Delving Among Ruins: Settler Dreams of Enlightenment in the Wilderness

Written by Stephen Johnson
Curated by Jimena Ortuzar


“Romulus… a melancholy ruin—far more desolate than the majestic forest that Henry Lamb found. Now there is nothing but tumbling walls and broken roofs and weed hidden paths and cold and barren fireplaces.” 1


Illustration by J. R. Seavey, published in Pen and Pencil Sketches of Wentworth Landmarks. Hamilton, Ont: Spectator Printing Company, 1897.

Ruins of the Romulus Grist Mill. Illustration by J. R. Seavey, published in Pen and Pencil Sketches of Wentworth Landmarks. Hamilton, Ont: Spectator Printing Company, 1897.

In the mid-1890s, the poet and local historian Robert Kirkland Kernighan traveled the rural township of Beverly, halfway between Hamilton and Guelph in Southern Ontario, delving among the ruins for local stories. He found the tale of Henry Lamb, a pioneer settler of Upper Canada who, during the early part of the nineteenth century, mapped out a great city called Romulus, which he intended to build in Beverly Township. Like any great city, Romulus was to include a "first-class theatre." 2

Wentworth County circa 1875, showing its location at the western tip of Lake Ontario, and its separate townships. Beverly Township is one the left. From Wentworth County: Illustrated historical atlas of the Count of Wentworth, Ont. Toronto: Page and Smith, 1875.

Kernighan reports that this venture was a significant failure, and then takes readers on a tour of the ruins of Lamb's house, tavern, and gristmill. He describes the hubris of someone who would plan such a place in Beverly—most famous for its swampland—and expresses nostalgia for a time when "there were giants" in the land.2 So fully conceived was the plan for Romulus that local residents still referred to "the site of the proposed Catholic cathedral" some seventy years later.3 Clearly Henry Lamb had left a mark on the community, though there were no architectural traces.

Building on the site chosen for the Catholic Cathedral. Though never build, local residents still identified specific locations according to his now-lost city plan, as if it had been surveyed and build. Illustration by J. R. Seavey, published in Pen and Pencil Sketches of Wentworth Landmarks. Hamilton, Ont: Spectator Printing Company, 1897.

The Lamb Homestead as it looked circa 1897. Illustration by J. R. Seavey, published in Pen and Pencil Sketches of Wentworth Landmarks. Hamilton, Ont: Spectator Printing Company, 1897

According to local legend, Lamb advertised in Britain for immigrant settlers, promising to build a city with a market square, cricket grounds, race course, concert hall, ballroom, and "a first-class theatre." The promise of a theatrical venue in a town plan was unusual for the time and region, not least because it was in the middle of an old growth forest. There is a strong possibility that the plans for Romulus were informed by Lamb's devotion to the secretive, and theatre-friendly, Freemasonic movement. The Freemasons were bastions of both enlightenment radicalism, and then of British imperialism; as such, they encouraged Lamb to build a prosperous life as a self-made man in a hostile environment, to dream of building a city in the wilderness—and to misjudge his intended community. Settlers at this time were more at ease with and in need of a popular performance culture, of outdoor rituals and kitchen parties, tavern songs and mechanics institute meetings, and not (or not yet) a theatre. Lamb’s plans for an enlightened city expressed the desire for the orderly, architectural administration of society in a world of improvised spaces.

From an 1875 map. Henry Lamb’s son George remains in possession of some of the land, south west of the village of Sheffield, but by this time the area had been subdivided, sold and cleared of all but traces and ruins of Romulus. From Wentworth County: Illustrated historical atlas of the Count of Wentworth, Ont. Toronto: Page and Smith, 1875.

The graves of Thomas Lamb, his wife and brother, as they looked circa 1897, the ruin of a ten foot high cairn. Illustration by J. R. Seavey, published in Pen and Pencil Sketches of Wentworth Landmarks. Hamilton, Ont: Spectator Printing Company, 1897.

“Henry Lamb built his city on a rock, and he and his were determined to be buried in the middle of the town. The bodies were placed in their rude coffins side by side on top of the ground and were covered with tons of great stones. A stonewall was build around them and this filled in and over with soil, so that when it was finished it formed a cairn 18x27 at the base and ten feet high. There they slept peacefully like the ancient Egyptian kings and queens in the pyramidal tombs, and every night the wolves foregathered above them and fought for the highest seats of the mighty. Today these graves are unkempt and the wall in ruins. Groundhogs make their homes there down among the dead men’s bones and the wind and weather of three quarters of a century have left the cairn only four feet high.”4

Postcard of “The Wigwam,” a log building at Rushdale Farm, Rockton, Ontario, where R. K Khernigan (The Khan) did his writing, according to local legend. From the Toronto Public Library.

1 R. K. Kernighan (The Khan), “A City that Was Not Built” in Pen and Pencil Sketches of Wentworth Landmarks, Mrs. Dick-Lauder et al. Hamilton, Ont: Spectator Printing Company, 1897, 118.

2 The text for this exhibit was adapted from an article by Stephen Johnson: "Romulus and Ritual in the Beverly Swamp: A Freemason Dreams of Theatre in Pre-confederation Ontario." Theatre Research in Canada 35:1 (Spring 2014) pp 9-30.

