek through the large double doors to spy on the various activities that took place there.
As I grew older, new storage facilities were built further away from town and the old warehouse was no longer needed. The interior was then refinished and the exterior painted in bright white. It was now a community hall. At first it was the site of lively dances that lasted all night with live bands. Later on, the space was used for Bingo events and other major gatherings.
In the mid 1980s, our local band office burned down in a major fire that consumed a complex of old buildings that housed the community’s administration. After this fire, the offices were temporarily set up at the community hall for about a year while a new band office was constructed. It was at about this time when the old white building was covered over in a new layer of exterior green coloured metal panelling. The change transformed the old centre into a temporary band office.
After a new band office was built and the offices moved out of the community hall, dances and bingos were again held on a regular basis inside the old building. The early 1990s was a time when the community hall began to be used as the site of major wedding receptions that featured great feasts for the entire community. I remember a period as a young teenager when several of my older cousins, brothers and sisters married in a succession of four or five years. The old building was the scene of fiddle music, step dancing, the pop and country sounds of the Nakogee Brothers and the Attawapiskat Rock Band (ARB). There was always something exciting happening within its walls.
Sadly, a few years ago, the old building that had started out as a warehouse was destroyed by fire in a night time blaze that consumed the entire structure. A brand new home now sits on the site of the old community hall. It’s strange to think that a building can mark the passage of time and has such a prominent place in my childhood memories. Fortunately, for those younger than me, a new building was constructed a few years ago behind the local school through fund-raising efforts. The new Reg Louttit Sports complex features a large gymnasium and indoor rink. This state of the art building is used for local dances, bingos and receptions and dinners and will provide a place for many more happy memories.