by Norman McMullen
Published in the Richmond Hill Liberal, February 11, 2021
Whatever its fate, the site of the Richmond Hill doctor’s hall holds its place in history, writes Norman McMullen
It’s not likely that many residents of Richmond Hill would be interested in knowing that the Archives Committee at St. Mary’s Anglican Church recently acquired three gnarly and aged yellow bricks.
These items were received following the destruction of Dr. Duncumb’s Hall, formerly located at 10027 Yonge St., almost directly opposite the church.
The future of the property has been under discussion for some time, and late last year, the building met its fate; some have said “demolition by neglect”.
Built for Dr. John Duncumb between late 1857 and 1861, the building served as a courtroom, where he presided as a Justice of the Peace.
His career was short-lived, due to “financial indiscretions” and the structure was eventually converted into a public hall.
Between 1864 and 1872, it served as a place of worship for the local Anglican congregation. Apparently some of the faithful even referred to the structure as “Dr. Duncumb’s Church”!
After Dr. Duncumb’s death by 1875, the hall was renovated for residential use by Lucy Nicholls. Through Lucy’s son Hesse and his wife, the property remained in the family until 1963.
After that, several major modifications were made to the building, allowing rental space for various businesses. Sadly, its gradual decline continued as well.
The Hall was built in a classic revival style, representative of popular designs often used for early official buildings.
According to a York Herald notice in February, 1862:
“On Thursday evening, the 13th inst., Dr. Duncumb opened his Hall in a grand manner. We understand about 200 ladies and gentlemen were present. The doctor entertained his guests in first-rate style to wine and cake; and having engaged the Quadrille Band from Toronto, dancing was the order of the night.”
It is believed to have been one of the earliest brick structures in Richmond Hill, representing an important part of our early justice system, public entertainment, community events, meetings and church services.
It is interesting to note that with the establishment and naming of St. Mary’s in 1872, the congregation simply moved across the street. Dr. Duncumb continued his connections with the Anglicans, although he was frequently at odds with Clergy and some parishioners — especially John Robert Arnold, who was no doubt an entrepreneurial competitor.
It was Arnold who donated the land for establishment of St. Mary’s.
Dr. Duncumb’s death was noted by the York Herald’s obituary of Dec. 10, 1875:
“…Having resisted his native country, (Beverley, Yorkshire, England) he returned to Canada in 1837, and a few years later took up his residence in the Village, where by his professional skill and shrewd business talents, he acquired considerable property; but his career, successful though it was, like all other earthly careers, came to a close, and his powerful frame, in obedience to the common law of nature, yielded to the fierce onslaughts of the grim monster, his lion head was bowed and his stentorian voice was hushed in death…”
So even though his hall has vanished, the bell continues to ring today, in tribute to this remarkable citizen of Richmond Hill.
It is comforting to know that the city directed the Heritage and Urban Design staff to carefully remove any items of historic and architectural significance, prior to demolition of the hall.
I understand this includes the following: About 70 pieces of whole heritage bricks, the original fan-shaped window and three flat head windows, along with two stained glass windows.
These items are now safely stored at the Operations Centre. Hopefully these items will reappear in whatever structure that continues the fascinating story of Dr. Duncumb’s hall.
Norman McMullen is a member of the Richmond Hill Historical Society and Chair of the Archives Committee at St. Mary’s Anglican Church.