3 R. K. Kernighan (The Khan), “A City that Was Not Built” in Pen and Pencil Sketches of Wentworth Landmarks, Mrs. Dick-Lauder et al. Hamilton, Ont: Spectator Printing Company, 1897, 118.

4 R. K. Kernighan (The Khan), “A City that Was Not Built” in Pen and Pencil Sketches of Wentworth Landmarks, Mrs. Dick-Lauder et al. Hamilton, Ont: Spectator Printing Company, 1897, 123.

5 R. K. Kernighan (The Khan), “A City that Was Not Built” in Pen and Pencil Sketches of Wentworth Landmarks, Mrs. Dick-Lauder et al. Hamilton, Ont: Spectator Printing Company, 1897, 120.

Clement Cantin

Written by Gabrielle Houle

Clément Cantin (1933-2013), singer.

This photograph shows Québec singer Clément Cantin in performance. It comes from the personal collection of Nadia Cantin, Clément Cantin’s daughter. It is undated and the location of the performance is unknown. Given what we know about Clément Cantin’s artistic career, it is safe to assume that this photograph was taken during the early- or mid-1960s at one of Gérard Thibault’s cabarets in Québec City. Photo credits: Roussel.

Known on stage as Endré Clément, Clément Cantin livened Québec City’s nightlife through his performances as a singer and as a master of ceremonies during the late 1950s and the 1960s. It is unclear when, where, or how Cantin began singing professionally. According to an article published in Dis-Q-Ton, some time in 1961 or at the beginning of 1962, Cantin started “dividing his time between La Porte St-Jean, Chez Gérard, and Chez Émile.” All three were cabarets in Québec City and were owned by Gérard Thibault. The article continues:

Before this, he was applauded in a dozen other cabarets of Québec City and its surroundings, and at Château Deblois in Trois-Rivières. He also presented his singing act at Goose Bay in Labrador to entertain the American and Canadian troops that were stationed there. We have also seen André [sic] Clément on several television programs, including “La Boîte aux chansons.” (L. Cantin 27)

As a singer, Clément Cantin was known for his versatility and the possession of a “well-balanced voice, a great deal of personality, and a remarkable stage presence” (Ibid.).  His repertoire comprised Canadian, French, and American songs that he liked. It included songs by Connie Francis, Billy Daniels, and Frank Sinatra, the last of whom was one of his favourite artists (L. Cantin; N. Cantin).

As a master of ceremonies, Clément Cantin would have had to expand his skills beyond music. The role would have obliged him to introduce guest artists to the public, entertain the audience in between acts, and sometimes participate in sketches with other performers. According to Gaston Boileau, who worked as a master of ceremonies at Chez Émile during the 1950s, the following would have been an emcee’s typical duties:

In the mid-1950s, the master of ceremonies facilitated the performance, sang three or four songs, told a few jokes, and then introduced the novelty act and the star. […] We generally changed the show every week unless it was a great success, as was the case with Ti-Gus and Ti-Mousse for example. The new programming started on Monday […] During the six years I worked [at Chez Émile], the place was always packed. (Qtd. in Thibault and Hébert 117)

A francophone, Clément Cantin also spoke English, something that would have helped him communicate (and mingle) with guest artists coming from the United States and from the rest of Canada to perform at one of Thibault’s venues. His linguistic abilities might also have been helpful when addressing English-speaking spectators from Québec City and American tourists.[1]

Cantin would have been within a minority among Québec residents who could understand both languages. According to data collected in the 1951 census, only 28.5% of francophones and 32.4% of anglophones aged 5 years and older in the province of Québec reported being able to speak both French and English; by 1971, these numbers were 27.6% and 38.9% respectively (“L’évolution du bilinguisme”).[2]

During his years as a performer at Chez Gérard, À La Porte St-Jean, and Chez Émile, Clément Cantin was approached twice by American scouts who offered him the opportunity to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show (N. Cantin). He declined both invitations. By the time he married in 1968, Clément Cantin had retired from the stage. What survives of his performance days are documents—including several photographs, handbills, personal letters, and music scores, many of which have been preserved by his daughter—and the memories of those who performed with him or heard him sing.

 [1] According to data collected in the 1951 census, 8,006 of the 164,016 people living in Québec City at the time reported that English was their mother tongue (Dominion Bureau of Statistics Ninth Census 5). And of the 171,979 people residing in Québec City who participated in the 1961 census, 6,048 reported having English as their mother tongue (Dominion Bureau of Statistics Population 36).

[2] Between 1951 and 1971, the percentage of Canadians aged 5 years and older who reported speaking both French and English was much higher in Québec than in the rest of the country. In 1951, 7.5% of Canadians residing outside Québec declared they had the ability to speak both French and English. In 1961, the percentage raised to 7.6%, and in 1971, 8.5% of the Canadian population aged 5 years and older residing outside of Québec declared they had the ability to speak both languages (“L’évolution du bilinguisme”).


Works Cited:

Canada. Dominion Bureau of Statistics. Ninth Census of Canada 1951 – Population by official language and mother tongue. Ottawa: DBS, 1952.

