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!
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.’