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Victoria Hall Welcomes Premier
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Victoria Hall welcomes Premier

Ontario Premier William G. Davis will re-lay the cornerstone of Cobourg’s 112-year old Victoria Hall of Tuesday, June 6, 1972 at 7:00 p.m., in a public ceremony.

Victoria Hall, a massive Georgian-style stone building is considered to be among the finest public buildings of its period in Canada. Designed by Toronto architect Kivas Tully, it has been declared a national monument, and once restored, is expected to become a major attraction along the Lake Ontario shore.

It has served as municipal offices and courthouse, and also contains a large opera house, which was used continuously until last year, when engineers reported that major structural repairs were needed. A committee of local citizens was formed and a nationwide campaign planned to raise $1.7 million. Restoration architect Peter Stokes was retained.

Restoration plans will refurbish the municipal and court space, but also provide an elegant opera house, municipal art gallery, archives, museum, plus a ratskeller in the basement. The original office used by Cobourg’s Father of Confederation, Hon. James Cockburn, will be restored as it was in the 1860’s.

Sir Allan MacNab, Prime Minister of Canada, laid the original cornerstone for the building in 1856. The Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, opened the building at the gala ball in 1860. He arrived by ship at Cobourg’s waterfront, and was drawn in an open carriage, pulled by some of the town’s leading citizens to the hall.

Cobourg’s first settler arrived in 1789. By the 1830’s it was larger than York, and a major port along Lake Ontario. It boomed through the 1840’s and 1850’s, and townspeople built a railway north to Peterborough, the Cobourg and Peterborough Railway. There were dreams of future greatness when plans were made for the “city hall”.

But the dreams were never achieved during the last century.

Today, Cobourg has 12,000 population of 17,000 if the built up fringe areas are included. But all this may change soon. The province foresees 100,000 population in the area as part of its regional development program.

The restored Victoria Hall is expected to provide a true center for the future community.

There are plans to remember many famous Cobourg people in the restored Victoria Hall. Among them are artist Paul Kane, Rev. Egerton Ryerson principal of Victoria College; stagecoach operator William Weller who tied together Ontario transportation. James Cockburn, Father of Confederation; (?), Father Francis Duffy padre of “Fighting Sixty-Ninth” and actresses Marie Dressler, Katharine Cornell and Beatrice Lillie.

GREAT DAY COMING--- On December 30, 1856, Sir Allan MacNab, prime minister of Canda, laid the cornerstone for Victoria Hall. On September 7, 1860, the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, opened the building.

Next Tuesday, June 6, 1972, Ontario Premier William Davis will “re-lay the cornerstone”, marking the inaugural of the restoration of the architectural gem to its original grandeur and making it a centre of the Cobourg community of the future.

FOR CORNERSTONE-- (?) draftsmen working for Peter Stokes, restoration architect for Victoria Hall, examined (?) core removed this week from a stone of Victoria Hall. Into this space in the stone will go a sealed cylinder containing documentation on the restoration, coins, and a copy of this edition of the Cobourg Sentinel-Star.

Here is the inaugural ceremony program

The inaugural ceremony for the restoration of Victoria Hall is expected to last about an hour on Tuesday evening.

AT 7p.m. precisely, the ceremony will begin, with “God Save the Queen”, followed by an inspection of the guard, invocation by Bishop H.H. Marsh, and a welcoming speech by Mayor Jack Heenan.

Then comes Hon. Leslie M. Frost’s dedication of the Town’s new standard, remarks by Deputy-Reeve Mrs. Lenah Fisher, who has been the prime mover behind the restoration, comments by MP Russ Honey, and introduction of the Premier by MPP Russ Rowe. Then Mr. Davis will speak and re-lay cornerstone. Donald Philp, restoration society president will conclude the ceremony, and “O Canada” will be sung.


Anthony Covert Massie

Master of Ceremonies J.H. Covert Massie

The Cobourg Kiltie Concert Band

Roland G. White, Conductor


The Pioneer Platoon of

The Royal Regiment of Canada


Rt. Rev. H.H. Marsh, D.D.

