The Towne Hall was built in 1906 replacing the old structure which had been used for council meetings and the Clerk’s Office. At that time, the population of Ailsa Craig was 1000, similar to what it is today but considering the era, it was quite a large community nurtured by railway shipping and agriculture.
During its long and productive life the structure served many purposes: meeting hall, theatre, Clerk’s Office and town hall, council chambers, library, and fire hall. In 2001, after the amalgamation of five surrounding municipalities, this venerable building was declared surplus and put up for sale. A steering committee formed and drew up a business plan which was presented to the new council of North Middlesex.
According to the Mission Statement: The Friends of “YE OLDE TOWNE HALL” is a management board dedicated to preserve and manage the building for a variety of uses by the community of North Middlesex.
On August 12, 2002 the Municipality of North Middlesex and the Friends of Ye Olde Towne Hall entered into an agreement allowing the Friends to manage the building. In November 2002 the Friends formed a permanent board, achieved charitable status and incorporated not for profit. Through a generous Ontario Trillium Foundation Grant, monies from the “Hydro Fund”, and the Municipality, a lift was installed in 2005/06. Since the Towne Hall was built in 1906 installation of the lift coincided with the centennial and a grand celebration was held to mark these two milestones.
The Town Hall was not just one large unit. Over the years it had been divided into several components: the main floor consisted of the clerk’s office, council chamber, document vault, furnace room and two storage rooms. The upper level has an auditorium with balcony, storage area, three stair cases, kitchen and washrooms. To the rear of the building was the policing office and former library. Part of the business plan included renting the former policing office. In 2003, when the local bank decided to close its doors after 104 years, the Sydenham Community Credit Union came to the rescue by opening a branch in the former library.
To quote the 2004 Andrew`s Report “The community mobilized to try to preserve local service, and following packed town-hall meetings, the Ailsa Craig Community Development Committee sought interest from other financial institutions. Sydenham Community Credit Union worked with community representatives to determine the feasibility of opening a credit union location. Survey responses and commitments from community businesses indicated that an Ailsa Craig office could be financially viable,and in April the credit union announced plans to open a full service location with ATM. By the time of the grand opening in July, 300 residents had already become members of Sydenham Credit Union. Growth of the new location surpassed all expectations, with membership exceeding 500 and profitability achieved in the first quarter of 2004. This is a remarkable achievement when new deposit-taking outlets typically take years, not months, to reach a break-even point." Sydenham Community Credit Union outgrew the space and moved to a larger location on Main Street in 2009. The present tenant is the Ailsa Craig Arts Centre.
Installation of the lift enabled the Friends to make better use of the auditorium space: Ceilidhs, Old Time Dances, craft shows, fashion shows, and Holiday celebrations soon followed. The Towne Hall also became the space for weekly and monthly meetings: Once again the building lit up at night while “Continuing To Serve” the community. During the summer youth art camps have been offered.
A small group of women, who were interested in keeping the Ailsa Craig Town Hall for the community, formed a steering committee in 2001, they were soon joined by councillor Ken Johnston. Known as the Friends Of Ye Olde Towne Hall they held monthly and even weekly meetings to develop the business plan and write the by-laws targeted at managing the building. Once this goal was achieved the steering committee turned the reins over to a Board of Directors. The Board consists of seven members: Chair, Treasurer, Secretary and four members responsible for maintenance, rentals, volunteers and memberships. The Board meets the third Wednesday of every month starting at 7:00 p.m.
The Friends of Ye Olde Towne Hall is a registered Charity and is incorporated not for profit. We hold an Annual General Meeting in the late fall and produce an Annual General Report.
The Friends of Ye Olde Towne Hall is a management board dedicated to preserve and manage this heritage building for a variety of uses by the community of North Middlesex. The Board runs CraigActive for active retirees twice a month; we organize and run a concert series of up to eight concerts every year; we host a number of community activities including Christmas in the Village; and we offer summer arts and crafts camps for local youth. In managing the building we offer hall space for rent to a number of clubs and organization including the Ailsa Craig Lions, The Ailsa Craig Arts Center, the Ailsa Craig Quilt and Fibre Arts Festival, fitness and yoga classes, youth dance practice, Scottish Country Dancing and the venue for an on-line auction. We also rent space for weddings, birthday parties, anniversaries, Christmas Parties, bridal showers, and baby showers. All of these activities and rentals are organized by a group of dedicated volunteers. In addition, through grant writing and fund raising, the board has completed several major renovations to this historic building including: installing a lift, repairs and painting of all walls, removal of old wood and linoleum tile floors and installation of new, we have replaced the old heating system and installed air conditioning, all of this and much more.