Description of Historic Place
The building at 55 King Street West, known as Victoria Hall, fronts the entire block between Third Street and King Street West in the Town of Cobourg. The three-storey sandstone clad building was designed in a Victorian interpretation of the English Palladian style by architect Kivas Tully and was constructed from 1856-60.
The exterior, select areas of the interior and the scenic character of the property are protected by an Ontario Heritage Trust conservation easement. The property also received heritage designation by the Town of Cobourg under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act (By-law 83-82). In 1959 Victoria Hall was designated a National Historic Site by the Government of Canada.
Located in the heart of Cobourg's downtown, Victoria Hall dominates King Street as a major architectural landmark and is the most impressive heritage building in Northumberland County. Two blocks due north of Cobourg's harbour, Victoria Hall was positioned in one of the town's most prominent locations. While not facing the harbour, the structure's substantial form would capture the attention of all those travelling by ship. Victoria Hall contributes to an important concentration of civic buildings within the same block that includes the Old Market Building and Fire Hall both located to the south.
Victoria Hall, Cobourg's town hall, served as the town's administrative and government offices since its opening by the Prince of Wales in 1860. From 1860-1956, Victoria Hall also housed the administrative, judicial and government offices for the United Counties of Northumberland and Durham. In addition to these municipal offices, and a court room (shared by the jurisdictions), the building was also the town's primary meeting and entertainment venue with a concert hall capable of seating nearly 1,000 people. Originally, some of the building's 26 offices were rented out, providing an important source of revenue. The Masonic Lodge established their meeting room within the building, and numerous professionals also rented quarters, including James Cockburn, a barrister and Father of Confederation. Constructed at the enormous cost of $110,000, the grandeur of Victoria Hall reflects the confidence possessed by Cobourg's citizens in the 1850s, who believed that their community was destined to become an important city worthy of such an impressive municipal structure. During this period, Cobourg's economy flourished due to a busy harbour, the province's largest cloth factory, and agricultural wealth from substantial grain growing. Fuelling the optimism was the completion in 1854 of the much anticipated railway from Cobourg to Peterborough, and Cobourg's assured position on the Grand Trunk Railway's main line between Montreal and Toronto (built 1853-56).
Victoria Hall is one of the finest public buildings in Canada. It was designed by the Toronto architect, Kivas Tully, who was also responsible for designing Toronto's Trinity College. Constructed of pale yellow brick with Cleveland sandstone cladding, Victoria Hall was built 1856-60 by contractors William and David Burnett. The building is distinguished by a Corinthian columned portico on an arcade base that forms a distinctly Palladian frontispiece. The rusticated first storey and classically detailed cupola, with open belfry and clocks, contribute to this characterization. The national emblems of Britain including the rose, thistle and shamrock are carved into panels above the cornice and in the spandrels above the main entrance, and co-exist with carvings of a classical style, such as ancient Greek lyres. Highlighting the interior of Victoria Hall is an enormous concert hall, sunken court room and sky-lit stairwells with oak staircases off a spacious foyer. The court room with its panelled boxes is modeled upon the famous Old Bailey courtroom in London, and features painting in the manner of tromp-l'oeil by Joseph Moser that incorporates the Royal Coat of Arms. The court room's rare well-type plan is the only one of its type known to survive in Canada. Elaborate tromp-l'oeil decorates the walls and ceiling of the symmetrical concert hall while the pedimented door cases and other wood work are painted to simulate fine woods. Fireproof vaults were incorporated throughout the structure for the safekeeping of municipal and court records. Significantly, the public market was not incorporated within Victoria Hall, as was common practice with other municipal buildings constructed at the time.
Source: OHT Easement Files
Character defining elements that contribute to the heritage value of Victoria Hall include its:
- central and prominent downtown location, aligned with the harbour, two blocks from the lakeshore
- siting adjacent to the Public Market and Fire Hall forming a cluster of important and historic civic buildings
- role as the administrative, judicial, and government headquarters for the Town of Cobourg
- role as the administrative, judicial and government headquarters for the United Counties of Northumberland and Durham
- role as the primary entertainment and meeting venue in the Town of Cobourg
- association with Kivas Tully, a significant mid-19th century Toronto architect
- symmetrical, three-storey (plus central attic storey), 'E' shaped institutional plan and massing
- low pitched slate-clad roof with stone parapets, two skylights and numerous tall, brick, internal chimneys with broad caps
- pale yellow brick and masonry construction with principal facades clad and detailed with Cleveland sandstone, with a rusticated first-storey and smoothly finished upper-stories
- frontispiece with a projecting, Corinthian columned portico with pediment over a Serlian arcade
- relieving arches with voussoirs of the first storey with inset windows
- vermiculated keystones of the arches
- Classical detailing such as Corinthian pilasters, modillion block cornice, antefix (pediment), window cornices with acanthus leaf console brackets, and carved