The Days of Olde…
Political meetings, picture shows, division court and a jail cell to house the occasional ‟drunk and disorderly. For more than a century, the Dundalk Olde Town Hall has seen a lot of drama in one form or another!-An abbreviated look at a history that deserves a future!!!
The citizens of the village gathered August 3, 1903 to vote for or against the fateful bylaw to pay for the building – a cost of $7,500. The answer was yes, and the lot was acquired in 1904. Doors opened at the brand new town hall in 1905.
The town had its municipal office at the building from that time until the village amalgamated in 2000 with the townships of Egremont and Proton.
Dundalk had a beautiful theatre with opera seats (wooden folding chairs bought from another hall) where people could see ground-breaking movies, travelling Chautauqua variety shows and travelling purveyors of magical and potent elixers and cure-alls.
Perhaps even more importantly, many local ‟stars” were to tread the floorboards over the years in school concerts, church plays and community theatrics. A photograph from about 1918 shows a cast of more than 50 on stage posing for a photo. (Of latter years, director Audrey Oldfield and her team would rival and even exceed this number with their popular Broadway musical productions involving people of all ages.)
For many years, the bell rang from its town at 7 a.m., noon, 1 and 6 p.m. on weekdays, and served as a fire alarm. It was the town hall bell that rang wildly at 6 in the morning on November 11, 1919 to announce the end of the war – and again at the end of WWII. The bell was silent for 20 years after the belfry was lifted down for safety reasons – but in 1982 the bell soared up again.
The meeting hall/council chambers hosted meetings, euchres and dances. Many adults will remember the excitement of the Saturday afternoon movie in the theatre from their childhood.
While the theatre was unused for a period, the village of Dundalk with its clerk Audrey Clarke, and with many citizens worked to re-open the auditorium in October, 1980.
Some 20 years later, more time and money were invested by the community to refurbish the theatre. A Trillium grant also was received though community partner, the Dundalk Lions Club. New cushioned seats were sponsored by local citizens, organizations and businesses. The Dundalk Little Theatre gave money toward new lighting and draperies. That celebration was held March 3, 2001.
The Dundalk Little Theatre continued to use the theatre for plays in spring and fall, and for biennial musicals. Local political meetings during elections or on topics of community interest were held in the theatre.
But in 2013, fire code issues closed the hall with a Dundalk Little Theatre production ready to open. While the council set a citizen task force to examine the issue in 2014, after a structural engineer’s report suggesting the building needed a total gutting and rebuild for $3-$6 million. No further action was taken until another public consultation took place in December, 2017 and January, 2018.
Area residents are again taking an interest in finding a creative way to renew and renovate the theatre and keep this historic building as the landmark and anchor of downtown Dundalk.
Did you know?
That the cistern in the Town Hall basement held a supply of water that was used in battling the McCullough House fire in 1970. The large brink building stood where the Lions Parkette is today. While that historic building on the corner of Main and Proton Streets burned, volunteer firefighters saved the CIBC next door.
“The Olde Town Hall has been an amazing building serving our community for well over a century! … I remember as young child growing up here spending many wonderful days in the theatre watching movies there, it must be saved!”
Resident of Dundalk