Betty Jo Belton: Betty Jo’s presentation was entitled “Stratford’s Save the City Hall League”. In her initial slide, she showed a clipping from the Stratford Beacon Herald commemorating the designation of Stratford City Hall as a National Historical Site in 1983. The battle to save City Hall began in 1971, when successive Councils demonstrated support to raze the Hall to make way for a hotel complex or alternate commercial development. A group of citizens who valued the building formed a committee to examine other options. Originally, this committee was composed of women only; Jo Ann Hayes, Evelyn Broadfoot, Mary Brothers, Ellen Stafford, Winifred Kneital, and Dolores Whiteman.
The original City Hall was victim to a fire in 1898. The present City Hall was then commissioned and cost $35,000 to build and was expressly designed to fit the triangular plot where it now site. It housed a library, reading rooms, an auditorium, and council chambers. The City Hall was the site of the 1906 reunion, the return from war of the 1946 Perth Regiment, and the Centennial celebrations.
However, by the1960s, it was looking down at the heels, so City Council invited architects to investigate the costs of repairs. It was determined that the building sound but the mechanical components were out-dated and in poor shape. Mention was made of the low percentage of office space to building size. Tenders of $500,000 were entered to effect updates, which was thought to be exorbitant for an old building and a committee was struck to look for a new site.
On Nov 25th 1964, the Beacon Herald ran the story and in an editorial said that there were two sides to the story. Letters to the Editor poured in, with the vast majority writing in favour of keeping City Hall. Nevertheless, in1967, Mayor CH Meier showed plans for a 10-storey hotel in place of city hall, with plans to start the work in 1968. Incoming Mayor John Hiller wanted to stay neutral and asked the public for ideas for city hall, but no action was taken. By 1969, there were serious concerns about the need to replace the plumbing and obsolete heating. With cracks inside and out, it was estimated that there were no more than 25 years left in building.
The Save the City Hall League collected 2000 signatures to ask for a plebiscite on the building. They stated that they had support to keep the building and that Council was not acting in accordance with the wishes of the electorate. Councillor David Bradshaw was tasked with getting a committee together to study the issue and to make recommendations
In April 1970, the original 1964 report resurfaced to avoid more costly studies. A June meeting was set to settle the matter. With Bradshaw in favour of saving the hall, the committee was encouraged to write 10-12 briefs to support saving the hall. The Beacon Herald encouraged all interested parties to attend the public meeting on May 23 1970. Of the 81 submissions made, 64 were in favour of saving the hall.
However, a new developer was in the works sniffing about the hall and the Council voted 6-5 in favour of demolition. In response, the League requested legal advice. Robert Mountain represented the City at that time. In April 1971, a public meeting was held to address urban planning since the hall was coming down. A drop-in centre was established by the League so that people could sign for support. Letters written to public figures to garner support, were favourably answered, most notably by Farley Mowatt.
The August 1971 Council Meeting to hear a proposal by developer David Owen had the item removed from agenda. Council voted 7-3 to table the City Hall issue. By Sept 9th David Owen was no longer interested and the Mayor blamed this on the editorial in the Beacon Herald, and announced it at Rotary meeting on the same day. He criticized the behavior of League supporters. On Sept 10th, the committee was tasked with coming up with an alternative, but no plans were approved. In Nov 1971, a joint committee of councillors and merchants were asked to make a plan. They hired a local architect to repair and update the Hall. In July 1972, a $2.5 million proposal for a commercial undertaking with parking on site was proposed but abandoned in Aug 1972.
On June 1, 1974 a re-dedication service was held and the Hall was restored by Christmas 1974. In June, 1982, it was designated as a heritage structure and then a National Heritage site.
Cambria thanked Betty-Jo Belton for her entertaining and informative presentation.