Port Hope’s Town Hall

The Founding of Port Hope plaque in front of the Town Hall Reads:

“Peter Smith, a fur trader , occupied a house here at “Smiths Creek” by 1788. The first permanent settlers were Loyalists brought to the township in 1793 by a group of associates headed by Jonathan Walton of Schenectady N.Y. And Alias Smith, formerly of New York City. Walton and Smith were granted land after promising to build mills on the creak. The mills were operating by 1797 when Smith moved here and in1800 he laid out a town plot. The community’s name Port Hope was adopted at a public meeting in 1818, despite local pressure to call it “Toronto”. A village with a board of police in 1834, it was incorporated as a town in 1850”

Port Hope’s original historical town hall started construction in the year1851, and soon became the focal point for political, social and commercial activities of the town. After the corner stone was laid on September 9th 1851 there followed a great gala dinner with many local dignitaries attending. The building was finally completed in 1853 at three times the original estimated cost. The hall became home to the council chambers, court rooms with a market square on the ground floor. Until the Music Hall on Walton Street was built in 1871, the town hall was the most important and widely used building of the town in the 19th century. The civic building was designed in the neoclassic inspiration of the Victoria period with Greek revival and Italianate details. The two storey, red brick building, the town hall has a tall octagonal cupola and a bell.

From The Watchman, August 22, 1851, regarding the laying of the town hall and market building corner stone: “According to a design of Austin of Rochester, one of the first architects on this continent. When we say that the Town Council have spared no expense for the erection of this building we may be pardoned if we say, that a handsomer building of the kind will scarcely be found in Canada. The Corner Stone is to be laid by the Masonic Lodge of this town with all the honours.”

The Watchman, 29, 1851: “At a meeting of the two committees appointed by the town council and the Masonic Lodge, held at Hastings Hotel on the 29th instant, for the purpose of making preparations for laying the corner stone of the Town Hall and Marker Building in this Town, on Tuesday the ninth day of September next, at the hour of twelve o’clock, at noon, with Masonic honours appointed D. Smart, Esq., Chairman, and John A. Ward, Secretary of the Joint Committees. That the Joint Committees call on the Mayor to issue a proclamation appointing the ninth day of September a holiday, and invite the co-operation of the national and other societies of the town, the fire department, and townspeople generally, to assist in the celebration of the day. It was likewise proposed by Peter Robertson, Esq. seconded by George Charles Ward, Esq., that a public dinner be provided at Hastings’ Hotel, at five o’clock, pm, on that day. Tickets 10s, each to be had of the Chairman, and the undersigned Members of the Committee. N.B. A Programme of the Proceedings will appear in the “Port Hope Watchman” and by handbills on the 5th of September next.”

From The Watchman September 12, 1851; “Tuesday last, the 9th instant, will be an ever memorable day in the annals of Port Hope – on that day was laid with Masonic honours, the chief corner stone of the town Hall and Marker building, commencing,as it were, a new era in the rise and progress of our flourishing and rapidly growing town. The auspicious day was observed as a general and joyous Holiday, by all classes of the community, and it became our pleasing duty to chronicle the proceedings and events of the day in the order that they occurred.”

In the corner stone of the Town Hall there was deposited the following coins, a three shilling piece, a quarter of a dollar, seven pence half-penny, one peony piece, Bank of U.C., half penny, Bank of Montreal. Also, the following newspapers: Colonist, Globe, Examiner, North American, Toronto; St. Catharines Mail; Pilot, Montreal; Cobourg Star, Peterborough Weekly Dispatch, and the Port Hope Watchman.

The Town Hall when finished according to the design plans and specifications of the architect, Mr. Austin was a elegant and commodious structure. The combination of Grecian and Doric style of architecture, is 98 x 50 feet, the basement was intended for a dwelling house, cellars and cells. The will be 8 high and built of stone. The main floor will be 13 feet in height and used for places of business. The upper floor was 13 feet in height. The Town Hall will be in this portion of the building. A handsome octagon cupola, 18 feet in diameter and about 30 feet in height from the ridge. The Town clock and bell were placed in the cupola and are a public benefit.

At a public dinner attended by more than 190 guests, James Smith, M.P.P., Mayor of the town occupied the Chair, Thos G. Ridout, Deputy Provincial Grand Master of the Masonic Order, Asa Burnham, Warden of the United Counties of Northumberland and Durham, the Revd J. Taylor, Provincial Grand Chaplin of the Masonic Order, William Weller, Mayor of Cobourg, Kivas Tully and Nesbitt Kirchhoffer also attended. Toasts were also offered to The Queen, Prince Albert and to the Governor General, the Army and Navy and to the Mayor and Town Council.

On February 3rd, 1893, the Port Hope Town Hall was gutted by fire that left only the walls standing. Most of the interior timber work, wood finish, the town clock and bell were destroyed. With in a year the building was reconstructed and was reoccupied by the Town Council in February of 1894.

Today the Town Hall located at 56 Queen Street is surrounded by lawns and gardens. Memorial Park

features the statue of Lt. Colonel Arthur Williams, one of the town’s native sons and one of local history’s most disputed hero’s, See Post : Port Hope, Ontario, Batoche Hero) an impressive band shell, the Joseph Scriven (What a Friend We Have in Jesus) Memorial, and the Cenotaph-War Memorial. The park east of Queen Street features a walkway along the Ganaraska River and the Ganaraska Hiking Trail Association’s southern terminus cairn. On crossing the river on the walkway bridge to the East-side Ganaraska River Park can be found the famous ‘dry stone’ Farley Mowat boat-roofed house monument. (See Post: The Mowat Monument on The Move

Regards, Ranger

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