Outdoor exhibitions set for Hillary House as the holidays bring visitors inside

·4 min read

Hillary House, Aurora’s only National Historic Site, is held up as one of the best examples of gothic revival architecture in the country. But if you’re standing outside facing its iconic porch, do you know just what sets it apart?

You will soon as Hillary House and the Aurora Historical Society prepare to unveil a new permanent outdoor exhibition: A Look Outside Hillary House.

Set to formally launch next Friday, November 26, the outdoor exhibition brings together a trail of signage throughout the expansive Yonge Street property pointing out not just architectural points of interest, but the site’s venerable tennis courts, heritage trees, and much more.

“We started this over a year ago and we knew around this time that COVID was probably still going to cause restrictions and I had been here for a few months at the time and realized there is a story on the outside as well, not just on the inside of Hillary House,” says curator Kathleen Vahey.

It’s also a way for visitors to engage with the historic property on occasions when the museum, which was the home and practice for many of Aurora’s earliest doctors, is closed.

“Whenever people pop by, people can learn about the grounds from the outside,” says the curator, adding that the signs aren’t static; with QR codes, they are interactive and connect those who scan them to a rich repository of history online. “It will be engaging in a different way – you’re learning but you’re also having fun.

“The interactive component will allow visitors to have a rounded understanding of how the families used the grounds. The QR codes will further engage visitors in a digital way and help them learn and have fun. We want people to come onto the property and explore what we have. We want them to be engaged in the history of Hillary House no matter what time of year it is. Do we want them to come in? Yes, of course, but we want them to be engaged for the entirety of their visit on site.”

Following the public launch of the outdoor exhibition, residents will have more reasons to visit the house and grounds on the following day. In the morning, Garden Aurora will take over the house for two workshops on how to make the perfect natural wreath for Christmas. That evening, the Aurora Historical Society resumes its tradition of serving up free cups of hot chocolate from the verandah to coincide with the Santa Under the Stars parade, beginning at 6 p.m.

For generations of Aurorans for whom a visit to Hillary House is a holiday destination, it will be a welcome return to tradition – and for the Society as well.

“We have had a lot of success with our digital events and I appreciate the support there,” says Ms. Vahey. “We have been able to do a few things in person, but it seems the precipice of a new time, for me especially because I started during COVID. I have never been here when it is a regular time and I think it is really exciting to welcome people back into the house – and events like these reach an audience that might not see themselves coming to Hillary House. If we can show them that we do these kind of events and bring them in, we hook them.”

Next Saturday won’t be the last opportunity to get hooked before the winter.

On December 5, the House will once again host the much-loved Family Christmas event which will see doors open to families, children and adults, with different activities like stories and crafts taking over just about every room.

“I want to bring attention to the importance of Hillary House and history and heritage in Aurora,” she says. “We’re in a unique position in the Town, Ontario and Canada, and I think it is really important to teach about history. We can teach so many elements of history at Hillary House; just because it is a Victorian home that had doctors in it doesn’t mean we can’t talk about general life, women’s history and a range of things. It’s not pigeonholed like many might think. If you have been here before, we can tell a completely different story through the house and as curator I am learning something new every day myself.”

For more information on upcoming events, including tickets for the wreath-making workshops and Family Christmas event, visit aurorahs.com Registration for the Holiday Wreath-Making Workshop is $42 per person, while A Family Christmas, which runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on December 5, are $5 for adults and $3 for children.

Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran

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