Bishop of the Yukon (Retired)


His Worship John A. Heenan

Mayor of the Town of Cobourg


Hon. Leslie M. Frost, P.C., C.C., Q.C.

Premier of Ontario (1949-1961)


Mrs. Lenah Field Fisher

Deputy Reeve of The Town of Cobourg


Russell C. Honey, Q.C., M.P.

Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons


Russell D. Rowe, M.P.P.

Deputy Speaker of House of Commons


Hon. William G. Davis, M.P.P., LL.D.

Premier of the Province of Ontario


Donald F. Philp, President

The Society for the Restoration of Victoria Hall


The Cobourg Kiltie Concert Band

Hon. Leslie Frost unfurls Cobourg’s Standard

Cobourg’s new standard, approved by the College of Heralds, will be officially unfurled on Tuesday evening by former Ontario premier Hon. Leslie M. Frost.

The standard, a square shaped flag is mostly in blue, yellow and red.

It was commissioned by the town two years ago, when it was decided to update the town’s crest and to have it recognized by the College of Heralds.

Mr. Frost was premier of Ontario from 1949 to 1961.

As a lawyer in Lindsay, he appeared several times in the courtroom of Victoria Hall. He was appointed a patron of the restoration society.

This will be the first public viewing of the new standard which will be flown from all municipal buildings.

The standard is evolved form the coat of arms. Its red maple leaf if for Canada, its two black circles represent gun barrels for the town’s military history. The two gold lions are from the royal arms of England, and they are holding the white rose of Cobourg.

The blue and white used in the standard are the predominant colors in the Cobourg family of Saxony, from which the town derived its name. Originally know as the village of Hamilton, the settlement was renamed Cobourg after the marriage of Prince Leopold of Saxe-Cobourg, in Germany. The time was 1819, and someone made a spelling mistake, and there has been an “o” in Cobourg ever since.

The Cobourg Fire Deparment will hold their Annual Festival in
On Tuesday Evening, Dec. 22, 1863.
Addresses will be delivered by several
leading citizens. A number of amateurs, ladies
and gentlemen, have kindly consented to enliven
the evening with Firemen’s Songs, Glees, &c., &c.
Our celebrated
Prize Brass Band
Have generously tendered their services.
Served at Ten o’clock in Mr. Pratt’s best style,
The citizens are respectfully invited to attend
without further notice.
Committee of Management.
W. Jex,--Chief Engineer,
T.B. CLENCH—1st ass’t do.
W. HARGRAFT, --- 2nd do.
W. BATTELL – Capt. No. 1
Geo. PRINGLER --- Capt. No. 2
D. McALLISTER,-- Capt. H.&L.
Tickets admitting gentleman and ladies
1$; to be obtained at the principal places of
business in town, or of any of the Committee.
Sec. C.F.B.
Cobourg, Nov. 26th, 1863

“PEOPLE PLACE”--- For over a century, Cobourg’s old Victoria Hall has been a “people Place”, as this “Firemen’s Festival” advertisement of 1863 shows. With its restoration, it will continue to house municipal and court offices, but it will also contain a refurbished opera house, art gallery, archives, meeting rooms, and even a ratskeller in the basement. It will be a real “people place” of the coming century.

PREMIER WILLAIM DAIVS – Ontario’s Premier will be in Cobourg on Tuesday for the Victoria Hall ceremonies. Mr. Davis, 42, has been premier since early 1971.

Crowds, train

Nearly 80 people are expected to arrive on the “Victoria Hall Special” Canadian National train on Tuesday evening from Toronto

Leaving Union Station at 5 p.m., it will bring many Toronto businessmen, historians and former Cobourg residents to town. Switching down Spring St., the train will stop at King St. where the crowd will walk up the gaily decorated main street to Victoria Hall for the relaying of the cornerstone ceremony.

Loudspeakers will carry the speeches along the street to the crowds.

When the Prince of Wales came to Cobourg in 1860

The re-laying of the cornerstone ceremony on Tuesday night has a symbolic parallel to the first cornerstone allying in 1856.

It was 1860, when the new Victoria Hall was completed, and the then Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, was visiting Canada. His mother, Queen Vitoria, was on the throne.

