Through a voice over the loudspeakers that represented the walls of the building, the story was told of a village hall that opened in 1887 to serve a bustling community of shops, hotels, churches and schools in a village founded by James and Jane Willis. Mills and factories were peppered at the Ausable River’s edge.
The opening of the village hall, 15 years after the village was incorporated, was a great sign of progress, according to the local newspaper.
Short vignettes of council proceedings were performed in the play written by local playwright Paul Ciufo, including the first council meeting held in the new chambers, with lively discussion about the bylaw for animals running at large and the children’s curfew.
A British flag and ribbons of red, white and blue were strung in front of the council table. A portrait of Queen Victoria, who celebrated her golden jubilee in 1887 when the village hall opened, rested on an easel. Heavy gilded books and laminated newspaper articles were on display.
The voice of the walls highlighted the 1918 council meeting that resulted in a memorial of gray granite being built outside the town hall. Over time, the town hall housed the library, fire and police departments.
By the mid-1970s, the building had fallen into a state of disrepair and it was abandoned. At some point, it was painted white, which resulted in it being dubbed “the white elephant of Exeter.”
In that same decade, the town’s youngest mayor, 34-year-old Bruce Shaw, declared he wouldn’t spend $10 on a can of paint for the building and advocated that it be torn down. Others opposed the demolition and, and rallied the community to save the town hall. The Exeter Heritage Foundation was created and, with funding from the province, the building was restored.
The town hall is now incorporated into a larger building to serve all of South Huron.