Canada. Dominion Bureau of Statistics. 1961 Census of Canada -- Population: Mother Tongue, Counties and Subdivisions = Langue maternelle, comtés et subdivisions. Ottawa: DBS., 1970.

Cantin, Lucille. “Nos artistes de Québec.” Dis-Q-Ton, vol. 6, no. 12, p. 27, December 1962.

Cantin, Nadia. Personal phone conversation. August 2017.

“L’évolution du bilinguisme au Canada de 1901 à 2011.” Statistique Canada. Accessed on 18 September 2017.

Thibault, Gérard and Chantal Hébert. Chez Gérard: La petite scène des grandes vedettes. Les Éditions Spectaculaires Enrg, 1988.


CHEZ GÉRARD: A Glimpse into Québec City’s Cabaret Scene.

Written by Gabrielle Houle

CHEZ GÉRARD: A Glimpse into Québec City’s Cabaret Scene.

These images are digital copies of a bilingual handbill for performances at Chez Gérard and À La Porte St-Jean, with an advertisement for À La Page Blanche. All three establishments were founded by Gérard Thibault (1917-2003), who was Québec City’s “king of cabaret” from the late 1940s to the late 1970s (Boivin-Allaire). While undated, this document is from the summer of 1963; it was shared with the Theatre Documentation and Reconstruction Project by Nadia Cantin, daughter of Clément Cantin (1933-2013). Clément Cantin, whose nom d’artiste was Endré Clément, performed in several of Thibault’s cabarets as a singer and master of ceremony in the 1960s.

On 10 July 1938, Gérard Thibault, with his brothers Émile, Paul, and Jean, opened Chez Gérard, a small restaurant situated on rue Saint-Nicolas, in the Lower Town of Québec City.  Thibault had bought the place for $750 (Thibault and Hébert 24). At the time, it had only three tables and “a minuscule kitchen” (Ibid). “A full meal – which included a soup, entrée (among which boeuf à la mode was a favorite), desert, and beverage – costed 25 cents and, even at that price, it was profitable,” exclaims Thibault. “[We made] about $1500 in profits in the first year!” (Ibid) When the Second World War broke out in 1939, Chez Gérard opened 24 hours a day, feeding workers of the nearby arsenals and Morton shipyards, as well as “many travellers, politicians, military personnel and others, and convoys of troops that arrived by train from all over the country” (Thibault and Hébert 25). Chez Gérard eventually relocated to rue Saint-Paul, also in the Lower Town, only steps away from Québec City’s train station, the Gare du Palais.[1]

After the war business slowed down, which led Thibault to think of new ways to attract customers. In 1946, he invited Will Brodrigue’s orchestra to perform twice a week in his restaurant, on Fridays and Saturdays. On 6 November 1948, he hired accordionist Fredo Gardoni, French singer Michèle Sandry, and local radio-celebrity Saint-George Côté to entertain his clientele. “In the early days,” actor Paul Berval remembers, “Chez Gérard was not known as a cabaret. A proof of this is that we dressed in the kitchen with the pots and pans. There were no dressing rooms for the artists at first. We found ourselves standing between chickens and hors-d’oeuvres. Sometimes we laughed!” (Qtd. in Thibault and Hébert 52) The consecration of Chez Gérard as Québec City’s premier “Parisian-style” café-concert happened in 1949 when Charles Trenet offered to sing in Thibault’s restaurant. He performed there from 01 to 18 February and from 27 February to 05 March, attracting well-to-do spectators from Québec’s bourgeoisie who would otherwise not set foot in the Lower Town (Thibault and Hébert). Numerous local and international artists followed in the steps of Trenet (who returned several times to Québec City), making Chez Gérard a first-choice establishment for night-life entertainment, and an important venue that promoted French and Francophone music. Here is how French singer Monique Leyrac, who first performed at Chez Gérard in 1950, describes her experience at Thibault’s institution:

At the time, singing in Québec City, alongside friends like Saint-Georges Côté, felt like vacations. […] I knew the club by reputation, but I had never met the owner. He was approachable and extremely friendly. […] Before presenting my singing act, I rehearsed with three musicians and it took the time that it took. The musicians were not supervised by the union and it was cheaper. For my repertoire, I looked for Québécois songs. […] The rest of my repertoire was made of French songs that I liked. As for stage costumes, we wore what we wanted, […]. I had a sophisticated look. My hair was pitch-black, pulled back up into a bun like a Spanish lady. I wore elaborate custom-made dressing gowns that suited my personality. Shows unfolded according to the European model, with an artist in the first half and another, usually the star, in the second. (Qtd. in Thibault and Hébert 68-9)

For many French-speaking artists, Chez Gérard became a gateway to America:

Indeed, there were many French artists who, after performing at Chez Gérard, obtained a contract in the United States. It had become usual that impresarios and owners of American cabarets-- from New York, Washington, and Los Angeles especially-- should come to Québec City, at Chez Gérard and, later, at À la Porte St-Jean, to see and hear “the best and the brightest” of French artists, and to offer them engagements that would secure a breakthrough in the land of Uncle Sam. (Thibault and Hébert 56)