Cobourg’s new hall was named for the Queen.

When the Prince arrived, a group of loyal citizens pulled his carriage by hand up Division St. to King St., and west to Victoria Hall.

After the building was officially opened, a grand ball took place in the ballroom. Years later, a sloping floor was installed and it became an opera house. The floor was recently removed as work began on the restoration of the hall.

It was quite a party!

The Prince danced till dawn with several Cobourg girls, then went to the home of Hon. Sidney Smith at the west side of Cobourg where he spent the night. The old mansion has long since burned, but the ruins are still there, in what is known ass the “Tracey property”.

The Prince also planted a tree on the Dumble property on D’Arcy St.

The next morning, he left for Peterborough by the Cobourg-Peterborough railway. No one was to sure of the safety of the bridge across Rice Lake, so they took him across by boat, then on by train to Peterborough, thence, back to Port Hope and to Toronto.

He would remain Prince of Wales for 40 years, then old and fat, he became King Edward VII, to reign for only a decade.

Edward was the great-grandfather of the present Queen Elizabeth II.

Here, in the words of the time, reprinted form a 112-year old book, is the story of the visit to Cobourg.

The source if “the Tour of H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, through British America and the United States” published in Montreal in 1860.

The Kingston arrived at Belleville at nine o’clock that evening. The bells of the churches rang out gaily, and the greatest joy was manifested by the inhabitants. Great care had been bestowed on the ornamentation of the town, and on the intended reception. The arrangements perfected were extremely good.

Nine arches had been erected. The ladies of the town, with commendable zeal, had been, for a long time, working to give the place a fine appearance. The town was filled with farmers from miles around, together with their whole families; with strangers, and others. Everything in fact promised to come off well; but, by some very unaccountable means, everything went off in the opposite direction.

The Orangemen who reside in, and near here, in great numbers, had erected tow arches, but no party emblems were displayed on them. The Orangemen themselves consented no tot walk; but next morning (6th) outside influence began to work. Flags of a partisan nature were hung form them, and the Orangemen mustered in full numbers; in full regalia, with their bands of music, paraded the street, determined to receive the Prince. When this state of things became known to H.R.H., no alternative was left him but to remain on board, and proceed to Cobourg, which he accordingly did at half-past nine o’clock. It was perfectly touching to witness the sorrowful countenances of the good portion of the people of the town of Belleville; all their exertions, all their toil, destroyed in an hour, by the mere caprice of strangers. But at the town of Cobourg he received a welcome which he will not easily forget.

No partisan displayers were warranted or tolerated there; everybody worked with a will and love that will ever be commendable.

The Kingston appeared off the town near nine o’clock at night. The beach was crowded to give the Prince a regular demonstrative welcome; and when, therefore, the steamer came up to the wharf, ay, and long before, the enthusiasm displayed was intense.

The whole city was brilliantly illuminated, and presented one of the finest effects ever witnessed. Rockets were set off, a royal salute fired, and a Guard of Honour of the Volunteer Rifles presented arms as His Royal Highness landed. His carriage was drawn by a newly organized Society composed of the gentlemen of Cobourg, called “Native Canadians”, with silver maple leaves on their breasts, who carried lighted torches, and were escorted by the National Societies, the Volunteer Cavalry and Rifles, and by the people generally, who cheered and hurrahed until they were hoarse. The Prince and his suite were taken through the lighted streets to the Town Hall, a fine new building which was gorgeously illuminated. Here H.R.H. received the several Addresses from the Mayor, Victoria College, the Magistrates, Brighton Council, &c., &c., and gave his replies and immediately after, entered the building and opened a ball at eleven o’clock, dancing until broad daylight. The following are the names of the fortunate ladies he danced with fifteen in all :-

Miss Beatty (daughter of the Mayor), Miss Ewart, Mrs. Reid, Miss Fortune (Sheriff’s daughter), Miss Pringle, Hon. Mrs. Sidney Smith, Miss Daintry, Miss Powell (Niagra), Miss Burnham, Miss Bennet, Mrs. Cubitt, Miss Hall, Miss M. Boswell, Miss Gaver, Miss Barron.

