In the Beginning
In 1996, a group of individuals gathered to dream about a vibrant downtown core that would be inclusive of the arts. A survey of 1000+ Londoners confirmed the need for a space that provided a venue to showcase emerging artists.
From this early gathering, TAP (originally called The ARTS Project) was envisioned to provide a destination for the arts that could help revitalize downtown London by providing education, artistic presentation, and job creation. In 1998 and 1999, grants from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and HRDC, and a successful membership drive, helped anchor TAP as an emerging artist cultural hub in the downtown core.
Finding a Permanent Home
In the summer of 2000, TAP moved to its present location. Previously and most famously known as Hawthorn’s Hotel/Rowland Hill Shoe store, the building was purchased in 2003. This gave TAP a permanent home. Resident artists moved into unfinished studios upstairs and the main floor was converted into a gallery and theatre. New programs were established as the organization continued to gain supportive patrons.
Modernizing TAP’s Space
In 2008 under new leadership, TAP’s Board of Directors and staff initiated a business plan and a variety of fundraising efforts that resulted in more consistent operating income. The facility was made more useful and vibrant after extensive renovations to expand gallery space, rebuild the box office, and update the studio spaces.
Since 2010, TAP has partnered with community organizations like Sunfest, London Fringe Festival, Western University and Fanshawe College, alongside dozens of others, to bring fantastic programming to the core. New communication tools were developed, and the organization re-focused on program growth and education in visual and theatre arts. The organization has continued to provide a range of classes, festivals, and programs that enrich and inspire emerging artists while maintaining a sustainable business model through membership, rentals, sales, and fundraising.
Re-dedicating to Emerging Artists
With a new brand in 2018, TAP is committed to maintaining relevancy as a central creative arts hub, communicating our accomplishments, and continually striving to achieve our mission and vision for London and the surrounding area. As TAP Centre for Creativity, the organization enters an exciting new chapter that realizes a 45-year long vision to put our city on the map as an arts and culture incubator.
The ARTS Project
The vision of a centre for arts and culture in downtown London has a long history that has been shared by many Londoners. In 1975, 30,000 people signed a petition to convert the city's historical Court House to an arts centre. In 1982, a centre for arts and culture was short-listed by the City of London as a worthy project. It wasn't until 1996, however, that the vision began turning into reality.
In August 1996, a group of arts and business people met to discuss the concept of a community arts centre with a specific emphasis on the role it could play in rejuvenating the city's downtown core, a significant issue in London. The organization purchased the historical building in the heart of Downtown London at 203 Dundas St. in April of 2003 and began renovating and expanding it.
Rowland Hill Shoes Limited
Purchased the building in 1939 and moved into the half of the building previously occupied by D’Allairds clothing store, and leased the other half to Tip Top Tailors. Rowland Hill occupied the entire building at the end of Tip Top Tailors' lease.
In 1941 the upper and lower mezzanine were added as the ladies’ and children’s shoe departments. London residents have fond memories of the children’s department with its rocking horse, Tyrone the Talking Shoe, the X-ray machine and slide.
Before the store closed in 1992 it was Canada’s largest independent shoe store. The business was purchased by Rowland Hill’s grandson, Don, in the 1970’s, who sold the building to The ARTS Project in 2003.
Interestingly, wall coverings and other features of the original hotel still remain on the third floor, along with remnants of the Rowland Hill days.
London had become a major commercial and industrial centre by the dawn of the twentieth century, and many people came to the city on business. Built near passenger rail service and on the King’s Highway, 203 Dundas may have been constructed as early as the 1860s as a commercial block, and by 1876 Hawthorn’s Hotel operated out of its upper floors.
The hotel occupied 203, 205 and 205½ Dundas Street and was a popular choice amongst travelers for the fine European restaurant located on the main floor, owned by William A. Fraser. The restaurant and the hotel changed ownership and management several times in the last years of the 1800s, and the building wasn’t always dedicated to hospitality. An auctioneer, cigar manufacturers, a dentist, a furniture store and a billiard hall all occupied the building before 1900. In 1907, the structure housed the Victorian Theatre, a phonograph store and a photographer, and was mostly dedicated to retail after the Great War.
Reid's Crystal Hall
Reid’s Crystal Hall next door collapsed on July 16, 1907 when the building structure buckled under pressure caused during window installation. Peter Smirlie was having the building renovated to house a bowling alley and billiard hall, and had his renovation team replace a load bearing wall with iron pillars and install windows in another, to let in more light. The structure had been weakened by a fire in 1882, but the wall was repaired and repainted, so structural defects were hidden from sight.
The London Free Press and the London Telegraph had extensive coverage of the disaster, and several stories of heroism, bravery and opportunism emerged over the next few days: a woman and her infant pulled from the wreckage, one man standing atop the rubble to encourage the gathering crowd to begin rescue operations, one man stealing a boy’s watch as the boy guided a rope down into the basement to tie around a survivor, and another waiting nearby to help carry the injured to waiting ambulances, but not risking any injury himself. “Nearby workers stopped and stared at him; one man spat in his direction” (London’s Darkest Hours, Ken McTaggart). One man could be heard singing a hymn, but rescuers did not reach him in time. Blanche Westlake held onto a windowsill and dangled above the street until a group of men clustered below her and told her to jump. She landed safely.