By JOHN SCOTT
Globe and Mail Reporter
COBOURG -- A national campaign
to raise $1.5-million to restore Co-
bourg's 110-year-old town hall to its
original grandeur has been launched
by a citizens' group.
One of Ontario's more imposing pub-
lic buildings, Victoria Hall is in danger
of collapsing because dry rot has been
eating through the timbers that sup-
port its upper floors.
The fungus was discovered a year
ago when several beams under the
floor of the hall's opera house were ex-
posed. Workmen, trying to strengthen
the floor, noticed the rot at the ends of
the hand-hewn timbers.
Work was stopped, the upper portion
of the building closed to the public and
building consultants brought to look
over the halL It was designed in the
Palladian style by Toronto architect
Kivas Tully and officially opened by
the Prince of Wales on Sept. 7. I860.
The consultants' studies took almost
a year, and when the engineers and
the architects submitted their reports
the enormity of the problem and the
cost of restoration astounded town
Figures batted about at that time to
save and restore the hall varied from
$250,00 to $1-minon.
"We knew that we couldn't raise
that kind of money in Cobourg alone,"
Mayor Jack Heenan said. "Even if
every man, woman, and child in the
town donated $10 we would only have
$100,000, and this wouldn't be enough
to even get the project started."
For a while council was at a loss.
The upper floors remained closed and
the power was turned off. To many it
looked as though the Grand Old Lady
of King St. was doomed to be torn
down and replaced by a parking lot.
That's when Lenah Fisher stepped
in. She is a town councillor and the
owner of another of Cobourg's famous
landmarks, the present-day restaurant
in the house that was the birthplace of
Marie Dressier. She is also a woman
with a great love for anything pertain-
ing to Ontario's history, and adamant
in her determination to save Victoria
Mrs. Fisher recruited to her cause
the rest of council and John Taylor, a
Toronto artist and director of the Co-
bourg Art Gallery. At their insistence
letters began to flow from the office of
town clerk Bryan Baxter to officials in
Ottawa outlining the problem and ask-
ing for assistance. All the letters re-
ceived polite rejections.
At this point Mr. Taylor suggested
that a Society for the Restoration of
Victoria Hall be formed and that peo-
ple all over Canada be asked to con-
tribute to the cause. Tuesday evening
this society was born in the courtroom
of the hall, when more than 50 people
pledged support to the campaign.
The society plans to raise funds
through walkathons, dances, souvenir
trade, door-to-door canvassing and, it
hopes, a province-wide lottery. It also
hopes that publicity will bring in dona-
tions from across the country.
""We might even sell non-negotiable
shares in the society," Mr. Taylor
said, "Our first objective is to raise
$200,000. If we can get this kind of
money in the bank then we can pro-
ceed to hire a financial director and
call for tenders on the first phase of
He said this would probably involve
tearing out the whole interior of the
middle part of the building and re-
building it in its original Georgian
Radiators that deface many of the
walls would be covered and a modern
elevator, hidden behind partitions,
would carry people to the opera house.
"We would also explore the feasibil-
ity of changing the opera house back
to its original use as a ballroom," Mr.
Taylor said, "perhaps by using remov-
able seats or a floor that could be
raised and lowered."
When the building was constructed
the ballroom had a coved ceiling and a
supper room at the back. The ceiling
was taken down when the opera house
was installed in 1890. The supper room
is now part of the janitor's apartment,
sealed off from the Opera House.
Restoration of the building would
take 5 to 10 years. Mr. Tavlor said. He
said $6-million was needed to restore
Toronto's St Lawrence Hall, which is
similar in style.
"This building is far superior to St.
Lawtence Hall. The stonework on the-
front of the building is more intricate
and of a much finer workmanship and
the corinthian columns supporting
the outer arch are the most beautiful
I've ever seen."
Built entirely of Cleveland tree
stone, the building was started In 1856
and completed four years later. The
initial cost was estimated at $25,000
but it actually took $110,000.
Just over the main entrance are
carved the national emblems of the
United Kingdom, the rose. the thistle.
and the shamrock. Sharing this space
is a large bearded face which forms
the keystone of the arch.
Inside the foyer, little remains of the
original building. The old pine floors
have been ripped up and replaced by
modern tiles of black and white. Sev-
eral of the beautiful arched windows
that faced out on to King Street have
disappeared from the entrance into
temporary offices the town had built
in both corners of the foyer.
Mr. Taylor refers to these as "rabbit
hutches" and says when the building
is restored they will be gone.
The town has maintained offices in
the two wings of the hall ever since it
was built These would remain in the
building, Mr. Baxter said. For many
years the police department was also
located in the hall, but it moved out
eight months ago when the town's ar-
mories -was purchased from the fed-
The opera house had been used reg-
ularly by the Port Hope-Cobourg
Drama Society until it was closed last
"We know where we are going,"
Mayor Heenan said, "but we don’t
know how we are going to get there
yet. I do know, though, if we hope to
keep this country together we're going
to have to stop tearing down our his-
torical buildings and replacing them
with modern structures of brick and -
glass. These old buildings are our his-
tory, and once they are gone our his-
tory is gone."