News

Delhi Belgian Club closing

Daniel R. Pearce

By Daniel R. Pearce, Simcoe Reformer

The Belgian Hall in Delhi will be closing at the end of the year. (FILE PHOTO)

The Belgian Hall in Delhi will be closing at the end of the year. (FILE PHOTO)

 

The Delhi Belgian Club, the site of numerous weddings, parties and concerts featuring big-name Canadian rock bands, will close at the end of the year.

 

The 14,000-square-foot hall is “just not viable anymore,” said club president Marc VandenBussche.

The club has struggled in recent years as its wedding business shrank, electricity bills soared and members withheld their annual dues.

Even if all 1,185 members paid up in full, it still wouldn't be enough to save the hall, said VandenBussche, whose grandfather helped start the club in 1948.

“You're still not running a viable business,” he said.

The James Street property will go on the market, he said, and the proceeds used to pay off its remaining bills.

A special shareholders meeting was held Tuesday night where a motion was made to close the hall.

An appeal was also made to members to pay up on dues one last time or make donations so the hall can avoid going into bankruptcy or receivership.

“We asked shareholders to open their hearts so we can close it with dignity,” VandenBussche said. “Some people brought cheques and left cheques.”

Rentals up to Dec. 31 will be honoured while the downstairs bar will remain open until the end of the year although on reduced hours.

When the hall closes, a lot of memories will go with it.

The club was the meeting point for the Belgian families who migrated to Canada and settled in the Delhi area, many of them getting into the tobacco industry in its early stages.

The hall was also the site of numerous weddings from the days when European families in the area held enormous receptions with hundreds of invited guests.

Since then, weddings have become smaller, said VandenBussche, and have relocated to other venues such as golf courses or to foreign destinations.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the hall hosted big-name performers such as Ronnie Hawkins, The Stampeders, Lighthouse, Crow Bar and Rush.

The closure will also leave three archery clubs that shoot there homeless.

Visiting archers nicknamed the hall “the palace” because it was so spacious, said Mary Ann Pieters, a shareholder in the club and long-time archer.

“Where do we go to find a place?” she asked. “We have to have a long building. We have to have a big place.”

Pieters met her husband George at the hall, and the pair have been active in helping the club since. They run an ongoing yard sale at the club throughout the summer months and help with the archery clubs.

The pair held their wedding reception at the hall as well as their 50th wedding anniversary party three years ago. Instead of accepting gifts, the Pieters asked for money and then donated it to the hall.

“We've been really committed to what we are doing,” she said.

The club ran into financial troubles before and got out of it. “I warned everyone in 2013,” said VandenBussche. “We got an influx of money. Then they forgot about us again.”

This time, however, the hall is faced with a broken down air-conditioner, outdated electrical equipment, and rising utility costs.

Monthly hydro bills have been as high as $5,700.

At Tuesday night's meeting, some members tried to offer ideas on how the club could survive, but the only option now is closure, said VandenBussche.

“I had to tell them, 'That's the way it was',” he said. “It wasn't easy.”

 

 

DPearce@postmedia.com