Dressler House to get Expanded Museum

At Monday’s Committee of the Whole Council meeting, Marie Dressler Foundation (MDF) chair Rick Miller presented plans to expand the existing Museum at Dressler house to include two other Canadian female Oscar winners: Mary Pickford and Norma Shearer.  Rick said that he had firm commitments from partners in the Venture who would supply material for the museum and assist with marketing.  To proceed, Rick wanted the Town to revise the existing lease from just a part of Dressler House to include the entire building.  Some councillors were concerned that the Cultural Plan was not yet complete but Nicole and Adam asked whether there could be any better use than the museum proposed.

Rick Miller
Rick Miller


  • Dressler House was built around 1840 and was Marie Dressler’s birthplace on November 9, 1868.
  • A restaurant was started there in 1937 by Lenah Field Fisher with 90% of visitors signing the visitors’ book coming from the U.S.
  • A fire in 1989 caused significant damage but Bill Patchett helped found the Marie Dressler Foundation which raised funds to restore the building
  • The property was transferred to the Town for $1 and was used for Town of Cobourg staff offices from 1990 to 2017 along with a small Marie Dressler Museum
  • Town staff moved out a year ago and MDF upgraded the museum using a design by students in the University of Toronto Master of Museum Studies program (see link below).
  • Mary Pickford won an Oscar for best actress in Coquette (1929)
  • Norma Shearer won an Oscar for best actress for her role in The Divorcee (1930)


  • Expand the lease to the entire building
  • MDF would raise funds for the upgraded museum
  • The Town would pay for upkeep of the exterior and MDF would pay for costs for the interior (e.g. utilities).


  • Mary Pickford Foundation – owns rights to all Mary Pickford images and other material – these will all be available to the museum
  • Darin Barnes (NormaShearer.com) – owns rights to all Norma Shearer images and other material – these will all be available to the museum
  • Film Reference Library at Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) – includes many Mary Pickford artifacts
  • University of Toronto Master of Museum Studies program (donation of design of expanded Museum)
  • The Corporation of the Town of Cobourg (external maintenance)

Presentation Photos and Video

Rick’s presentation included background information, an outline of plans and a short video promoting the idea.

Mary Pickford; Norma Shearer; Marie Dressler
Mary Pickford; Norma Shearer; Marie Dressler



Council actions

Nicole Beatty asked if in future the Museum would expand to feature other Canadian actresses – Rick said yes.

Emily Chorley wanted to delay a decision until the cultural master plan was completed but Rick said this would probably mean the project would be delayed by a year since the students designing work would start very soon and a commitment to the space is needed. However, both Nicole Beatty and Adam Bureau felt that there was no other suitable use of the building offered so were strongly in favour of approving the request.  Seeing no support for her motion, Emily withdrew it and the lease expansion was unanimously approved.  This means that a bylaw will be prepared for approval at the September 9 regular Council meeting.



The bylaw required to authorize the new lease was passed and became official at the Council meeting on September 10.

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Wally Keeler
14 August 2019 11:11 am

“Nicole Beatty asked if in future the Museum would expand to feature other Canadian actresses – Rick said yes.”

Does this mean that no Canadian-born male actors will be included ever?

Reply to  Wally Keeler
14 August 2019 5:54 pm

You are, of course free to create your own museum dedicated to whomever you want. Do you go to a World War 2 museum and say “Does this mean you’re just not going to include anything from World War 1”?

Wally Keeler
Reply to  *eyeroll*
14 August 2019 7:22 pm

All I did was ask a question. I have no issue with anyone who wants to create their own museum to whatever criteria they want. If it is exclusively female, sure why not? No problem. No issue.

However, the museum at issue is not private property. And I’d like an answer to my question so that I will know what to expect of it in the future, and so the people of Cobourg can decide if they want to financially underpin a museum dedicated exclusively to female actors.

14 August 2019 10:47 am

Congratulations to Rick for his hard work . Several times I’ve walked by the Dressler House to see it closed, sometimes with people taking pictures of the building. Sometimes Rick has been there alone keeping the doors open. Congratulations also to Adam and Nicole for clearly supporting and advancing the project at council.

