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Town Halls (1800 - 2014)

Origins --- Town Hall Design

First Settler meeting places and halls------Blockhouse__Gananoque
-----
Trenton ---------- Durham ----------- Beverley-------- Picton ----- Oxford County
-- Dundas------ Guelph

860 to 1900------ Elora---- -- Ameliasburgh----- Sophiasburgh- ---Flamborough--
-
-- Cobourg- ------- Brockville- ------- Kingston- ------- Perth ------- Ancaster
-
Toronto----- Goderich--- St Mary's --- Picton-

1950 to Present--- Hamilton-- - Brantford----- Toronto ---- Barrie

Origins

Once a settlement was established with homes, a general store, a few churches, and at least one mill, the citizenry of Ontario wanted a Town Hall. The idea of the town hall, and more importantly the town meeting, was an intrinsic part of the Loyalist and settler dream. The freedom to have town meetings was an ancient Anglo-Saxon tradition, but it had been repressed by the Stuarts (King Charles and his Star Chamber was perhaps the most famous monarch to persecute dissenters) in the 17th century. When the pioneers created the Thirteen Colonies freedom of public meetings was a cornerstone of their philosophy. After the American Revolution in 1780s, the Loyalists brought this idea north and it was the basis for civil life in British North America. Regular open discussion of community affairs was a right they had come to take for granted..

Regular open discussion of community affairs was a right they had come to take for granted. Once a settlement was established, the community would identify the councellors and reeves, and these men would meet in general stores or Inns to discuss such things as making provisions for the community's poor and discipline fof misdemeanor activities such as public drunkenness. Each household in a community was expected to contribute to the community holdings. Often the firewagons and the construction of a town hall or jail would be vying for the same money. Many town halls were on hold until safety measures had been taken care of.

Commission of the Peace (1788) demanded of the Justice of the Peace to "enquire into... all manner of Felonies, Poisonings, Enchantments, Sorceries, Arts Magick, Trespass, Forestallings, Registerings, Engrossings and Extortions".

1791 - The province of Quebec gotssplit into Upper and Lower Canada. Four districts: Eastern, Midland, Home, and Western.

Many lovely ‘block house courts as well as many residences destroyed in the War of 1812.

Hamilton was incorporated first of Hamilton, York and Kingston. Started making by-laws immediately mostly regarding chimneys - ladders to chimneys, and fire prevention. Each home owner had to have three leather buckets with his name on the side.

 

Town Hall Architecture

From the very beginning, the community was concerned with having a solid and dependable civic building that was as current as possible. Town Halls generally were made of local materials, but they always followed the fashion of the times. The community could forgive many mistakes that the fathers of the community made, but they would not forgive the decission to build an out of date or ugly town building. The plans for these buildings usually surpassed the funds available. They still do.

Early Town Halls and Public Buildings

The first buildings built by Loyalists and Europeans in British North America were either log houses or fortified log houses which provided more protection for both people and their livestock. Many early block house civic structures were destroyed in the War of 1812.

Town Halls took on the character of the surrounding area. Many were gable front buildings: practical and not difficult to design. Joinery and cabintry would distinguish the building as much as fine masonry work.

 

The function of an assembly room in a neutral setting, accessable to everyone in the town has advantages that we no longer have need of. The town hall, while the location of official business, was also the location for dances, celebrations and entertainment. Public speakers, performiong artists and public personalities were all invited to entertain in the Town Hall. Without television, movies, radio, or internet, the Town Hall was the place where things happened. In reading the announcement for such functions, it is not unusual to note that the evening functions would take place during full moons so that the participants could see their way home.

Click Hotpoints for descriptions of terms in both text and images.

...Block House..... Sault St Marie
1750 - 1800

This is a reconstructed Block House at Sault St. Marie's Ermatinger•Clergue National Historic Site.

The house was constructed atop the stone remnants of the North West Company's 1819 Powder Magazine. It was the home of Francis Hector Clergue, a prominent business man and town father who conducted his affairs from this house.

 

Red House England

Sault St Marie

Block House

Sault St Marie

This building style is representative of 'fortified houses' found throughout Europe from medieval times. The lower floor was fortified against intruders. Often the cattle or horses would live on the lower level and the humans would live above. There are many of these still remaining in the area of Newcastle, England.

Merrickville has a blockhouse, and there is a Block House Island in Brockville, though sadly the block house does not exist.

Red House England

Sault St Marie

Block House

Sault St Marie

The bottom level of the house would have had the room for the gaoler and two cells. The courtroom, also used as a twon meeting room,would have been above.

Here we see the basement access to the cold room and storage area.

Red House England

Sault St Marie

...Gananoque ....... Neo-Classical 1831

Ganaoque's town hall was originally a single family home. It was built in 1831 in the Neo-Classical style. It is a typical Georgian central hall plan with an elegant fanlight and second story balcony with French Doors.

