1st Grey County Building in 1852 was only built after many hurdles were overcame.
This newspaper has recently carried many stories about debates concerning the placement of several new projects planned for our region. These debates are not new phenomena.
One of the first debates about a new public building in this area occurred in 1852. At that time, plans were being made for construction of the first county buildings in the new County of Grey. At first, county officials proposed that the structure be erected at the top of Division Street hill (now 10th Street East) on the property now called Victoria Park. The area then was called the Pleasure Grounds.
The building committee applied to the Crown Lands Department of the colonial government. However, the government opposed the plan. In their official reply to the petition, government officials "had the strongest objection to the alienation of any portion..." of the Pleasure Grounds "...on account of its importance to the health and recreation..." of the residents of the community.
The colonial government proposed that Grey erect its buildings on another site. The Crown Lands Department offered property to the county on Princess and Cathcart streets (6th and 7th avenues east, north of 15th Street) behind the Pleasure Grounds.
In the fall of 1852, the building committee advertised for interested parties to submit plans for a courthouse and jail that would cost between 3,000 and 3,500 pounds. There was also a reward of 50 Pounds for the best submission. The winner of the competition was the Guelph company of Day and Bruce.
On Nov. 1, 1852, the county awarded the building contract of Dowling and Dougal of Sydenham for 3,030 pounds.
The architect, George Bruce, was hired as the construction superintendent at a cost of five per cent of the price of construction. From that point on everything seemed to move smoothly. At least until May 17, 1853, the day the cornerstone was to be laid.
The contractor had everything ready. There were many residents at the site eager to witness the historic occasion. But there was a hitch in the plans — the building committee forgot to make the necessary preparations!
The next 24 hours were chaotic. James Beachell, the provisional warden, was determined that there would be no further problems. That night handbills were posted throughout the region encouraging residents to come to the ceremony the next day.
The next day, however, conditions could not have been worse for the public ceremony. The Comet reported: "with morning came a cold disagreeable drizzling rain.... Notwithstanding this discouragement, the Band, (the) Provisional Council, Building Committee, outriders, and spectators proceeded..." to the building site around noon, two hours later than the advertised time.
Between 300 and 400 people witnessed the historic occasion. The next day, work began in earnest on the new structure.
In January, 1854, the new buildings were ready to open.
The information used in this article came from files held in the Grey County Archives
A version of this article first appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times on September 7, 2001.
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