Cupola set to shine again
Crews are hard at work at 170-year-old Victorian Retirement Living building
COBOURG - People looking up in along College Street may see an unusual site as the cupola at Victoria Retirement Living is shrouded in green wrap.
Workers from Sky-High Historical Restoration and Consulting will be meticulously working on the cupola for the next three months.
Tom Plue has owned Sky-High since 1990 and has been working on the restoration behind the scenes of the cupola for the past three years along with the owners who want it restored as much to its original grandeur.
Sky-High is recognized as Northumberland County’s largest historical Victorian restoration contractor.
The history of the building which now houses Victoria Retirement Living dates back to 1832.
Its website states that the building once housed the Upper Canada Academy, eventually becoming the University of Toronto.
Egerton Ryerson was appointed principal of Upper Canada Academy in 1839.
On Oct. 6, 1836 the academy was granted a royal charter. The academy provided co-educational, nondenominational preparatory education similar to the grammar schools of the time. In 1841 a provincial statute elevated the status of the academy to a college. Thus on Oct. 21, 1842 Victoria College started its first semester as a degree-granting institution. The college granted degrees in Arts, Science, Law, Medicine and Divinity.
From 1876 to 1878 a new building, called Faraday Hall, was built on campus to house the science department. Ryerson Commons is being developed on the land left vacant by the fire, which destroyed Faraday Hall in mid 1900s.
On November 20, 1892 an act was passed by the province that federated Victoria College with the University of Toronto. At this point the college professors and students moved to Toronto and the building which used to house the college became in turn a provincial asylum, a military hospital, an Ontario hospital and a training centre for the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services. Today Victoria College is home to more than 40 retirees who enjoy daily social activities, fellowship and meals in the dining room and the numerous other common areas within the 170-year-old building.
Owners wrote the town who stated the cupola must meet certain criteria if they planned to repair the structure.
Plue said a professional was paid $1,100 to come from New York city to match the paint.
“The woman came and lifted an original piece of paint and took it back to her lab and they will send us a report on what the colours were.”
“It couldn’t have been white because in 1832 there was no such thing as white paint. The only white that was available was whitewash. That’s what is actually on the capital buildings in the United States - it wasn’t paint.”
With the amount of deterioration over the years, workers are removing almost every piece of lumber.
“It had got into such disrepair mainly because of the infestation of bats, pigeons, squirrels, you name it. We were putting up with all of their feces and it’s absorbed into the old lumber. It’s to dangerous for us to be scraping the paint off and dealing with it. Just in total disrepair because of that more than anything.”
Part of the history on the wood is the carvings of names of people and dates as far back as 1881.
As the building sits on a hill in Cobourg, Plue said the building has a major significance.
“The harbour is right in front. The very wealthy got off their boats. There wasn’t a tree here (College Street). They built this huge power of ( of what would be) Canada. So people out on the waterfront looked straight through at this. So they would get off their boats in the harbour and see this.”
With the pre-preparation before onsite work started, the estimate for completion is three months. “The ACO group wanted a particular type of lumber which I had to qualify where we are getting. “It is clear pine, no knots, as good as the product that was here.”
The goal of the project is the replicate the cupola as much to its original state.
“There are changes. It only has a tin top on it, but’s not getting a tin top, it’s getting a lead-copper top which is much more durable and lasts a lot longer.”
“This time it will have proper screening behind the louvres.”
Plue said the louvres are unique because they are rounded to fit the cupola.
The cupola is 38 feet in height and has a roof on the scaffolding that costs approximately $60,000, but they are working approximately 100 feet off the ground.
“We never have to worry about the weather with the roof. We need to be working everyday (unless lightning).
Owner of Sky-High Historical Restoration and Consulting Tom Plue look over the cupola Tuesday, Sept. 5 in Cobourg. Workers from Sky-High Historical Restoration and Consulting are working on repairing the cupola at the Victoria Retirement Living on University Ave. E. at College St.