Preserving Hillary House

Lead-coated copper gutter
Lead-coated copper gutter
To preserve Hillary House for the future, the Aurora Historical Society, an incorporated non-profit organization, purchased the house and nearly two acres of surrounding land in 1981. This was made possible through the generosity of the Hillary family and Dr. Murray B. Koffler. The Historical Society previously undertook an extensive feasibility study under the direction of architect Peter L.E. Goering with the support of the Ontario Heritage Foundation and Parks Canada. At this time, it had become apparent that members of the Hillary family were unable to continue to maintain the house as a family residence and that pressures for the redevelopment of its Yonge Street location had begun to grow.

Working closely with architects, engineers, and heritage consultants from provincial and federal agencies, the Historical Society developed a master plan and began an extensive program of structural stabilization and exterior restoration. Faulty construction of the c. l870 ballroom wing and frost damage to an exposed foundation wall had led to significant deterioration. Initial repairs were made at a cost of approximately $200,000 through financial contributions by federal and provincial governments, the Laidlaw Foundation, the Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Family Foundation, Sterling Drug Limited, and many corporations, organizations, and individuals.

A second stage of work, between 1988 and 1992, saw improvements to heating, air conditioning, plumbing and electrical systems, and the complete restoration of the ballroom.

During both phases of this work, Miss Nora Hillary, one of the daughters of Robert Michael, the second Dr. Hillary, continued to live in part of the house as “resident curator.” She died in 1993 at age ninety one. While she was in residence, Hillary House was opened on an annual basis for Historical Society tours and by appointment for researchers and the general public.

In 1993, a monitored security and fire detection system was installed, the 1888 bathroom was restored, and a kitchen, multi-purpose room and two new washrooms were created in the rear wing. Also in 1993, restoration of the consulting room and dispensary began and a temporary curatorial office and collection storage area were established.

In 1998-99, the main staircase was reinforced, with engineering assistance from Parks Canada. Parks Canada also advised on the rebuilding of the balcony railing and the decorative detail of the front porch below it. At the same time, lead-coated copper gutters and downspouts were added, closely replicating the originals. Inside the house, the study was meticulously returned to its appearance just before World War I while the drawing room was restored to the late 1950s, in keeping with the museum’s goals to represent different eras of the house’s evolution over time.

In 2002, Hillary House became one of the first of Canada’s privately owned and operated National Historic Sites to complete a Commemorative Integrity Statement, under the direction of Parks Canada. The CIS inspires all aspects of the house’s restoration and interpretation.

Recent work has included the restoration of chimneys, bargeboard, and a kingpost at the front of the house and complete replacement of its cedar-shingle roof and flashings.

The most recent project has been rebuilding of the barn…

Future challenges include the completion of Hillary House’s interior restoration and repairs to the woodshed and privy.

To date, restoration costs have totaled over $550,000 . As the owner and operator of this National Historic Site, the Aurora Historical Society is faced with responsibilities and opportunities on an extraordinary scale.