Chez Gérard’s success was such that Thibault opened other cabarets in the city: Chez Émile (1942-63, first a restaurant, it started offering performances in January 1950), À La Porte Saint-Jean (1951-67, hosting its first performances in October 1951), À La Page Blanche (1958-65), and À La Boîte aux Chansons (1960-65). Between 1948 and 1977, Thibault’s venues welcomed hundreds of entertainers, including actors and comedians such as Gratien Gélinas, Ti-Gus & Ti-Mousse (Réal Béland and Denise Émond), Olivier Guimond, Dominique Michel, Denyse Filiatrault, musical comic duo Les Jérolas (Jean Lapointe and Jérôme Lemain), and La Poune (Rose Ouellette); singers, musicians, and song-writers, among them Edith Piaf, Charles Aznavour, Jacques Brel, Félix Leclerc, Ginette Reno, Michel Louvain, Jacques Normand, Fernand Gignac, Sasha Distel, Gilles Vigneault, Jean-Pierre Ferland, Willie Lamothe, Les Baronets (René Angélil, Pierre Labelle, and Jean Baulne), and the Duke Ellington Orchestra; as well as female impersonator and cabaret artist Jean Guilda, and global entertainer Josephine Baker, to name only these few.

 Chez Gérard, Thibault’s first and longest-lasting cabaret, held its last performance in December 1977. This ended a thirty-year chapter in Québec City’s night-life.[2]

Works Cited:

Boivin-Allaire, Émilia. “Gérard Thibault: Le roi du cabaret.” Cap-aux-Diamants, vol. 4, no. 4, pp. 27-29, Winter 1989. Accessed on 18 August 2017.

Thibault, Gérard and Chantal Hébert. Chez Gérard: La petite scène des grandes vedettes. Les Éditions Spectaculaires Enrg, 1988.

[1] Gare du Palais is referred to as “Union Station” on the handbill.

[1] The Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec (BAnQ) is the repository of a large number of photographs, written documents, paintings, architectural drawings, a wide variety of audio-visual material, and other types of documents that trace the life and work of Gérard Thibault. Collections kept at the BAnQ that would be useful to anyone interested in researching the topic include the “Fonds Gérard Thibault” and “Exposition Gérard Thibault”. Further research into Thibault’s career could look into the Productions Jacques-Gérard (1961-63), through which Thibault produced shows that were performed at La Comédie canadienne in Montréal and often toured across the province. Another area of inquiry would be the performances by French and Québécois artists Thibault organized for patients at the Sanatorium Bégin between 1949 and 1962.  

EXPO 67, 70, and the CNE as Immersive Performances

Written by Sanja Vodovnik
Curated by Jimena Ortuzar

Click on an image to enlarge.

Postage Stamp of Expo 67. © Hagley Museum and Library.

The origins of world fairs or world exhibitions are entwined with the industrial development of the late 19th century,1 a time when technology and advancements in transportation and communication provided a new perspective of the world. This worldview not only examined our relationships with others, but also our relationship with nature, earth and the universe. In her study of utopian media events that aimed to communicate this expansive worldview, Janine Marchessault asks: “Do we live in one world or many?”2 Is world a signifier for a common ground? Collaboration? Or is it something else?

Expo 70, Osaka, Japan. © Special Collections Research Center, Henry Madden Library, California State University, Fresno

In response to these questions, Marchessault proposes we look to the arts (the cinema in particular) as world-building projects that transform the conceptual imaginings of how we understand the world and how we orient ourselves within it. The implications go further than mere representation: art can provide a “training ground for sensory perception.”3 But more than just particular media experiments, the event of the Expo as a whole offered a training ground for a potential future. And while individual installations, pavilions, artefacts and interactions emerged from utopian aspirations, the event itself as a performance might have left a different impression on its visitors.

Clowns in front of the Canadian Pavilion at Expo 67, Montreal. © Government of Canada. Library and Archives Canada

Professor Stephen Johnson, whose interview appears in the oral histories section of this website, visited the international world fairs in Montreal (Expo 67) and in Osaka, Japan (Expo 70) as well as the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) in 1967. He remembers these events as distinctly separate experiences. They were experiences of otherness, but they were also experiences of amazement, astonishment and wonder, particularly in connection with innovative architecture that actively reached out to its visitors with new technological tentacles. This out-of-world impression is perhaps not surprising because such events, along with amusement parks and techno-cities, are often designed with the aim of transporting their visitors into a world that is radically removed from the their everyday experience.4

Expo 67 Visitor’s Passport. © Government of Canada. Library and Archives Canada

Expo 67 Visitor’s Passport. © Government of Canada. Library and Archives Canada

Often designed as a total work of art (Gesamtkunstwerk), these sites are artificial as they are tangible, ready to be experienced with all the senses as a communal event. Expo 67, for example, offered such an experience, providing the visitors with its own transportation system, dress code and fashion, food and even a passport. The latter was given to each visitor upon entry and further solidified the experience of border crossing and traveling to a new place.