After the ball, H.R.H. and suite, with the Governor General and the other gentlemen, retired to the mansion of the Hon. Sidney Smith (Postmaster General); and, after a slight repose, left Cobourg on the morning of the 7th, by railway for Peterboro, amidst the most hearty demonstrations of loyalty and joy.

The train arrived at Rice Lake in due time. And here the royal party took the steamer Otonabee, named after the river of that name. The lake is called Rice on account of the great quantities of wild rice that grow in it.

After crossing the lake in safety, the royal party again took the cars.

The scenery in and around this lake, abounds with singular beauty: the many small island that dot its surface give it a very enchanting aspect.

1856 cornerstone laying details preserved in old newspaper files

Plans in 1856 for the laying of the cornerstone at Victoria Hall were quite elaborate, according to Old Times in Cobourg and District by Edwin C. Guillet—right down to a subscription ball at the Albert Rooms.

The stewards for the ball were the mayor, Hon. D.E. Boulton; I. Smith MPP; John S. Wallace, William Weller, Thomas Scott, Henry Mason, Henry Covert – and “Officers of Militia, members of pubic bodies” were requested to appear in uniform.

Tickets for the grand affair could be obtained at W. Graveley’s, Strong and Scott’s, H. Mason’s, A. Fraser and Co., J. McLeod and Co., Auster and Co., A.G. Boswell, secretary.

The procession on that illustrious day included the Grand Marshal, James B. Fortune; eight auxiliary marshals, tow bands, firemen, St. Patrick’s, St. George’s and St. Andrew’s Societies; Sons of Temperance, Independent Order of Oddfellows, Freemasons, Orange Lodge, two town constables, the mayor and council, and an assortment of citizenry.

Forming opposite the Globe Hotel the procession proceeded along King Street to Division and north to Seminary (University) Street, along Seminary to Ontario Street, south on Ontario to King and on to the Victoria Hall site.

The laying of the cornerstone over 115 years ago was described in the Cobourg Star as a “great day for Cobourg – one which will form an era in the history of the town… and the procession formed a most magnificent array.”

At the town hall Mayor Boulton addressed Sir Allan MacNab, Grand Master of the Masonic Lodge. “….In incorporating the several objects of a Masonic Lodge, Town Hall, a Court of Justice under one roof, we desire also to combine in the one structure unity of design, architectural beauty, and skillful workmanship…appreciating the skill of the craft of which you are the honorable representative….”

Sir Allan expressed appreciation at being invited to the ceremonies…”The forms and ceremonies to be used by us this day have been handed down form the remotest antiquity, and are used only at the erection of great public structures such as you are about to erect on this ground.”

After an address by the provincial Grand Master and prayer by the Grand Chaplain, the Grand Treasurer deposited a bottle containing coins, etc., in the cavity of the lower stone, on which an inscribed plate was laid by the Grand Secretary and overspread with cement by Sir Allan MacNab.

The band played the National Anthem as the stone was lowered into place, after which Sir Allan proved its correct adjustment in the usual manner, and gave the stone three distinct knocks with the mallet, saying – “May the Great Architect of the universe grant a blessing on this foundation which we have no laid, and by His Providence enable us to finish every other work which may be undertaken for the benefit of this town.”

At the conclusion of the stone-laying, corn, wine, and oil were poured upon the stone, accompanied by the invocation.

“May the all bounteous author of nature grant an abundance of corn, wine, and oil, with all other necessaries, conveniences and comforts, to this town, and my the same Providence preside over and preserve it from ruin and decay to the latest posterity.”

The town council working with Mayor D’Arcy E. Boulton in 1856 had Henry J. Ruttan as reeve: James Canavan was chairman of the building committee; members were Henry Covert, George M. Clark, William Gravely, William Pearson, James Lambert, Jonathon Densmore. The town clerk was David Brodie; treasurer David Burn. Architect for Victoria Hall was Kivas Tully and contractors were William and David Burnet.

