Presentation details the grand gamble of Victoria Hall

By Cecilia Nasmith


In its history, Victoria Hall has been a grand gamble for Cobourg two times, 110 years apart.

John Taylor is an expert on both, and he will share the story on a return visit to town on Sept. 18.

Taylor is currently completing The Grand Gamble, a documentary film detailing the turbulent and intertwined history of Victoria Hall and the Cobourg and Peterborough Railroad.

This project draws on his decades (and professional connections) as an actor in British Columbia, where he currently resides. He has worked with a roster of distinguished directors and actors, and scored roles in The Pledge, Smokin’ Aces, Watchmen, X-Files, Stargate, Supernatural, DaVinci’s Inquest and The Killing.

He has also worked as production designer on documentaries, short films and features, and garnered several awards for this work. A more complete account can be found under his listing (as John R. Taylor) at the IMDB website.

But his time in Cobourg in the 1970s allowed him to draw on different skills. He came to town as the first director of the Art Gallery of Cobourg (now the Art Gallery of Northumberland) and was instantly struck by the grandeur of Victoria Hall.

While his documentary deals with the gamble of investing in an edifice worthy of a town that might well have become the nation's capital, Taylor arrived in time for the second gamble – what to do with a building that had deteriorated to the point that it had to be vacated for everyone's safety.

In a presentation at the Cobourg Public Library in April, he explained that the town council of the day frankly despaired of being able to come up with the millions of dollars its restoration would cost, and they came razor's-edge close to authorizing its demolition.

Taylor lost no time penning an impassioned letter to the editor that appeared in the Cobourg Sentinel-Star, arguing for its preservation. On the strength of that, a group of like-minded citizens recruited him to be the first executive director of the Society for the Preservation of Victoria Hall.

Taylor said in April that he realizes that the time to share this story through the medium of film is now or never. The Victoria Hall Volunteers are hosting this Sept. 18 presentation – and offering it free of charge – to help that happen.

Cobourg council got behind the project and endorsed the request of the Volunteers to waive all fees for the rental of the Victoria Hall Concert Hall for this 7 p.m. program (a venue that, according to Taylor, was in such poor shape by 1971 that anyone walking across the Concert Hall floor would jingle the chandeliers one floor down in the Old Bailey Courtroom).

“For the presentation in Cobourg, the screening of the film will be preceded by a 45-minute talk and slide presentation on the restoration of Victoria Hall from 1971 through 1983,” Taylor said.

“Then the film The Grand Gamble will be screened, and a Q-and-A session will follow.”