United States Pavilion and view of the mini rail at Expo 67, Montreal. © Government of Canada. Library and Archives Canada

World expositions were created as ready-made environments, sometimes even ready-made cities, “technologically driven and reliant on commercial imperatives and popular culture.”5 At the 1939 World Fair in New York, the whole exhibition was designed to introduce the crowds to ‘The World of Tomorrow’ (the official title of the event), providing an opportunity to experience first-hand a series of scientific innovations that could be used in daily life. The Chicago World Fair in 1893 also established a clear division between “the ideal city … and the popular and commercial [area] with the Midway zone, which offered all sorts of amusements and displays.”6 The Midway later became a signifier for precisely the kinds of commercial attractions and inexpensive entertainment in fairs and expositions, sometimes referred to as the sideshow.

However, both Expos and the sideshow are also marked by separations: between the world of here and now and the materialized utopias of tomorrow, between the serious and the entertaining, perhaps even between business and fun.

View of the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), 1967. © Government of Canada. Library and Archives Canada

As Johnson recounts in his interview, he remembers being at a distance with the sights and objects at Expo 67 in Montreal. In contrast to the sideshow at the CNE he saw that same year, he mostly remembers the buildings and artefacts of the Expo. People, although numerous, seemed to have gotten lost in the massive exhibition.

The USSR Pavilion at Expo 67, Montreal. © Government of Canada. Library and Archives Canada

Taking the theme of ‘Man and his World,’ Expo 67 ran from April 27 to October 29, 1967. Unlike the 1939 New York Fair that proposed a technoutopia as ‘The World of Tomorrow,’ for Expo 67 tomorrow was already here, offering an insight into a future within reach. It was a grand project, both in financial terms (over $40 million), number of visitors (over 50 million) and participating countries (62 from all sides of the Iron curtain). Building parts of the site from scratch allowed the designers to work on a sort of blank slate—a space that was yet unaffected by the memories and traces of the city. This opened up opportunities for a concrete manifestation of what Frederic Jameson calls the utopian impulse – a political and practical implementation of an imagined utopia.7

Hostess of the Kaleidoscope at Expo 67, Montreal. © Government of Canada. Library and Archives Canada

The theme of Expo 67 was taken from a 1939 novel by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Terre des Hommes. The Canadians thinkers and writers tasked with the Expo’s theme aimed to transcend the novel’s sense of isolation and solitude. As Gabrielle Roy explained, “our own solitude can give us insight into the solitude of others. It can even cause us to gravitate towards one another as if to lessen our distress. Without this inevitable solitude, would there be any fusion at all, any tenderness between human beings?”8 While this speaks of a desire to come together it also reveals an underlying ideological view that sees the individual as the central and autonomous agent of history. The idea of isolation was implemented almost literary: Expo was staged on the islands in the St. Lawrence River. Amusingly, this sense of solitude was perfectly captured by one of the Expo’s hostesses during a CBC interview: “I should put up a sign that says ‘Please talk to me, I’m lonely.’”9

Habitat 67, a housing experiment in a high-density urban enviroment by architect Moshe Safdie, created as part of Expo 67 © Special Collections Research Center, Henry Madden Library, California State University, Fresno

As Johnson recalls, going to these events was like going to another planet. But whereas the CNE seemed to be much more about the people and the performers, the focus at the Expos was on the environment. Visitors to Expo 67 became performers themselves, roaming around and exploring an immersive designed environment that was completely separated from the daily experiences of their familiar surroundings. In this other world, visitors were able to interact with other participants, but also with socio-political forces, producing new narratives of and within the event.

1 Janine Marchessault, Ecstatic Worlds: Media, Utopias, Ecologies. MIT Press, 2017, 132.

2 Janine Marchessault, Ecstatic Worlds: Media, Utopias, Ecologies. MIT Press, 2017, 3.

3 Alfred North Whitehead quoted in Marchessault, (Ecstatic Worlds: Media, Utopias, Ecologies. MIT Press, 2017, 5).

4 For instance, Disney’s EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) in Florida or Poitiers technopark in France.

5 Angela Ndalianis, Science Fiction Experiences. New Academia Publishing, 2011, 115-116.

6 James Burkhart Gilbert, Perfect Cities: Chicago’s Utopias of 1893. University of Chicago Press, 1991, 15.

7 Frederic Jameson, Archeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions. Verso, 2007, 1-13.

8 Jean Marie Faber, Gabriel Roy and Guy Robert. Terres des Hommes/Man and His World. Canadian Corporation for the 1967 World Exhibition, 1967, 20.

9 The World At Six. “Expo 67 hostesses discuss Canadian men.” John O'Leary, John Sheltus. CBC, June 16, 1967. []


Faber, Jean Marie, Gabrielle Roy and Guy Robert. Terres des Hommes/Man and His World. Canadian Corporation for the 1967 World Exhibition, 1967.

Gilbert, James Burkhart. Perfect Cities: Chicago’s Utopias of 1893. University of Chicago Press, 1991.

Jameson, Frederic. Archeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions. Verso, 2007.

Marchessault, Janine. Ecstatic Worlds: Media, Utopias, Ecologies. MIT Press, 2017.

Ndalianis, Angela. Science Fiction Experiences. New Academia Publishing, 2011.

