Mechanics’ Institute, later Town Hall


From The Story of Dartmouth, by John P. Martin:

This is the hall erected for a Mechanics’ Institute in 1846, from funds raised by the voluntary efforts of local men and women. So far as known, the Dartmouth Institute was the only branch in the Province to provide its own building. The expenses of maintenance were met by holding occasional bazaars, by rental of rooms for lodge meetings and by leasing the assembly hall for school purposes. Surviving trustees of the Institute transferred the property to the Town in 1877, since which time the building has been used entirely for public purposes.

The Mechanics’ Institute building, completed that year, was formally opened on Monday evening, December 7, 1846, when a goodly number came from Halifax to hear the first lecture in the new hall, delivered by Hon. William Young, Speaker of the House of Assembly. E. H. Lowe presided.

The latter noted that the building was the first one in Nova Scotia to be erected exclusively as a Mechanics’ Institute, and pointed out advantages of such an organization. “Perhaps at this very table”, said Mr. Lowe “some youth may acquire knowledge that will lead him to gain renown and glory for his country”.

Hon. Mr. Young paid a tribute to the enterprise of our townsfolk, particularly to the lady members of the Institute, because it was largely through their valuable assistance that the construction of the building was made possible.

At the conclusion of the address, which was a description of places recently visited by the lecturer in Europe, a collection amounting to £8 was taken up for the purpose of obtaining furnishings for the various rooms. An extra trip of the Steam Boat left at 10 p.m., to convey visitors home to Halifax.
(Residents of last century used to recall the many elaborate, eloquent and profound lectures delivered in the old Hall by such eminent men as Joseph Howe, James W. Johnston, Dr. Abraham Gesner, William Garvie, Professor James Demille and others. Dr. Gesner’s scientific charts were for a long time piled away in boxes in the attic.

The building was also the scene of many a lively Town meeting in the years when Dartmouth was governed by Magistrates. In the daytime, the place was long used as a school-house, outside the entrance of which the pupils used to line up of a morning “from the front door to the church wall across the street”. In the 1880s the school entrance door was in an alleyway on the west side, where now is located the Town Engineer’s office. The classroom then occupied about one-quarter of the building with the teacher’s desk at the south end.

Classes continued until some 60 or 70 years ago, so that there are a few citizens still living who vividly remember the snowball fights fought against their rivals in the nearby Church of England schoolhouse. For a description of the “wise and otherwise” teachers in the Institute during the mid-1800s, consult the account of Judge Benjamin Russell’s schooldays in his autobiography at the Public Library.)