Like most Town Halls, it has also functioned as a court and a jail. Today it is home to the Gananoque administrative office.

Red House England

Gananoque

...Gananoque .......

The windows on the house are 12 over 12 sash as found in most Georgian buildings of the time.

Red House England

Gananoque

Trenton Town Hall
1860

Trenton's wealth came from the timber trade, the trees being cut in the heartland then floated past on their way to foreign markets. Trenton straddles the Trent River and is surrounded by bridges that were, in the 19th century, made of wood. The plans for a town hall kept being put ‘on hold' to allow for relentless rebuilding of bridges burnt down by troublesome logging employees. Finally in 1860 the Town Hall wsa constructed of Trenton stone in a simple and elegant Doric style. The architect was Kivas Tulley.

Red House England

Trenton ON

Trenton Town Hall
Lugged Window

Like many town halls, the function was essentially a meeting hall adjacent to the open farm market, with a jail or lock-up facility. The upper floor had council chambers and an anteroom. The lower floor had clerks office, the lock up, and, like many ther town halls, the butcher's shop. Kivas Tully was paid 40 dollars for the design of the building. The time bell in the open belfry over the north gable was removed in(1940).

Both the doors and the windows are 'eared'.

 

 

 

Red House England

Trenton ON

Trenton Town Hall
Lugged Window

Two oversized doors in the 'cross and bible' style lead into the main chambers. A simple transom with six lights allows light into the main corridor.

 

The frame of the door is 'eared' or lugged.

 

 

 

Red House England

Trenton ON

Durham Registry Office
1848

The Old Durham Registry Office is very similar in concept to the Trenton Town Hall. In Trenton there are engaged wooden pilasters on a stone base. In Durham there are engaged Doric pilasters both in brick.

These are not strictly 'gable front' buildings. There is an architrave above the pilasters. In Trenton this is wooden, in Durham it is brick. There is a gable, but it is frame in the same way as a pediment might be with a cornice along the top of the entablature/architrave.

 

 

 

Red House England

Durham ON

Beverly Township Rockton
1850

TheBeverly Township Hall is located in Rockton ON, on top of the Niagara Escarpment. The style is a simple rectangle with a lovely limestone arcade along the front. This design is a result both of the local materials and the skilled labour available at the time of building.

The windows are in the Georgian style with 12 over 12 sashes.

 

 

 

Red House England

Rockton ON

Beverly Township
1848

The arches in the arcade illustrate fine workmanship. Three levels of voussoirs make up the arch. The windows have been beautifully maintained and restored.

 

 

 

Red House England

Rockton ON

Picton Court House
1834

Prince Edward County has some of the best preserved buildings in the province. The Picton Court house, 1832, is the last large building to be built in the Late-Georgian domestic style - often seen as the Greek or Classical revival style. It had much in common with the second court house in Kingston that has since perished.

This was used as a town hall until Shire hall was built 40 years later.

The interior of the courtroom was remodelled in 1861 but still retains much of the traditional British style.

Red House England

Picton ON

Pioneer Hall
1834

This is a lovely little Regency style building in Oxford County that was originally a one room school house. It was used as a town hall or meeting hall for a few years, and then became the Oxford County Library.

 

Red House England

Curries ON

Pioneer Hall
1834

Like many buildings constructed during the first half of the 19th century, wood is actually inlaid in the masonry, but somehow seems to resist rot and other ravages of time.

 

Red House England

Curries ON

Dundas

While most civic buildings built prior to 1860 are simple in structure, a few bare the stamp of loft ambitions and heightened civic pride.

Dundas has one of the most impressive pre-1850 buildings in the province. This building, finished in 1848, is made from local limestone with an impressive ashlar finish.

The building is removed from the main business section of Dundas, and was once located within a small park. This has since been crisscrossed with roads.

 

Dundas

The door on the town hall is a late Renaissance style, verging on Baroque. The pediment is broken in many sections and the center has an urn flanked by a series of stylized roses. The keystone has an interesting agraffe. The fanlight is a large semi-circular radiating design. The pillars and the spandrel design are French.

Guelph

Guelph's Renaissance Revival is even more spectacular than that of Dundas.

Guelph had originally been laid out along Classical guidlines by a group of well educated men headed by John Galt, a romantic novelist. Galt had spent some time in Greece in 1810, and had walked the length and breadth Athens from the market place to the Acropolis with no other than Lord Byron himself. By 1824 Galt was headed to canada and Byron returned to Greece where he dyed in Missalonghi.

 

The market and town square of Guelph were drawn up according to classical ideals. Galt designed a fan shaped area crowned with a wooden Doric temple as the market building. 25 years later the square was unkept and the temple had rotted, so the current town council decided to build a civic building large enough to house the assembly rooms, fire equipment, and holding facilities

 

 

Guelph

William Thomas was chosen as the architect. An army of talented tradesmen carved, cast and sanded the building to perfection.

