The Ballroom

Ellen Meyer at the Bluthner
Ellen Meyer
The Hillary House ballroom, on the second floor, dates from an era when fine homes had private facilities exclusively for entertaining. It still remains a popular rental space for larger functions today.

The grandest in the house, this room was added by Dr. Frederick Strange, most likely soon after he moved here in 1869. It was created by enlarging the original kitchen and service wing of the house. Dr. Strange is said to have used this room as a billiard room, but it may also have been used for receptions as the doctor successfully sought election to the Dominion Parliament in 1872. After 1876, when Dr. Robert William Hillary purchased the house, the room became a music room and was used by the “Aurora Orchestra” for chamber music. Dr. Robert William Hillary himself was called a “master of the violin”. Over time it also served as a sickroom or as bedroom space for some of the nine children of Dr. Robert Michael Hillary. The name “ballroom”, which may seem grand to us today, was used in nineteenth-century Ontario to describe a space such as this, often reached from a landing off the stairs in grander houses of the time.

The plaster ceiling and walls of the Ballroom are entirely new; however, all moldings duplicate the originals exactly. Traditional techniques of “pulling” the moldings were used by master craftsman Caesar Burbello of Kleinburg. Even the cornice was molded in place, its dentil blocks added individually. Originally, a decorative medallion enhanced the centre of the ceiling; however, not enough documentation of its original appearance was available to allow us to make a reproduction. From the centre hangs a four-branch kerosene fixture (c. 1870), converted to electricity. Smoke stains which had permeated the original plaster and discoloured the lath above indicate that a fixture such as this was used here.

BanquetThe curtains on the windows are reproduction cotton damask, unlined, and are hung from poles and rings purchased for this room by Dr. Hillary. (During restoration, labels were found, linking their supportive brackets to the furniture store of J. Crockart of Aurora, a local establishment which sold furniture and other items from the famous Toronto firms of Jacques and Hay from 1876 to 1877.) The curtains are “pooled” on the floor in keeping with a late nineteenth century custom and are held back by brass brackets found in storage in the house. Reproduction lace curtains and green canvas blinds are used at the windows as well. We do not know what colour the original curtains were. They were later replaced by red damask when the colour scheme of the entire room was changed.

The pale yellow “ragged” finish on the walls duplicates the appearance of an original calcimine wash. The pale green paint on the floor is a close match to the original, while the false graining on the woodwork also is based on careful comparisons with original colours and techniques found in the room during the restoration process. The ceiling is white, as it always was.

The picture molding on the east and west walls was probably added about 1900, when the area above it would have been painted a lighter colour than the wall below. Because of its long association with this room, and because of the need to eventually hang pictures here, it was decided to retain the picture molding even though it was not present when the room was first used. It now supports a nineteenth century steel engraving showing Edinburgh, birthplace of Dr. Geikie.

On the floor of this room is a modern hand-knotted Chinese rug in a pattern suggesting Victorian floral motifs. The grand piano, a donation to the house by Susan and Tony Blue, is a Blüthner, made in Leipzig, Germany, before World War II.