Main photo: The original Town Hall auditorium, date and event unknown. Mayor Aitchison would like to see the former auditorium restored and used as municipal ceremonial and meeting space (Photo: Muskoka Heritage Place collection)
Huntsville’s Town Hall was built in 1926, a beautiful, stately building in its time that in many ways still is. Recent discussions around the council table about the need for larger council chambers got Mayor Scott Aitchison thinking about a grander vision for the old structure, perhaps in time for its 100th anniversary.
He shared his vision with councillors at the November 29 General Committee meeting.
“I think using Club 55 (for council chambers) is a short-term solution to a challenge that I think this community is going to continue to face. We are a growing municipality,” said Aitchison, noting that the building has changed much in his short time around it. “When we did the (Algonquin) Theatre, we turned the auditorium into office space for staff and we made the stage of the auditorium the gallery for council. At the time, we quadrupled the space for the gallery and we thought that would be great, but here we are 15 years later and it’s not big enough.”
In addition to not being large enough to house some of the municipality’s busier meetings, like Planning Committee, it’s also not an accessible space, he said.
Lastly, Aitchison said he has concerns about the building itself. “I’ve also been down in the basement in this part of the building… Every time we go down there where we are keeping important municipal records, there’s a layer of red dust (from the bricks) on the boxes and water gets in that area.” He added that, while he’s not an expert on buildings, “it looks to me like there’s some serious problems with the foundation on the back side of the building… I would hate for us to embark upon what would seem like a minor renovation project only to determine that the foundations are rotting and we need to do a lot more work.”
I think it’s important that our municipal offices and the work of this council happen in the downtown core. It also is important for us to save and protect the Town Hall, the original building.
Mayor Scott Aitchison
Aitchison said his current vision is to build a modern office structure behind town hall for municipal staff, and then “restore the original 1926 Town Hall to its former beauty” and turn what was the auditorium, and is now office space, into ceremonial and meeting space.
“In 2026, the building will be 100 years old. That might be a nice birthday gift to the community to protect it. I don’t know if it makes sense. It would be millions of dollars to do it.”
He noted that the Algonquin Theatre was built in the downtown core because the council at the time felt it was important to keep that kind of activity there. Aitchison added that he thinks Bracebridge and Gravenhurst made huge mistakes in taking their town hall out of the town core. “I would hate to see us do that.”
The next step Aitchison thinks is needed is to have the building professionally assessed to determine what shape the structure is currently in. “I don’t think we are solving our council chamber problem in the next year, but I think it’s important to take a serious look at this building.”
Councillor Nancy Alcock was the only one to comment on the idea at the meeting, and she concurred with the Mayor’s suggestions.
“I think this is an opportunity and I think it’s going to be longer term but the timing might be right,” said Alcock. “Perhaps we’ll have some new funds after we lost what was perceived as a community space with the Waterloo building, so putting some money back into our existing community space is not such a bad idea… Keeping town hall in the centre of the community was the right decision then, it’s the right decision now. I think that makes a whole lot of sense and I think it could be a really exciting community project.”
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