Golden Spike Hall, west of Edmonton, is typical of rural community halls in Alberta. It’s a utilitarian structure in the middle of nowhere on a large piece of land with a few outdoor amenities, including a derelict baseball field. Such halls are, in theory, places for country folks to gather and celebrate special occasions, though, in my experience, they almost always look sadly abandoned, like no one has had fun, or even gotten drunk, there in decades.
One thing I love about stopping at these halls is kicking around the quiet grounds and getting a glimpse of what counted for recreation 50 years ago when many of these halls were originally built. Baseball was big back then. Almost every rural hall in these parts has a ball field, though most appear not be used anymore for organized games. In fact, most are so overgrown, unmaintained, and generally ignored as to look like semi-ruins of a dying, mid-century sporting ritual. The fencing is usually a good indicator of when the diamond was last used for a contest more serious than a family picnic.
Old playgrounds are common too, ones with the classic, dangerous equipment of my youth--metal teeter totters, steep steel slides, and those spinning tops that are now outlawed. Sometimes you’ll see those huge, basic swing sets with rubber seats and good old squeaky chains. If you’re lucky, you might see a pole for tetherball, a game popular in the 1970s, and made ironically cool again by Napoleon Dynamite. (Almost never will you see an actual ball and cord attached to the pole.)
Golden Spike Hall has horseshoe pits, also a pretty common feature at these halls. Horseshoes are another forgotten pastime, one I recall from the church picnics of my childhood. Anyone who’s tried this game will recall the heft of the shoes, the clanking sound of hitting the metal stake, and the thrill of a “ringer” or even a “leaner.” Tossing horseshoes was once a popular thing, but you rarely see it happen anymore. In recent years, the main places I’ve see (usually overgrown) horseshoe pits is at regional park campgrounds in Saskatchewan, most of which were constructed in the early 1970s and have remained in weird time-impervious bubbles ever since.
But what’s unusual about the pits at Golden Spike Hall is how they’re laid out stadium style, with six lanes (?), er, I don’t know, pitches(?) in front of two sets of bleachers. (These pitches seem dangerously close together, a recipe for serious injury, especially if there’s alcohol involved.) Imagine a time when crowds of spectators would gather to watch a horseshoe tournament, the way people now gather en masse to watch, say, a curling bonspiel take place on multiple sheets in front of a crammed stadium.
The Golden Spike bleachers are old, the pits unkempt, certainly, but this area of the grounds looks better and more recently used than the old ball field next to it. Maybe horseshoes are still a thing out here among the Lutheran farmers looking for some old-school rural fellowship.