Dundas 175: Music Hall once the heart of the local arts community

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For Valley Town residents, the Music Hall building at King and Foundry streets was the heart of a thriving arts community.
  • Kerry McNamara is the author of

Dundas has for many years been very proud of its artistic community. We consider the Dundas Valley School of Art at Hatt and Ogilvie streets, and the Carnegie Gallery at King and Ogilvie streets as local art centers. The Dundas Little Theater on Market Street next to the Dundas Arena has been the site of many theatrical performances.

For Valley Town residents, the Music Hall building at King and Foundry streets was once the heart of a thriving arts community some 100 years ago. From 1911 until the late 1940s, budding local talent performed on the Music Hall stage, entertaining all ages and filling the hall with local crowds. In February 1911, John D. Pennington opened the hall at 98-102 King Street with a gala ceremony. All the local dignitaries were present and congratulated Pennington for having built, at his own expense, a most impressive hall.

Pennington had long been a fan of music and dancing and worked diligently to build this type of music and meeting room for the community. A successful business career allowed this to become a reality as his manufacturing company, the Valley City Seating Co., was a well-established local business employing many people.

During its operation, the Music Hall held many types of entertainment ranging from plays and films to charity balls, concerts and dances. One of the best known early performers was the 77th Regiment Band which provided many enjoyable evenings of musical enjoyment. Budding politicians and events featuring religious speakers were also common at the Music Hall.

Olive Newcombe, former curator of the Dundas Museum and Archives, recalled the importance and beauty of the room: “It was a beautiful place with long moss green curtains. If needed, chairs could be stored under the stage for dances and events.

The hall has been recognized as the headquarters of the Dundas Choral Society and for its Gilbert and Sullivan performances by members of local Dundas churches. Movies have become popular events. For the price of 10 cents, or 35 cents for reserved seating, Dundasians could see movie stars like Mary Pickford and John Barrymore on the big screen.

Until the mid-1940s, the Music Hall was a social center. World War II changed the pace of entertainment to include events such as badminton, but the hall remained the place for socializing.

The ground floor of the hall was a sought-after commercial location for many years: Mannings Restaurant, facing Foundry Street, was a popular dining spot. Other tenants included a pharmacist, a music dealer, a newsagent and a tobacconist. From 1915 to 1918, the Dundas Public Board leased part of the ground floor to reduce overcrowding in local schools.

In Part 2 of Music Hall, the decline of the historic building will be considered in what has been a hotly debated topic in the Valley City for many decades.

— Kerry McNamara is the author of Historical Dundas. This recurring column recognizes the 175th anniversary of the community’s incorporation as a city.

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