BRIEF HISTORY OF THE VILNA POOL HALL AND BARBERSHOP
(Images and much of the text courtesy of Architects David Murray and Allan Partridge)
In 1921 Steve Pawluk built a two story pool and dance hall but as fate would have it, the building burned down later that same year. Months later, Pawluk had rebuilt and opened the doors to the one story wooden boomtown building which still stands today. Information about the building prior to 1935 is still sketchy. A preliminary investigation was completed which looked at possible events and interventions within the building. What is evident is that the addition of the lean-to residence at the rear occurred very quickly and is probably close to the same age as the pool hall itself. The building consisted of the Pool Hall (with Barbershop) at the front. At the rear was the “house” with 4 rooms. The rear lean-to comprised approximately ½ of the original “house”.
In 1935, John and Sandra Taschuk moved into Vilna from a farm. They had three children; Ann, Bill, and Marie. John bought the Pool Hall in 1935 with earnings from his job working on the Shandro ferry. Bill attended school in Bellis until 1937. Ann was not living at home at that time, so only Marie, who was five years old at the time, moved with her parents in the residence at the rear of the Pool Hall. Bill Taschuk worked for his father from 1937 to 1942 and then he entered the army and served during World War Two in Vernon, B.C.
On September 1, 1947, Bill took over the store from his father. Bill married Lilly, whom he met in B.C. in 1942, also in 1947. After the war Bill trained to be a barber. Bill’s father was not a barber, so he hired Leo Wowk as the barber. Back then, the price for a game of snooker was only 10 cents.
Combinations of Pool Halls and Barbershops were common and existed in many small towns during that period. Pool halls were very much a male domain during that time so of course women or boys under 15 were not allowed in. However, this rule was regularly broken.
John Taschuk built the next door building (south) which became a Co-op store and eventually sold it to the Toronto Dominion Bank. John is reported to have been quite entrepreneurial. In 1947, John and Sandra retired to a house they built south of town. Bill and Lilly eventually moved into this house in the 1950’s after Bill’s parents retired to Edmonton and in the early 60’s tore down the rear half of the Pool Hall residence. John Taschuk died in 1965 and Sandra died in 1989.
In 1935, Marie was the only child still living at home. Her bedroom was the one in the NE corner of the “house”. About this time, she shared her room with her grandmother (maternal) who died later in the 1930’s. Marie remembers the root cellar being under her bedroom, with a trap door in the floor. Marie had a playhouse at the rear which is now found at the back of Bill and Lilly Taschuk’s house. The outhouse was located behind this shed building. There is every indication that the residence was a lively and loved place to have lived in.
The photo to the right included John and Chownick (listed as a “brother-in-law”), Sandra Taschuk (Bill and Marie’s mother), and Ann Taschuk (Bill and Marie’s sister), taken in 1940. The shed behind them is now on Bill’s property. There was a small “outhouse” adjacent to the shed.
A new floor was put into the Pool Hall in 1937. There was always a side door on the south side, which was the most convenient access to the outhouse at the back of the property. The front of the building was so rotten that it was torn down and rebuilt in the 1960’s. Apparently there were a number of vehicles which drove into the front of the building. This and the poor construction contributed to its demise. There was a brick chimney along the south wall of the Pool Hall at one time. The stove was always in its present location. It is a gravity-fed “Booker” coal stove.
The flue went across the ceiling to the chimney. When the brick chimney was removed, the run was shortened to its present location. The flue had to be cleaned out every few weeks in the winter to prevent chimney fires. Eventually they installed a ceiling mounted gas heater to keep the place warm at night when no one lived in the “house” anymore.
Marie Pylypa (nee Taschuk) supplied a rough drawing of the layout of the Pool Hall, including the earliest remembered configuration of the “house”. There was a rear, covered, south-facing porch (now demolished) which can be identified in the historical photographs. There was never a living room. Water was collected from rain for washing and drawn from the town well for drinking. Baths were seldom and far apart. Bill installed a washroom in the Pool Hall but the date of its construction is uncertain. Along the entire south property line there was a wooden walkway seen in the photo on the left. Although there was a garden between the “house” and the rear shed, it was not particularly large. There was no fence on the south property side of the property but climbing flowers were grown against the south wall of the building. Marie remembers sweet peas.
By the early 1970s, pool halls and barbershops had began their decline. Bill Taschuk blamed the Beatles for the changing tastes in men’s hair but he continued to operate the Barbershop and Pool hall until 1997 when he retired. Unfortunately Bill died not long after retiring, but the building was acquired by the Vilna Pool Hall Society whose intention was to restore it.
Because Bill had continued to operate up till his retirement plus the fact that the building was still in close to original condition, meant that it still had a high level of historical value. The only changes were the result of a car crashing through the facade which had to be replaced.
The Pool Hall still contains the original pre-WWI pool tables along with the original pool cue racks, scoring boards, handmade benches, and counter.
The society's plan was to restore the building as funding became available. Beginning in 2003 the foundations were replaced. In the following year, the heating and electrical systems were replaced and in 2004, the facade was reconstructed.
Vilna's Pool Hall & Barbershop remains Alberta's oldest operating pool hall and barbershop. It has also received designation from the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation. In 2005 the main building's restoration was completed and in the fall of that year, a grand re-opening was held.
Current plans include reconstructing the living quarters in the rear, adding a shed and outhouse, as well as building a wooden boardwalk as close as possible to how it exisited originally. Unfortunately the original living quarters and other buildings were demolished.