Wiarton's Town Hall

The origins of Wiarton's town hall began inauspiciously, with coucillors meeting in local hotels. At some point, however, they acquired the use of a some permanent hallspace. I have yet to determine exactly where this hall was located, but evidence thus far suggests it was known as Jones' Hall and it was located above a shoe store on Berford Street.

During its first thirty five years of existence (1886 to about 1901), Wiarton grew at a tremendous rate. In the midst of this expansion, a local general store-owner, Joseph Robinson, decided to erect a two-storey red-brick structure on his lot at the southwest corner of Berford and George Streets. The tenders for construction were announced in April 1888 and the $6000 building was finished in early 1889, despite a shortage of brick. On the ground floor, the northern half of the building was originally home to Robinson's store, while the southern half was occupied by the owners of the Wiarton furniture factory, Siemon and Hill, as a retail outlet. The second floor served as a hall that was rented out for various social functions such as travelling acting troupes.

Not long after the construction of Robinson Hall was announced, the town purchased some land on George Street to the rear of the new building. On this land was built Wiarton's first fire hall, completed in February of 1889. As shown in Figure W19A, the one and a half storey building featured a bell tower front and center on its roofline.


Figure W19A:  Wiarton's original Fire Hall, located to the rear of Robinson Hall (c. 1893).


The man responsible for the establishment of Bell Canada's first phone lines in Wiarton also offered to use his left over equipment to run a phone line from the new fire hall to the water pumphouse along the west side of the bay, where the Wiarton Marina is presently located. In late May of 1889, the town's first bell was installed above the fire hall, however it immediately drew criticism for being too small. It was said that the 400 pound bell could not be heard at the pumphouse some 400 meters away. Nonetheless, the fire service met with general success.

Over the next decade, Robinson Hall continued to serve as a hall/retail space, although its tennants changed. Siemon and Hill sold their retail furniture store to J.L Lindsay in 1891, who subsequently sold out to S.A. Perry in 1893. Mr. Robinson's space to the north was taken over around 1893 by the Echo bookstore, associated with the Wiarton Echo newspaper. By 1898, Joseph Robinson had moved to Owen Sound, pointing to a new future for the building he left behind.

Figure W19B below shows an excellent view of Robinson Hall in early 1899. S. A. Perry's furniture store is visible in the left-hand side of the building.


Figure W19B:  Robinson Hall shortly before its conversion to Wiarton's Town Hall (c. 1899).


In July of 1899 the town voted in favour of a bylaw to purchase Robinson Hall as the official Town Hall, and the town's new council chamber was officially opened in February of 1900. At the same time, the hall's distinctive 75 foot bell tower was added to its northwest rear corner and the town finally ordered its larger 800 pound bell in June of that year. The hall was also fitted out at that time with a collection of new electric lights which garnered much attention in the press.

In early 1902, council decided to evict S.A. Perry and his furniture store to devote the building solely to public use. The new proposed layout for the Town Hall was to house the clerk's office, a library and a firemen's room in the northern half of the main floor, with office space and an armoury in the southern half. By June, Perry had vacated Town Hall, moving his store less than a block north on Berford Street. However, it appears that following Perry's departure, the original town bell and fire hall were sold off and the southern half of Town Hall was adapted to house the new fire hall. (See Figure W3C on the page entitled "Berford St. Part 3" for of view of the Town Hall with the integrated fire hall.)

Despite some reports of the building settling into the ground in 1903, the Town Hall served its purpose for about 60 years without incident. As generations passed, the culture and economy of Wiarton changed but the Town Hall remained, a symbol of simpler origins. In 1960, the town recognized the historical significance of the building, investing the funds necessary to renovate the bell tower so it would stand for decades to come. The last significant renovation to the building came in 1964 when the firehall was moved to a new two-bay addition on the south end of this building, leaving the original space for use by the town, the Wiarton Public Utilities Commission and the library. Figure W19C shows the hall with this new addition.


Figure W19C:  Town Hall with the 2-bay fire hall addition (about 1960).


Unfortunately, tragedy struck on January 19, 1967 when the entire landmark was gutted by fire. Figure W19D gives front and rear views of the Town Hall in flames (note the bell tower toward the right in the bottom image). The building was a complete loss, with the exception of the recent firehall addition.




Figure W19D:  Wiarton's Town Hall on fire (c. 1967).


In August of the following year, the new Wiarton Town Hall was built. Constructed in the International style of architecture popular in the 1960's, this building may be functional, but lacks all the "old town charm" of the original Town Hall. Figure W19E shows the new Town Hall as it stood in when it was new (1968) and in 1984. Note the two fire station bays on the left which survived the fire of 1967.



Figure W19E:  Wiarton's new Town Hall, including the old fire hall addition (c. 1968 and 1984).


In 1985, a new fire hall was built in Wiarton on the former site of the Grand Truck Railway station. Of no further use, the two bays attached to the Town Hall were dismantled. At the same time, however, the old 800 pound town bell, purchased in 1900, was moved from the Town Hall belfry to the site of the new fire station. The bell survived the 1967 fire, but had cracked after filling with water and that subsequently froze. As part of the 125th town anniversary celebrations in 2005, the old bell was restored (by Barfoot Welding and Georgian Bay Marble and Stone) and temporarily moved back to stand in front of the Town Hall. Figure W19F shows the fully restored bell. Note the original inscription of the 1900 town council.


Figure W19F:  Wiarton's original 1900 town bell, restored in July 2005.

Today, the bell once again stands in front of Wiarton's fire station, along with some vintage fire equipment.

The present incarnation of the Town Hall, having stood inWiarton for about 50 years, now houses the council chambers for the amalgamated Town of South Bruce Peninsula. However, a void remains following the loss of the original Robinson Hall in 1967. Perhaps with this in mind, a 1984 urban renewal study suggested some modifications to the existing International-style Town Hall. As shown in Figure W19G below, this would have featured a new bell tower, reminiscent of the original tower (but standing at the eastern end of the building). Like much of the 1984 urban renewal plan, these modifications were never made. They remain only as a curious allusion to Wiarton's past...


Figure W19G:  A 1984 proposal to renovate Wiarton's Town Hall (c. 1984)


 



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Copyright 2000 - Christopher R. Graham