Linda Hutsell-Manning
14 August 2019 10:18 am

Expanding Marie Dressler House is such a good idea!

14 August 2019 9:28 am


In case you are not aware of this, the annual Vintage Film Festival (this year September 27 – 29th at Capitol Theatre, Port Hope), is a fundraising arm of the Marie Dressler Museum. Do come out and support this wonderful event. Our supporters return year after year from as far away as Saskatchewan to Ottawa, and our neighbours across our southern border.

Due to a growing audience, four $1,000 bursaries were given to students in Northumberland County this year who are following their dreams in the film industry. Do check out the website at http://www.vintagefilmfestival.ca . Brochures are at the library, Dutch Oven, Buttermilk and many other places along King Street, as well as at the Museum. If you haven’t been to the Festival and 12 movies over a weekend makes you go weak at the knees, see if you can find one film you’d like to see on the big screen. Single tickets are $10. See you at the movies!

14 August 2019 9:04 am

Sounds like a well thought out plan. Might go a long way to waking up this spot. How about some sculpting in metal outside to create a catchy visual attraction. There are current contemporary Canadian female actors who could also be given a small display and just might make a special appearance at Dressler House.
Good Luck with all your ideas Mr. Miller

Lesley Myers
14 August 2019 8:54 am

Discovering Marie Dressler was a revelation – and I’m a film nut! The addition of Mary Pickford and Norma Shearer will increase the value of and interest in the Museum. I love that student designers are being utilized. Good job council. Can’t wait for the unveiling.

14 August 2019 8:37 am

Its all about the Past ???? not so as far as our younger generation is concerned unless it pertains to their Job thats wright Just a job . Who are we really doing this for ??? if it was not for the small fortune the town and DBIA spend marketing and up keep on the Dressler house I doubt any one would go there . We don’t live to far from the Dressler house and we hardly ever see anyone going there any more This doesn’t mean we need to spend more money on it or add more of the same to it it just means its time has come Millennials have other heros and actors they May look up to but they don’t place the same value and worth on things that we do .
Its time has come

george taylor
Reply to  perplexed
14 August 2019 8:49 am

is what your saying, we should forget history? tearing old statues down? forget about the HOLOCAUST? it is because of HISTORY that we are allowed to live the LIVES we now live!

Small town lover
Reply to  george taylor
14 August 2019 9:22 am

Holocaust? You are comparing the evil of the Holocaust to long ago actresses who won an American film award? I don’t think Marie Dressler had anything to do with my quality of life. Our Canadian military did and does to this day. How about honouring the Cobourg soldiers , men and women who lost their lives for our country?It’s a shame our Cobourg Legion is the only organization who actively remembers the lives lost because of their service to us on the battlefield not on a movie lot.

Reply to  Small town lover
14 August 2019 10:41 am

Perplexed & Small Town Lover Why the bitterness over such a simple thing. The foundation is willing to pay most of the costs. The town is going to cut the grass in the Summer time. The Dressler House is a beautiful old house. Just enjoy driving past it from time to time. I have no involvement in Dressler – visited twice – but a lot of our fellow citizens do … and they are doing a great job. Imagine – if you can – being young and clueless (like I used to be) and in university, and given the chance to work on this project. what a wonderful experience that could be.
Rather than write bitter comments on non issues why not get out for a walk and enjoy this beautiful day?

Just sayin’ Doug

Small town lover
Reply to  Doug
14 August 2019 4:19 pm

Doug, I am not bitter at all. I was appalled at Mr Taylor’s Holocaust comparison comment and I personally feel our fallen soldiers deserve more recognition than actors. And yes , I had a lovely walk today thank you, just sayin……..

Reply to  george taylor
14 August 2019 2:24 pm

George tone it down, please. First sentence was enough, the rest sheer ‘over-the-top’.

george taylor
Reply to  gerinator
15 August 2019 8:23 am


Betsy Miller
Reply to  perplexed
14 August 2019 10:31 am

This initiative may help to inspire young woman to accomplish their dreams as it is a tribute to woman who have accomplished great things in their lifetime.
Role models are important and we need to celebrate
these Canadian women, not forget about our