History of Drayton landmark draws crowd to historical society meeting

DRAYTON – Well over 100 people attended the October meeting of the Mapleton Historical Society.

Guest speaker David McAuley entertained and informed the crowd with stories about the history and construction of the Drayton Town Hall and Opera House, now known as the Drayton Festival Theatre.

McAuley grew up in this area and attended school in Drayton. He then attended the University of Waterloo, where he received his Bachelor of Environmental Studies and Architecture.

McAuley’s presentation utilized his extensive knowledge of architecture and the local area.

The Town Hall and Opera House was built in 1902 and was a hub for local activity. It was unusual for a small town to have such a grand opera house, considered to be acoustically perfect with its curved tin ceiling, which remains today. While the auditorium hosted a variety of entertainment year round, the rest of the building served as the municipal office, council chambers, library, fire department and jail.

By the 1980s, all these services had moved elsewhere and the beautiful building was rarely used. An enterprising local group called The Community Players began putting on stage plays twice a year, with many local people in the cast and crew.

In 1989 it was determined that the theatre couldn’t host crowds without proper fire escapes, so it was closed.

The community raised $110,000 to upgrade the building and formed the Drayton Festival Theatre company. Alex Mustakas was hired as the artistic director and the first production was on July 1, 1991.

The rich history of this building and the grand architecture were also covered in McAuley’s talk.

Among the topics covered were: the dangerous gas lighting that was common in those early days, a local brickyard switching to make bricks just for this building, the red wooden seats that came from an Ottawa opera house, and the acoustically perfect tin ceiling.

Wartime tales

Mapleton Historical Society’s next meeting will be on Nov. 6 at the Drayton Legion at 7pm.

Author Edward Butts will speak about his book Wartime: The First World War in a Canadian Town.

Everyone is invited.