It was the last week in February 1902. Horses and cutters and sleighs were bringing people into Creemore from the surrounding country. The Farmers’ Institute had been advertising a meeting of interest to farmers and also their wives. The event was to be held in Leonard’s Hall. That afternoon, Alice Hollingworth and Frank Webster set eyes upon each other for the first time. Ten months later they were married and here I am, their oldest grandchild, telling their story. First I will tell you my grandparents’ story and then tell you about Leonard’s Hall.
Frank Webster was the president of the local Farmers’ Institute which met from time to time to share information on better farming practices. Every winter the provincial Department of Agriculture sent speakers to all the small communities bringing the farm people the latest and best news about agriculture. The Farmers’ Institute promoted the event and made the arrangements.
Alice Hollingworth, a young woman from pioneer Muskoka, had been hired to travel to these events and speak to the women at a separate location. She had been writing reports from the local Farmers’ Institute and had shown her ability to promote ideas. After a course at the Agricultural College at Guelph she was all set. As well, in every community she was to organize a Women’s Institute if interest was shown. The Women’s Institute was a new organization taking the province by storm. Alice Hollingworth left Creemore the next morning by train. Obviously much was accomplished between her and Frank Webster in that short time. As mentioned previously they were married within 10 months, on Dec. 25, 1902. And as they say, the rest was history.
Now about Leonard’s Hall. It occupied the whole upstairs of the building we now know as Home Hardware on Mill Street. A door at the front opened to a long staircase. Those of you who have been reading The Creemore Echo regularly will recognize the Leonard name.
Elias Leonard established and ran a flourishing hotel for at least 30 years beginning in 1875. Business went so well he was able to build another building just next door to the south. Besides profit, Elias Leonard may have had another motivation: He and his family were talented musically. The hall had a stage for entertainment which no doubt they used to express their love of music. I do not have a date for when it was built but clearly it was before 1902. It was a very popular venue for stage shows, dances, community dinners, school concerts and meetings. The Creemore council met there monthly.
Gerry Blackburn remembers his first public school Christmas concert in that hall. He had a recitation to say before the large crowd. Gerry didn’t tell me it was a huge success but I am sure it was. At that time, props were put up in various places in the stores below to support the hall floor. It was feared that a large crowd would cause the floor to collapse.
After reading a news item in a November Creemore Star this is not surprising. At the Continuation School commencement held in Leonard’s Hall in 1933, an estimated 500 people attended with many turned away at the door.
Soon after Gerry’s debut, perhaps in 1939, Leonard’s Hall was shut down for good. It was turned into two apartments. The village bought what was the Matchett Hotel and renovated it into a hall for local events, with meeting rooms and a library upstairs. This building now houses Water First.
Helen Blackburn is a retired teacher, avid gardener and a long-time contributor to the Creemore Echo. She writes about local history.