Among the several called upon to speak at the luncheon during the special day in Cobourg were J. Lambert, Thomas Gibb Ridout, J. Scott, of Port Hope, and W.S. Conger of Peterborough, who was president of the Board of Police in Cobourg in 1839.

The old ballroom changes as restoration work begins to bring back its former grandeur.


Here is a photo made Wednesday of the interior of the Opera House, or ballroom of Victoria Hall. Workmen have already removed the stage laying bare parts of the original high ceiling and elaborate painted design on the south wall. Plans are to restore this to its former grandeur as on of the finest rooms of its kind in Canada.


Looking out into the afternoon sun form the Opera House shows the symmetry design by Kivas Tully over a century ago. That is a balcony railing in the silhouette.

The beauty of Victoria Hall

It may be the courtroom, the clocktower, a hand-carved window, a sculptured column in stone, but there are elegant details of beauty in every corner of old Victoria hall. Photos by Anne Redfearn.

Victoria Hall, 1860

Confident of the future greatness of their town, the citizens of Cobourg erected this impressive example of mid-Victoria architecture to house their arts and municipal offices. Designed by Kivas Tully, its cornerstone was laid by Sir Allan MacNab, former Prime Minister of Canda, , on December 30, 1856. It was officially opened by the Prince of Wales on September 7, 1860, and named after his mother. The courtroom and auditorium remain untouched form their original design.

Covert Massie heads Vic campaign

Chairman of the campaign to restore Victoria Hall is J.H. Covert Massie, a longtime Cobourg resident, and successful Toronto businessman. Mr. Massie and his wife now live on New Lodge Farm on the east side of Cobourg, which has been in his family’s name for over a century.

One of the Covert Massie’s ancestors helped to name Cobourg.

Vice-chairman are H.C. Gibson and Mrs. G.S. (Polly) Edwards.

Honorary treasurer is Lt. Col. Gordon King, who is retiring as principal of CDCI West.

Mr. Gibson is manager of the Cobourg General Foods plant, and Mrs. Edwards is the wife of a Cobourg manufacturer, and active in many community efforts.

Restoration Society president Donald Philp is also a member.

Surrounding this group in the campaign committee are 10 committee members: H.G. Blow, realtor; Lt. Col. H.R. Ferris, former commandant of Canadian Forces Station, Cobourg; W.R. Heinbuch, principal Gummor School; J.S. Hinman, chartered accountant Dr. James Johnston, publisher of the Cobourg Sentinel-Star; Tom Jones, former councillor and representative of the Cobourg Labor Council; Sol Margles, retailer; Mrs. A.J. McConvey, who will head up the public subscription; Harold Nelson, personnel manager, Winchester-Canada; and Mrs. Robert Witty, who with her husband has recently restored a country home in Alnwick township.

There is also a board of directors of the Society, headed by its president Mr. Philp. They include: Mrs. Witty, Mrs. Stewart Bagnani, R.E. Gardiner, J.A. Beech and Dr. Johnston.

Society executive director is John Taylor, who is also director of Cobourg Art Gallery.

While the society’s aims and those of the municipal council which actually owns Victoria Hall tend to coincide, the society is a completely separate corporation, chartered under the laws of Ontario. All funds raised by the campaign are held in trust by the society for the building’s restoration. These funds are completely separated form municipal funds, and are administered by the society.

To assist the organization of the society, Cobourg town council underwrote some of the society’s basic organization and administrative costs.

Most of Victoria Hall patrons to be present for ceremony

There are 12 patrons of the Society for the Restoration of Victoria Hall, most of whom will be present for Tuesday’s inaugural ceremony.

Lieutenant-Governor Hon. W. Ross Macdonald is unable to attend. Mr. Macdonald, who lives at Brantford, is a former Member of Parliament and Canadian Senator, and is a frequent visitor to the area. A daughter has a summer home at Rice Lake.

Former Ontario Premier Leslie M. Frost will be present from Lindsay, and will take part in the ceremony.

Hon. Edgar J. Benson, Canada’s minister of defense and native of Cobourg, is unable to attend.

Hon. George Hees, former Canadian trade minister, will be present, and has helped in many of the arrangements for the ceremony. Mr. Hees and his wife Mabel have a Cobourg home just east of the town. Mr. Hees, MP for Hastings-Prince Edward, has had a home in Cobourg since he was a boy.

