Aurora Ontario is a small town with a rural feel to it. If you want to escape the city for a day, this is a fun destination for heritage-lovers.
It’s only about an hour’s drive north of
Toronto. It’s also on the GO Transit system (Ontario’s public bus and train
system), so you can take a bus from downtown Toronto if you don’t feel like
The town’s main attractions for tourists, other than its small but historic downtown, include two places: first, the Aurora Cultural Centre, and second, the Hillary House National Historic Site, which also houses The Koffler Museum of Medicine.
The Cultural Centre is an imposing old building from 1886 that serves as a museum and art gallery. It began life as a school and it still has that institutional feel to it.
The museum part is small … just one room … and it includes a mish-mash of local history – objects relating to the social and commercial history of the town and its involvement in the world wars.
The art exhibits are temporary, so it’s best to check the website for upcoming shows. http://auroraculturalcentre.ca
Hillary House, which is on Yonge Street not far from the Cultural Centre, was built in 1862, and is a designated National Historic Site. It’s considered one of Canada’s best examples of Gothic Revival architecture.
According to the museum website, “a series of four doctors and their families lived in the house until 1993. The home was purchased by the Aurora Historical Society in 1981.”
Hillary was the family name of the last two doctors to live in the house: Dr. Robert William Hillary and his son, Dr. Robert Michael Hillary. The first two doctors to live in the house were only there for a short time. They were Dr. Gelkie and Dr. Strange. (Would you go to a doctor called Dr. Strange?? I wouldn’t!) The Hillary family lived in the house from 1876 to 1993.
Since the building was both a home and a doctor’s office, you’ll find a mix of the domestic and commercial on display.
The front of the house was used as the doctor’s office and there are all kinds of creepy-looking medical objects there including these nasty surgical instruments from the Civil War era.
You’ll also see an interesting list of prices of different
operations, and a sign saying Advice Gratis Daily from 10 to 11, a reminder
that Canada hasn’t always had socialized medicine. It’s reassuring to know that
at least some doctors provided free advice to the poor. The Koffler Museum of
Medicine is part of this section and there is a display about health care over
the decades. Anyone with an interest in health care will find the changes
fascinating. (Note: you might also want to visit Banting House in London Ontario to learn about the development of insulin.)
The domestic part of the museum is composed of two elements.
There is a display of personal objects from the families that lived there –
clothing, books, toys, etc – which I always love. And there are several rooms
that have been recreated to look the way they did a century ago: the bedroom,
the bathroom, the downstairs kitchen (which is huge) and this living room, for
example, which gives the visitor an idea of the physical comforts of a rural
doctor’s family life.
The museum has a display area for temporary exhibits of an artistic nature. It is small but quite charming, and worth the short trip from Toronto.