The World At Six. “Expo 67 hostesses discuss Canadian men.” John O'Leary, John Sheltus. CBC, June 16, 1967. []

Royal Alexandra Theatre

Written by Dave Degrow


Address: 260 King Street W.



The Royal Alexandra Theatre is an early-20th-century, Beaux-Arts-style theatre. It is located in downtown Toronto. The formal recognition consists of the building on the legal property on which it sat at the time of recognition.


The Royal Alexandra Theatre was designated a national historic site because it is a nationally significant example of a theatre which was built specifically for the presentation of live theatrical performances.

The Royal Alexandra is an intimate but lavish version of a traditional 19th-century theatre built exclusively for live theatrical performances. Designed by noted Toronto architect John M. Lyle (1872-1945), who had worked in theatre design in New York, the Royal Alexandra was a direct importation of the small, lavish and more intimate type of theatre being built in New York. Its design allowed a relatively large number of seats in a deceptively small space. The Royal Alexandra was one of the last theatres of its type built in Canada and likely the best surviving example. Since its rescue and rejuvenation by Ed Mirvish in 1963, the Royal Alexandra has played a central role in the social and cultural life of Toronto. Its Beaux-Arts style continues to provide an elegant setting for theatrical and musical events.

Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minute, 1985; Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Plaque Text, 1988.


The key elements that relate to the heritage value of this site include:
-its symmetrical, five-bay composition, in which a central, two-and-a-half-storey, mansard-roofed, three-bay block is flanked by smaller, recessed wings
-its tripartite facade, composed of: a channelled base; a pilastered main storey capped by a pronounced parapet edge; and a steep mansard roof over the central block and partially concealed behind the parapet edge
-exterior detailing loosely following the Louis XVI style, including: the channelled stone base with radiating voussoirs over window openings; elaborate entablatures and balconies at each of the massive windows on the main storey; Ionic pilasters; a heavy, dentilled cornice; and a stepped and decorated parapet
-its fenestration, consisting of: small, mullioned windows at street level; massive, heavily mullioned windows on the main level, and small, hooded dormer windows at roof level
-its interior plan, with the front third of the building devoted to reception and administration; the auditorium occupying the central third; and the back third taken up by stage and backstage areas
-curving staircases which ascend from either side of the lobby to a promenade foyer at balcony level
-the broad, shallow proportions of the auditorium, bringing the audience closer to the stage
-its steeply pitched, cantilevered balconies and boxes, allowing clear sightlines
-the heavy, lavish, Baroque-inspired classicism of its interior décor
-its use of durable, fireproof materials, including: brick, reinforced concrete, steel, terracotta and stone

"Royal Alexandra Theatre National Historic Site of Canada." Canada's HIstoric Places. Parks Canada. 2017. Accessed 10 May 2017.



A masterpiece of beaux-arts architecture, the historic Royal Alexandra is Toronto's senior theatre and, at 108, never having been converted to any other use, the oldest continuously operating legitimate theatre in North America.

The Royal Alexandra embodies the ambition of the young Toronto stock broker Cawthra Mulock, who sought to put his home town on the cultural map by building for it "the finest theatre on the continent." What he and his architect - John M. Lyle - created has since been called "an Edwardian jewel-box", a treasure chest of imported marble, hand-carved cherry and walnut, fine silks and velvets, crystal chandeliers and ornate, gilded plaster - all constructed on the city's first steel-framed structure (allowing cantilevered balconies, with no internal pillars to obstruct lines of sight) - and over a huge ice-pit that made this theatre one of the first "air conditioned" buildings in North America.

The Royal Alexandra is also North America's first truly "royal" theatre - "royal" by patent from Edward VII - named with royal permission for his consort, Alexandra, a Danish princess and great-grandmother of the present queen.

Since its opening in 1907, almost 3000 productions have played the Royal Alexandra. Its roster of stars is an honour-roll of twentieth century theatre: John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Katherine Cornell, Helen Hayes, Orson Welles, Ruth Gordon, Al Jolson, Humphrey Bogart, Mary Pickford, Cedric Hardwicke, Sydney Greenstreet, John and Ethel Barrymore, Fred and Adele Astaire, Harry Lauder, Maurice Evans, Alan Bates, Marilyn Miller, Deborah Kerr... Edith Piaf sang here, Paul Robeson played Othello here, Pavlova danced here, the Marx Brothers made Alex audiences laugh and Mae West made them blush.

Edwin "Honest Ed" Mirvish purchased the Royal Alexandra from the Mulock estate in 1963 and closed the theatre for extensive modernisation, repair and renovation, restoring the old house to the splendour of its early days. Ed Mirvish personally oversaw the operation of the theatre for the next 23 years, until 1986 when he handed management and administration over to his son, David, and David's company, Mirvish Productions.

The Royal Alexandra was named a National Historic Monument in 1987, on its 80th birthday.


There are three levels of seating in the Royal Alexandra: orchestra, balcony and upper balcony(gallery). Each level offers a lobby, bar/refreshment area and washrooms. The largest lounge area, the Yale Simpson Room, is on the lowest level, beneath the auditorium. The Royal Alex has a wheelchair-accessible washroom on the street (orchestra) level, on the east side of the main lobby.

