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This architectural gem nearly lost

Aurora's Church Street School built in 1885 was saved from the wrecker's ball is now the community's cultural centre. Donald McClure photo

It stands on the corner of  Church street a block east of busy Yonge Street in Aurora.   In the midst of a town gone wild with new development, its stately two-story. yellow brick facade stands out as unique and special.

For people who know building design it remains quite unique.  Architectural notes suggest that If you look closely you can see that the brickwork panels are laid in patterns tied to flat-arch brick lintels designed by the builders to distribute weight away from windows and doorways.

The town’s official published description points out  also “that under the eves there are six courses of brick.  Each course projects outward from the one below providing highly decorative shadows under the eves.”

“ It is built on a rectangular plan with three projecting gables across the front south facade and one on each of its ends (east and west). The gables’ elaborate detailing, ornate front belfry and central decorative blind roof monitor, combine to produce a picturesque silhouette.”

“In 1876” the report continues “Queen Victoria became the first Empress of India. In the years that followed throughout the British Empire, there was a trend to copy the designs of old Indian buildings. It has been observed that the decorative gable-ends, belfry and roof monitor replicate the style of one of the kiosks of the Golden Temple of Amritsar in India. These unique features mark the building as a fine example of the late Victorian era.”

Looking at it with its restored bell tower a few weeks ago, I felt a small sense of pride because in 1980 I was a member of the LACAC (Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee) that saved this building from the wrecker’s ball. This despite the fact that one member of our committee spoke in public about tearing it down to create “a parking lot this town would be proud of”.

Wiser heads prevailed and in 1981 it became the home of the Aurora Museum and a number of other local organizations and was designated under the Ontario Heritage Act with an Ontario Heritage Foundation plaque.

Still the building struggled to survive until backed by grants from federal, provincial and local governments and work of the Aurora Historical Society, it was this year established as a unique Aurora Cultural Centre.  Today the building remains  a living reminder of another time and of the  people and ideas which laid the foundations of this prosperous community.

Ontario has been often negligent in protecting many of its historic buildings.  Each one represents a distinct part of our cultural heritage and none should be flattened before their worth to our community has been thoroughly investigated.

Oh yes in researching this piece I also discovered that some of my wife’s  ancestors William Cane and Son of Newmarket actually built this school in 1885.

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About the Author: He can tickle your funny bone or tug at your heart strings. County people may know him as a chronicler of everything that happens (or should happen) in the garden, but his interests stretch across the natural world. His unique sense of observation takes in a wide expanse of living and may even point out some truths about our own condition as managers of the world around us. With Loyalist antecedents in his family tree his roots go deep into the Ontario countryside.

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