1860 - 1900

By mid 19th century, the local governments were a vital part of town life. The importance of the town halls, and later the city halls is seen in their positioning within the main square of the town. Much thought was usually given to the placement of the town hall and the positioning of the market that would take place each Saturday in front of it.

Throught the last decades of the 19th century and into the beginnings of the 20th century, architectural styles were developing at an unprecedented rate, the quantity of styles barely keeping pace with the demands of the finally prosperous citizens of Ontario. Town Hall design was generally classical in nature with decoration from either Italiante, Romanesque or Renaissance. Little Gothic design is found on twon halls.

Elora Drill Hall
1865

During the 1860s the Americans, for many people "just across the river" were engaged in a civil war. In addition there were Fenian raids in towns throughout British North America as the Irish brought their struggles across the ocean and attacked the british empire in this and other colonies.

Many communities built centers where volunteers could train tobe part of the militia if needed. Possibly because this is such a lovely small building with it's clasical proportions and lovely barrel bault entrance, this building is one of just a few that still survive.

 

Red House England

Elora, ON

Ameliasburgh

Ameliasburgh town hall is in the gable front design chosen for many town buildings. there are discrete keystones and beautifully constructed quoins. Large limestone sills and segmental windows indicate an Italianate touch.

Aldershot

Walter Scott - Aldershot - 1920

Ameliasburgh

The front door is what is really impressive, however. The exaggerated lancet arch fanlight contains a hexagram made from two equilateral triangles.

The door has an exaggerated hood mold with a large keystone and side stones.

Aldershot

Ameliasburgh

Sophiasburgh

The nexr township has a simliar gable front design with segmental windows. The brick masonry is astonishly good. Wooden window labels are embedded in the masonry and the vergeboard and kingpost are lovely. Above the very elegant two panelled door is a very decorative transom topped with a window label and accolade.

Aldershot

Walter Scott - Aldershot - 1920

Flamborough Town Hall - Gable front - 1815

Another gable front can be found in Flamborough. Random course stone makes up the front facade, the sides and back are rubble. There are paired brackets on the cornices. The half round windows have the original four pane sashes. The door has an elegant transome with four original panes. The door itself is a five panel flanked by blind panel side lights.

The front door is unusual in that it has a double staircase leading up in the Baroque manner.

 

A stone string course runs along the top of the first storey.

 

Red House England

Greensville ON

Flamborough Town Hall

The front entrance is elegant, the door being almost flush with the stone facade.

 

 

 

Red House England

Flamborough ON

Victoria Hall Cobourg 1860

Kivas Tulley was responsible for many of the most prominenet classical designs in civic buildings in Ontario. Victoria hall is one of his more splendid accomplishments. The building was sent up in great form. The corner stone was laid with worthy masonic ritual by Sir Alan Macnab, the Canadian Grand master. The Prince of Wales opened the building in 1860.

Victoria Hall has one of the most beautiful cupolas on any Ontario civic building. Underneath it is a Renaissance style building with a rusticated first floor, a two story porch with Corinthian columns over the front entrance, engaged Corinthian pilasters, a frieze of dentil blocks that extends the length of the building, corniced second floor windows, and an impressive attic over the temple front as in a triumphal arch.

Aldershot

Walter Scott - Aldershot - 1920

Cobourg

The detailing on the portico and the facade are by William Thomas and sons. Harp shaped acroterions crown the entrance.

Aldershot

Walter Scott - Aldershot - 1920

Brockville 1862

Brockville's City Hall is also called Victoria Hall. As well it is a three story structure built ilike a Renaissance Palazzo with a rusticated first floor and elegant round headed windows on the second and third floors. The second floor windows have radiating voussoirs, the third floor has a string course along the spring line that cuts the window surrounds at the arch.

The cupola on this is also magnificent.

Aldershot

Brockville

Kingston

Kingston, Hamilton and York were the first three cities in the province. Kingston was the military strong hold and the City Hall was built as a large center where much business took place.

The tatrastyle portico is in the Doric style. The arcaded rotunda supports a dome with a lantern, again in the renaissance style.

 

Aldershot

Kingston

Perth 1863

The town hall in Perth was designed by architect John Power, and built by Alexander Kippen. Note the ornate cuppola seen in many town halls of the period. They all sport a clock - none of them are digital.

Perth's town hall is two stories. The lower floor has segmental archesm the upper has round headed. All have keystones and blocks.

The frontispiece has a pediment and a large cornice characteristic of the Italianate style.

Aldershot

Perth

Ancaster
Italianate 1859

Ancaster town Hall is relatively small compared to those above. The portico has a brrel vault with clustered columns. There is a rose window in the gable. The cornice is supported by paired columns.