“History - Royal Alexandra Theatre.”, Mirvish Company, 2017, Accessed 10 May 2017.

Royal Alexandra Theatre - Exterior

Royal Alexandra Theatre - Interior

“History - Royal Alexandra Theatre.”, Mirvish Company, 2017, Accessed 9 May 2017.

Royal Alexandra Theatre - Interior

“History - Royal Alexandra Theatre.”, Mirvish Company, 2017, Accessed 9 May 2017.

To visit Dave Degrow’s larger database on Theatre Buildings, click below:

Girl Guides of Canada

Written by Heather Fitzsimmons Frey

Just prior to and during the First World War, the newly formed Girl Guides of Canada (established in 1909) did a wide range of performances to entertain, showcase skills, participate in rituals created by the Guides, and raise money for various causes such as the Red Cross, local hospitals, and going to camp. These included musical concerts, dance performances, 'Empire' pageants and tableaux as well as plays, operettas, and comedic sketches written by the girls or their troupe leaders. There were also 'spectacles' of physical culture (also called Swedish exercises or gymnastics), demonstrations of First Aid skills and military drills (such as flag signaling), and other forms of performance such as rituals, marches, and ceremonies directly related to the Girl Guides' activities and achievements (receiving badges or honours, “flying up” to a higher level, etc.). The culture and goals of the Girl Guides suggest that girls had a great deal of control over the content of these performances, and they probably built their costumes, props, and sets themselves. 

The following documents are from the Girl Guides of Canada Archive where researches can find scrapbooks that contain images and reports from across Canada, including photographs, newspaper clippings, and performance programmes, starting in 1913 and reaching to the present day.

Click on an image to learn more.

Rise Up Against Racism: Black Canadians and D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation

Written by Jimena Ortuzar

D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915) is widely known as one of the most racist films ever made and also as a groundbreaking work of early cinema. Adapted from the novel and play The Clansman by Thomas Dixon, Jr., The Birth of a Nation is a wildly twisted account of the American Civil War and Reconstruction period that demonizes African Americans and glorifies the Ku Klux Klan. It is frequently taught in film studies classes for its significance to the development of narrative film, and more importantly, as a history lesson in race relations, media, and propaganda. 

This landmark film was an event in itself, released like a roadshow “with all the ballyhoo of a circus coming to town.” 1. Billed as “the eighth wonder of the world,” it was a feat of technical artistry and innovative storytelling, with a high ticket price and a full symphony orchestra playing live musical accompaniment. First released in the United States, the film was lauded by audiences and critics alike. But it also sparked protests in the streets and censorship fights in the courtroom, as outraged progressives aimed to shut down the film. Many attempts to cut, ban, or limit the film’s exhibition failed, namely because racism was not grounds for censorship at this time. 

The Birth of a Nation had extraordinary success in Canada, playing to huge crowds in various cities across Ontario and having multiple runs in Toronto. It premiered at the Royal Alexandra Theatre on September 20, 1915 (with audiences in formal dress), and soon after at Massey Hall, which extended the show for an additional week in the winter of 1916 and added a second run that summer. The film showed a remarkable ability to return repeatedly to the screen, and on Sep 12, 1916, The Birth of a Nation had its 100th performance in Toronto. It returned to Massey Hall again in 1917 and many more times after. 

Article from the Toronto Star, September 17, 2015.

Ad for D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (“8th Wonder of the World) playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto. From the Toronto Star, September 18, 1915.

Article from The Canadian Observer, a newspaper published for the black community by J.R.B Whitney from 1914 to 1919. September 18, 1915.

Article reporting a mass meeting held in Windsor, Ontario to support the prohibition of the film The Birth of a Nation (sometimes referred to as ‘photoplay’). From The Canadian Observer, December 4, 1915.

The reception of The Birth of a Nation in Canadian theatres was overwhelmingly positive (astonishingly, audiences applauded and cheered the KKK vigilantes). For white Canadian audiences in 1915, Griffith’s civil war epic, filled with spectacular battlefield scenes and melodramatic narratives of sacrifice, spoke to their own experiences of the Great War. The Toronto Star reported that black Canadians were the only opponents to the film, which suggests white audiences happily accepted the film's grotesque distortion of history and incendiary racial messages. The black Canadian community in Toronto, likely aware of efforts to ban the film in the US, protested against the exhibition of Griffith’s film. Organizing together through church congregations, black Canadians in Toronto formed a delegation led by Reverend A. W. Hackley of the A. M. E. Church and William P. Hubbard, an African Canadian elected to the Toronto City Council in 1894. The delegation made an appeal to the Theatrical Inspection Board, and after being refused, brought their case to Premier Hearst. On Sep. 20, 1915, Hearst agreed to send an inspector to the first performance of the film to “eliminate the most objectionable scenes.” As a result, two scenes were cut (or rather “trimmed”) by the censor board.

