The Passing Scene: Cobourg? Life is Tough

Driving along King Street one morning last week I glanced, as though through a camera, at Victoria Hall’s tower, caught in the early sun – a striking image that is so much a part of Cobourg; as is, on a sleepless night, hearing the tower’s clock striking mid-night, its chimes seeming to linger endlessly in the darkness. It struck me how Victoria Hall is such an intrinsic part of Cobourg, an example of the perfect small-town main street; perhaps something we take too much for granted because, well, it’s simply there. But there was a time when Victoria Hall was, infamously, at risk of being demolished.

The year was 1971 …. but, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s flash back to Cobourg in the 1850s when some of its leading citizens of the day had the remarkable vision of a superb town hall on King Street – not some rinky-dink redbrick non-entity, but a town hall that would be unequalled, well, anywhere between Toronto and Montreal. Thinking big, the leading architect of the day, Kivas Tully, was commissioned to design and oversee its construction and, in 1860, no less than the Prince of Wales came to Cobourg to officially open what became the magnificent Victoria Hall. (Rumour has it the Prince also popped into Buttermilk Cafe for a quick refreshment before leaving Cobourg, but it was just a rumour). Over the years, carelessness and neglect of Victoria Hall caused the council of the day, in 1971, to consider tearing the hall down to create – are you ready for this? A parking lot!

Graham Woods
Graham Woods

Fortunately, a group of very concerned, determined Cobourg citizens, courageous citizens, including the Deputy Mayor of the day, Lenah Field Fisher, met in the hall’s Old Bailey Court Room and founded The Restoration Society for Victoria Hall. It was a landmark day in the history of our town, for it was the beginning of the preservation of the magnificent building we have today which makes our downtown, yes, unequalled between Toronto and Montreal. The restoration took over 12 years and a combination of both Provincial and Federal government grants, private donations and plain old-fashioned fund-raising saved the building. Around the same time the Victoria Hall Volunteers came into being and, over the years of constant fund-raising, has kept Victoria Hall in fine fettle – most recently donating $15,000 to replace the Clock Tower mechanism which now strikes so smoothly as it creates those lingering mid-night chimes.

Since its inception, Victoria Hall Volunteers have contributed more than $350,000 toward the historic and heritage preservation of Victoria Hall though fundraising campaigns. As well as contributing toward the cost of refurbishing the Clock Tower, the Volunteers also assisted with the refurbishment of the main foyer as well as replacing the blinds in the Concert Hall. Fund raising? There are already several events scheduled over the coming twelve months. The first one (mark it on your calendar) is next week, on Wednesday October the 10th, with a Food, Farms’ Tour and Tasting Day to celebrate local agriculture and food production in Northumberland County – a chance to sense, feel and inhale the true, bracing atmosphere of rural life, capped by a tasting of local foods from 5 to 7.00 pm in (where else?) the Concert Hall at Victoria Hall. Tickets for the Tour and Tasting are $75 and are available at the Concert Hall Box Office. If just the tasting tempts your palette, the cost is $20.

It’s this kind of community involvement, community support, all going on just below the radar of Cobourg’s day-to-day life, that makes it such a comfortable town to live in. As I type this, any moment now the clock on the Victoria Hall tower will strike 4.00 pm on Saturday afternoon. At the harbour, boats are being taken out of the water for the season. A flight of geese heads in … to find their space temporarily invaded by boaters’ cars. And, yes, there goes the clock, right on schedule. Time to shut down the laptop and read the weekend papers. As an old friend would say, ‘Life is basically tough.’

Click to Notify me of
Deborah OConnor

Facts seem to be in short supply. I remember the restoration of Victoria Hall very clearly because my father, Ed Haynes, worked so hard as a committee member to make it happen. It rankles to see here a claim that nobody on Town Council supported the effort, mainly because my father was a Town Councillor (and later Reeve) at the tme.

For the doubters, read this and see how supportive Town Council was. The restoration would not have succeeded without their support.

Walter L. Luedtke

Excellent source, Deborah!
One wonders why Mr. Woods is not more thorough in his research.

manfred s

also very informative and a well placed shot over the heads of the ‘armchair critics’, Deb. Thank you for this.

Walter L. Luedtke

Some observations on this column regarding Victoria Hall: First, an unwarranted sneer at Council, “neglect of Victoria Hall caused the council of the day, in 1971, to consider tearing the hall down to create – are you ready for this? A parking lot.” In 1971, Cobourg was much smaller than it is today, and the initial estimate for the restoration of $1.0 million of 1971 dollars of Cobourg taxpayer money was out of the question. Municipalities are forbidden by law to do any fundraising. Thus the initiative by Lenah Fisher. Second, the neglect of the eventual contribution by Cobourg taxpayers. “The restoration took over 12 years and a combination of both Provincial and Federal government grants, private donations and plain old-fashioned fund-raising saved the building.” In fact, at one stage during the restoration Federal and Provincial grants of $400,000 each depended on Cobourg taxpayers paying $400,000 first. Council allocated the money. Remember that a large part of Cobourg folks were vehemently opposed to the restoration of the Hall. So it was an act of political courage for Council to spend taxpayers’ money for heritage. I doubt that in today’s political climate, Council would be prepared to spend a substantial amount… Read more »

Greg H

Your comments are appropriate, apart from the words “First, an unwarranted sneer at Council,” perhaps your computer slips in sneers whether they are needed or not ?

Walter L. Luedtke

Opinions differ, Mr. Hancock.
Mr. Woods is on record attacking Mayors and Council in his columns using intemperate language.

manfred s

what a terrific comment, Walter. Puts the grossly uninformed yet highly opinionated ‘armchair critics’ to considerable shame. Thank you for that valuable contribution.


I love our beautiful Town Hall.


Great building, volunteers and info, thanks Graham and as you say a lot goes on behind the scenes. Cobourg a great place to live.


WHOEVER is responsible for this magnificent building, I thank you.