Time Traveller's Diary

Shawna White, Curator

Aurora’s First Cultural Centre

A sepia-toned photograph of a group of young men and women in white clothing and some with lei necklaces, sitting in four rows, most holding acoustic guitars, against a painted backdrop.

2020 ushers in both a new decade and an exciting project that is currently known as Library Square. This impressive expansion to the historic Church Street School will be a place where the community can come together to explore history, art, theatre, music, special events and innovative programming. This new hub for culture piqued my interest in exploring earlier venues where similar activities occurred throughout Aurora’s past. I had to look no further than the south-east corner of Mosley and Victoria Streets, towards the building formerly known as Mechanics Hall.  I promptly set the dial to the 1870s to begin my journey.

 

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Mechanics’ Hall, c.1960 (2002.19.769)

As a home to education, music, religion, manufacturing, service organizations, and public events, Mechanics’ Hall has been many things to many people. During its 150 years at the corner of Mosley and Victoria, this historic building has adapted with the needs of the community and the surrounding neighbourhood.

 

 

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Temple of Fame Pageant, May 1918 (2002.19.946)

The building itself dates to 1870 when the Aurora Mechanics’ Institute and Library Association were able to finance their own facility. The Mechanics’ Institute hosted a regular programme of lectures and social gatherings available through an annual $1 subscription, which also included use of the Library. In April 1872, I was fortunate enough to cram into a packed house to hear the Hillary sisters (a new feature) perform some vocal duets alongside the regular performance of the Aurora Orchestra, who this evening entertained with a spirited rendition of the overture from The Barber of Seville.

 

I was quick to notice that the venue regularly played host to a wide variety of lectures, events, and demonstrations, including one particularly fascinating evening in March 1878; the scheduled entertainment had finished, and I was about to leave, when all of a sudden a wire was brought into the Hall from outside. Peering out the door, I noticed that it had come from a house nearby. A great cheer diverted my attention as the voices of men and women singing at the house of George Harrison filled the room through the new wired device on view: a telephone!

 

When I returned to the site in 1945, the glory years for entertainment were over. In 1946, Aurora Textiles had rented the building to produce sweaters and other knitted goods. The Lion’s Club took over the building in 1951. By 1956, the Aurora Gospel Church (also known as the Cavalry Church) held meetings in the Hall. That lasted until 1981, when the Lion’s Club returned. The Holy Forty Martyrs of Sebaste Romanian Orthodox Church purchased the building in 2011 and remain there today.

 

Feeling inspired by the sights and sounds that filled Mechanics’ Hall I vowed to keep this rich and diverse mixture of cultural programming top of mind while brainstorming program ideas for the Church Street School expansion.

 

Originally published in The Auroran – June 16, 2020

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