Red House England

Ancaster

Ancaster

The portico is in fine shape.

Red House England

Ancaster

Ancaster

Within the back gable is a circular vent. The cornice has cornice returns.

Frank Lloyd Wright Studio

Ancaster

ANcaster

There are quoins around the windows made of local stone. Cut limestone sills and lintel add a fromal look. The window panes are all original.

 

 

Red House England

Ancaster

Toronto
Romanesque Revival

Built in the Richardson Romanesque style, the old Toronto City hall is a masterpeice of cut and carved stone. The tower is topped by clocks. Gargoyles repell water from the roof. Small windows with colonnetes, turrets, scalloping and dichromatic stone make up the facade.

Plan Book of Canadian Homes

Toronto ON

Toronto

The real beauty of this building is in the carved work. Along the top of the columns, within the intrados, and as capitals are carved animals, flowers and human faces.

 

Aldershot

Lennox

Toronto

A lion looks out from his perch amongst the greenery and overlooks the city.

Aldershot

Toronto

Toronto

True to form the front doors of the city hall are thick wood with iron kickplates and oversized hinges and escutcheons.

Aldershot

Lennox

Goderich

A very different building but also in the Romanesque revival style is the Goderich. It has the flat fronted gable of the Hanseaticstyle, but the stone is rough cut. There is a corbel table supporting the roof in the medieval manner. Large voussoirs radiate around the ground floor windows.

Aldershot

 

Toronto

The top of the gable has loop holes. There is a paired hoodmold over the gable window. Rounded stone string coursesaccent the design.

The windows are separated at the top in the Arts and Crafts manner.

Aldershot

 

St Mary

St Mary has an equally impressive stone civic building. Dichromatic brick, turrets, small round headed windows with collonettes, corbie stpes and corbel tables help to make up the facade.

Aldershot

St. Mary

St. Mary

The entrance has an arcade in red stone with a balcony above supported by a corbel table.

 

Aldershot

St. Mary

Picton Registry Office
1871

This charming little building ws built about two years before shire hall. The brick work is masterful. The acroterions on the roof add to the classical appeal.

Cruck arch - England

Picton ON

Picton
1874

Shire hall is not far from Sophiasburgh and in this building we see a similar colour scheme and similar white detailing within the brick. This building is far more classical in nature, while also being a gable front shape. There is a cornice separating the gable/pediment. Both first and second story windows have elegant window cornices.

Wood Detailing

Picton ON

Picton

One must presume that the portico was added later as it effectively severs the top of the fanlight surround. It none the less has solid classical proportions and keeps the citizens dry.

Aldershot

Picton ON

1950 to Present

There are remarkably few town halls built between 1910 and 1950. Between wars, depression and a revolutionised social structure, those towns that already had town halls were expanding very little, and not many new towns were being developed.

By 1950, however, the boom was on again and old town halls were replaced or renovated beyond recognition. New town and city halls were bu=eing built, as in the previous era, in the fashion of the moment.

The populations which were more or less stable during the beginning of the century were exploding. People still wanted a town hall that reflected the taste and sophistication of the populace, but there was not such immediate interaction with the designers and designs.

Hamilton
International Style

Hamilton City Hall is an internationally recognised building in the International style. The square in front of the building compliments the design and adds to the still modern look. This is the style that many young architects today are emulating.

 

 

Hamilton

Thecouncil chambers are in a separate pavillion above the front entrance. The pavillion provides a hypostyle hall as an entrance.

Renaissance Doorway

Hamilton: Stan Roscoe

Hamilton

Every detail from the immaculate terazzo flooring to the chrom and mahogony staircases is classic mid century design.

This reception desk is still populated by actual people. Its amazing.

Brantford
Brutalist

Brantford City hall is built in the mid century style called Brutalist after the material, beton brut. It is a functional, streamlined and elegant design that after a period of dismissal is coming back into it's own.

Renaissance Doorway

Brantford

Toronto

Viljo Revell designed Toronto City hall in the modernist style. It was completed in 1965.

Renaissance Doorway

Toronto City Hall

Barrie

The Barrie City hall is a mix of International style - concrete, glass adnd steel, with post modern.

 

 

 

Dundas

Barrie

Shaed crashing through other shapes was the style in the last decades of the 2oth century.

Bungalow in London

Barrie Ontario

Extra Reading and resources for Town Halls in Ontario

Books

Blake, Verschoyle, and Ralph Greenhill. Rural Ontario. Toronto: University of Toronto Press,1969.

Green, Patricia and Muarice H."From West Flamborough's storied past, 2003

MacRae, Marion, and Anthony Adamson. The Ancestral Roof: Domestic Architecture of Upper Canada. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1963.

 

Movies

The Ox Bow Incident, Henry Fonda

 

 

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