By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
Brown leather shoes – that were as magical for their owner as Cinderella’s glass slippers – have been donated to the Northumberland County Archives and Museum by Tom and Eileen James of British Columbia.
The shoes were worn by Mr. James’s great-great grandmother Marguerite Pentland to the grand ball thrown to celebrate the original opening of Victoria Hall. And like Cinderella, Pentland danced with the prince – in this case, the Prince of Wales, who was there to represent his mother Queen Victoria.
NCAM curator Katie Kennedy emceed the special event Tuesday in the Victoria Hall Concert Hall, listing the partners in effecting the donation over seven months of exchanges, including NCAM, Lakeshore Genealogical Society, Art Gallery of Northumberland, Cobourg and District Historical Society, the Cobourg Public Library and local historian Rob Mikel.
And Victoria Hall Volunteers deserved a special shout-out for their role. This charitable organization dedicated to advocating and fundraising for the downtown landmark since 1975 have raised more than $377,000 that has been spent on repairs, restorations and needs to keep the hall safe and sound and beautiful.
Marguerite Pentland and her husband William settled in Cobourg in the early 1850s and became a relatively prominent family.
Warden Mandy Martin said that to look at the shoes – so beautifully displayed at a central table for all to see – is to imagine the excitement of that evening, and will be a treasured addition to the NCAM when it opens.
Martin shared the picture she had in her mind of Marguerite – then in her early 40s – dressing excitedly for the evening, putting on her finest gown and lacing on the very shoes on display.
“No wonder she stored them away and kept them after an evening like that,” Martin said.
Victoria Hall Volunteers technical librarian and historian Trisha Essery made the evening come alive by sharing a diary from their collection, the reminiscences of Lizzie Willmott, who was also there.
It was a beautiful September night in 1860. The town was abuzz that the Prince of Wales had arrived to open “the newly constructed, very modern and grand city hall named Victoria Hall after his mother.”
The evening’s grand ball from midnight to 3 a.m. would be a jubilant end to the celebrations.
When the carriage came for Lizzie, she was afraid of crushing her gown so she opted to walk to the ball through the lovely warm evening. She remarked on her excitement at the magical sight of Victoria Hall with every window lit up.
As for the ballroom, Lizzie described it as a fairyland with its royal blue and red draperies making a dramatic contrast with the new white walls. Then there were the red cushions on the chairs, not to mention the beautiful colours of the women’s evening finery.
People had come from as far as Peterborough, Hamilton and Niagara to be there, and honoured guests included the Postmaster General, Governor General and Cobourg’s own Father of Confederation, James Cockburn, and his wife.
“The Prince’s dance card was full, with 15 very fortunate ladies,” Essery said.
“In her diary, she wrote, ‘Never shall I forget the opening and the ball.’ And the Prince wrote home to his mother that it was a very pretty ball.”
James said that the presentations had really enriched the family’s understanding of the ball.
“My grandmother had been the keeper of these shoes for many years,” he said.
“We reached out to NCAM because it was important for our family to ensure the shoes were in an environment where more people could enjoy them and help preserve the artifact and the story behind them.”
Everyone then adjourned for coffee to a golden oldie on the sound system – music by Frederic Mendelssohn known to have been played at the ball.