By Terry Hughes
There have been four town or city halls that administrated our municipal affairs. The question we hope to solve is which facility was the best. The first building was located in the top floor of the fire station that was found at the end of Cross Street opposite the county building when the river flowed through what we see today as the municipal parking lot. It burned down several times forcing the town to use the county court room as a replacement.
Local politicians saw the need to replace this facility so property was purchased on the corner of Muir (King) and Division streets for the next structure, shown here as it appeared in 1901.
In 1958 the Atlas Steels offered their administrative building at 411 East Main Street for one dollar. The newest building occupies the present site opposite the courthouse and, ironically, very close to the original facility.
Location is one characteristic that needs to be considered. Three of the four facilities were located downtown. The former Atlas building, a bargain for the city, was too far from the centre of the city and opposite to one of the noisiest parts of the steel plant. It was not the best place to invite out of town guests. It left limited space for council meetings and forced the city solicitor and his secretary to share office space under a stairwell.
Although its location was good, we can rule out the first site as too antiquated for the municipality to do business. That leaves us with two sites.
Both hold a strategic location as being close to the centre of town and as a drawing card to get local citizens to come here. The present facility has all the amenities to offer the citizens – a place to do business and govern. Its general appearance has encouraged local property owners to upgrade their buildings and offer our people a beautiful library.
Its one drawback is its appearance. Many people have identified it as sterile. Its modern façade lacks warmth and friendliness which is so much a part of modern architecture today. While keeping the nearby clock, why not replace the reflecting pool with rose bushes and place the reflecting pool in the former Cross Street Swimming Pool at the rear of the building! Imagine what a great skating area this would be in the winter!
That leaves us with the town hall on King Street. Its overall appearance was eye-catching. It emulates the style of architecture found in the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa for both local and water-borne traffic.
The tower rising seventy plus feet carried a bell that served several functions upon which local citizens depended, e.g., the time. It housed the council chambers on the top floor and library on the second floor until it moved up King Street (the present site of the museum). The police were housed in the basement.
Its location made it a spot of importance in that it shared the waterfront with the newly opened customs and post office as Welland was a port of entry then, and the impressive Imperial Bank of Canada building. The bandstand featuring the local brass band stood across from the town hall and, later, Merritt Park. Interior photos of rooms showing committee and city councils are not impressive but these are hard to find.
So which building wins our contest? You decide and share your thoughts by commenting on the blog.
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