PORT PERRY: Did you know the Town Hall 1873 Theatre wasn’t always a theatre?
Port Perry has been home to the Town Hall 1873 Theatre for 150 years. And, as the name suggests, the Town Hall 1873 Theatre was built in 1873.
“I love the building,” said Alissa Smith, treasurer for the Town Hall 1873 Theatre. She described the building itself as “lovely”, with plenty of space. “I love the feel of the building, and I love the people [who work there].”
She said many of the theatre’s staff members are very “interesting.”
“[The Town Hall 1873 Theatre] is a nice place to be around,” she said. “And I think it has to do with the people and the building itself.”
Originally, the building was used for many purposes. There was a clerk’s office where the “lobby” currently is located. People would go there to pay their taxes and other related business. Ms. Smith said the building also “accommodated” the police constable. So, there was a small holding cell that could fit a person or two. Town meetings and other business were hosted upstairs. Other purposes of the building also included a theatre, roller skating rink and fire station.
The theatre was also used as a community hub, said Ms. Smith. Travelling musicians and other performers would put on shows for visitors.
For several years, the building went unused and was rented out to various people. According to Ms. Smith the last “well-known” renter of the building was the Gossard Company. During the mid-1940s, the Town Hall was leased to H.W Gossard, where “fashionable” ladies undergarments were made. The Canadian Gossard Company was based in Montreal, with a big factory in Toronto. However, they wanted to expand their business across Ontario, so they rented the Town Hall in Port Perry. The factory closed sometime in the 1960s.
As the infrastructure around the building increased and became more “modern”, the building was empty.
“The town didn’t know what to do with [the building] and they wanted to demolish it,” said Ms. Smith.
In the mid-1970s, a few “like-minded” business people, and performers banded together to “save” the building. Ms. Smith said they though the building would make a good theatre.
“So they went to the Township and saved [the building],” Ms. Smith explained briefly. She said, back then, the Township wanted to demolish the building to make space for a new parking lot.
Since the Town Hall 1873 Theatre was “saved”, the building has been restored as a spot for community groups to meet. Over the years, the building has been used for other things other than theatre performances. These events includes dances, antique shows and more.
However, the main goal of the community group was to turn the building into a full-time theatre. “I think [the group] were turning it back into what it was in the early days,” said Ms. Smith.