Lieut. Col. John W. Foote, VC, Cobourg’s most distinguished veteran of World War II, and padre hero of Dieppe, will attend.

Dr. Jean Sutherland Boggs, director of National Gallery of Canada, whose hometown is Cobourg, is unable to be present because of illness.

On the “Victoria Hall Special” from Toronto will be two other Cobourg native sons who are patrons; historian Edwin C. Guillet; and Toronto business executive Ken Rotenberg.

Also present will be four leading local politician patrons. Mayor Jack Heenan will welcome the premier to Cobourg. Russell Rowe, MPP, will introduce Mr. Davis. Mp Russell Honey will bring greetings from the Prime Minister. Alex Carruthers, MPP, Durham, will also attend, as a patron form the Durham half of the United Counties. Victoria Hall originally served as counties council building as well.

John Burnet, former Cobourg mayor, recalls family stories of building Old Vic

The former Cobourg Mayor John D. Burnet, (?) St., the building of Victoria Hall, and its new restoration brings back some interesting memories of family stories.

Burnet was mayor of Cobourg for 14 years, and knows all there is to know about small town political affairs.

For instance, it was his father, William Burnet and his brother David who were the contractors on the original Victoria Hall construction. The town had a tough time paying for the $110,000 building, by the end they never did pay for the furniture moved into the building before it was opened by the Prince of Wales.

“The town said they had the job of building it, and it was just too bad about the furnishings, but they were not going to be paid,” Mr. Burnet chuckled on Thursday, “And they never did.”

Actually, the expense of the building just about put Cobourg under financially, and for a time, town affairs were in the hands of provincially appointed commissioners. Victoria Hall had been planned for future growth which did not take place.

But the building the Burnets built has stood well for 112 years. It is strong and durable. It is a strong and well-built building, and its foundations are solid, even though repairs are now needed.

The Burnets had been distillers before contractors, and had come from Scotland, where they had been born with some of their love for stone. They operated a distillery off Shelter Valley Creek in Grafton, and the house they built, “Stillbrook”, still stands, and is a showplace. Business boomed, until a law was passed saying that whisky had to be aged for a least five years before being sold. On the fifth year, with a tremendous supply ready for market, the Burnet warehouse burned with no insurance, and the distillery was wiped out.

Soon the Burnets had a new, but smaller distillery in Cobourg, on the site of the present, General Wire and Cable plant.

“When Karl Fabricius started the wire plant, there was still part of the original wheel in the creek,” said Mr. Burnet. It failed.

Then William and David went into contracting, and Victoria Hall was their masterpiece.

Mr. Burnet’s father, William, went to a private grammar school run by a man named Johnston, near the present Golden Plough lodge. That area was then known as Amherst, and what is now the lodge, had originally been the courthouse.

Members of the family had gone into the private banking business in Cobourg, but business turned against them in one of the depressions which used to sweep pioneer Canada. Soon young William (John D.’s father) had to quit school and go to work. He worked with a man named Sutherland in a ship’s chandlers store. Later, he founded a grocery and china store, and specialized in china. It was this business which John D. Burnet carried on.

ARTIST HERE—Mrs. Mary Schneider, Toronto artist, who produced the official drawing of Victoria Hall, is shown here with Donald Philp, president of the Society for the Restoration of Victoria Hall. Mrs. Schneider recently held an art exhibition at Cobourg Art Gallery.

RESTORATION--- Peter Stokes is restoration architect for Victoria Hall. He has a distinguished career in restorations, having been involved in Upper Canada Village and Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Media Type
Item Type
Victoria Hall welcomes Premier
Source: The Cobourg Sentinel-Star, Friday, June 2, 1972
Acquired: January 2008
Date of Publication
2 Jun 1972
Local identifier
Language of Item
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  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.95977 Longitude: -78.16515
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Victoria Hall Welcomes Premier

Victoria Hall welcomes Premier
Source: The Cobourg Sentinel-Star, Friday, June 2, 1972
Acquired: January 2008