Another delegation of black citizens joined the fight to ban the film before its release in Windsor. The delegation attempted to have an injunction issued against theatre management, but just as it was preparing to do so, the film was suddenly cancelled, allegedly due to a legal oversight during the purchase of the film rights for exhibition. However, as the Winsor Star newspaper later reported, the cancellation of the film may have been a way to avoid the legal battle that the injunction was sure to bring about. News of the successful suppression of the film was reported in The Canadian Observer, a newspaper published for the black community by J.R.B Whitney: “Fight is Ours, Birth of Nation Play Cancelled.” 

Article from the Toronto Star, September 22, 1915.

Opposition to The Birth of a Nation took place elsewhere in the country, with reactions to the film recorded in the press across major cities: Montreal, Vancouver, Saint John and Halifax. In Montreal, a mass meeting was held at the United Congregational Church on September 22, 1915 where a resolution was passed against the film. The following day, the Princess Theatre in Montreal, where the film was to be shown, was burned. After rumours that protestors of the film had been responsible, the police began an investigation. But despite news reports linking the protests to such violent action, struggles to block the film were mainly fought in provincial government offices rather than in theatres. 

Announcement sent to J.R.B. Whitney, publisher of the The Canadian Observer, after The Birth of a Nation was cancelled in Windsor. From The Canadian Observer, December 4, 1915.

Nova Scotia was the province where such efforts were most successful. Arguing that it constituted a threat to public order, a delegation of black leaders (and white allies that supported their efforts) lobbied the provincial government to ban the film. While never officially banned, The Birth of a Nation was not shown in 1915 or 1916. 2. This may seem like a small win given the film’s theatrical run and historical significance a century later, but it nonetheless reveals that Griffith’s hate-filled epic did not go unchallenged among black Canadians.  

  1. Thomas Doherty. “The Birth of a Nation at 100: Important, Innovative and Despicable.” The Hollywood Reporter. Febrary 7, 2015.

  2.  Greg Marquis. “A War Within a War: Canadian Reactions to D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation.” Histoire sociale/Social history, 47(94): 421-442, 2014.

A Cross-Burning on Hamilton Mountain

Written by Stephen Johnson

Additional Research and Curation by Amelia Nezil and Jimena Ortuzar

A cross burning at the top of Hamilton Mountain, from the Hamilton Herald, 1 October 1931.

Poster for D.W. Griffith's 'mighty spectacle' The Birth of a Nation (1915).

This image shows a public performance created in an attempt to revive the fortunes of a long-dormant movement in North America, the Ku Klux Klan. Originally forged in the American South during the period after the Civil War, where it actively and violently promoted segregation and a related series of 'Jim Crow' laws, the 'Klan' had fallen on hard times, and all but disappeared.

Then, in 1915, D. W Griffith released his 'epic' film The Birth of a Nation, which was a paean to the Klan, a powerfully sentimental piece of propaganda, and the most successful and widely seen film up to that time. Its release was protested extensively but nothing could stop its wide circulation across North America, or its attraction despite the subject matter--it was a technological as well as a propagandistic achievement, and much like some advance film technology today, it was difficult for audiences to avoid seeing it and still be a part of the general cultural conversation. So they went, and they were either appalled or moved.

A march of members of the KKK south on James Street North circa 1930, no doubt to draw attention to the Klan, to create a photo opportunity for local newspapers, and to promote membership. Courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library.

From the Hamilton Herald, 1 October 1931.

One of the results of the circulation of this film was a resurgence of groups calling themselves the KKK, all attempting to galvanize their membership in the interests of discrimination against anyone not Protestant and European in origin. This was true in Southern Ontario, and the newspapers of the 1920s and early 1930s had frequent reports of public gatherings, organizational meetings, and more.

Hamilton, Ontario, was a typical and not an unusual case. The 1920s was a disruptive cultural moment, when changes in communications and industrial technology, the movement of people in both urban and rural settings, and sudden changes of economic fortune drove many to look for stability in organizations both old and new--organizations with many different political and social 'soap to sell.' They protested the presence in the community--in any way--persons of colour, any non-Western-European immigrant, any Jewish immigration or presence, any Catholic immigration and presence...and the French. First Nations populations were not even countenanced with prejudice--they simply did not exist.

I have a personal family history with this event. My father was born and raised in Hamilton, and remembered these events. He remembered a cross burning on the side of Hamilton Mountain, an image only, burned into his memory (so to speak), and image without any history at all that he could remember. He remembered that his next door neighbour was a member of the local chapter of the KKK, and that everybody thought he was a 'flake' (if memory serves me, this was the word used). But he also remembers that the film The Birth of a Nation came to Hamilton not just once or twice, but in his recollection, annually, playing to broad audiences, for no defensible reason. It was simply on tour, and local communities accepted the 'tour.' That particular piece of inflammatory nostalgia had apparently become normalized.

Members of the Klan marching on King Street West circa 1930. Courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library.

So what are we to take from these memories? The KKK was not a group that many people joined or respected. But they could not be ignored, and they could not be forgotten, because of their own performance of their existence, through the visceral power of a burning cross and through the endless circulation of a film by a touring monopoly that had no interest in local culture.

From the Hamilton Herald, 23 March 1935.

Canadian National Institute for the Blind

Written by Jessica Watkin

Click on an image to enlarge.

Founded in 1918 at the end of the First World War, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) devoted its first year to engaging both the public and a small blind community mainly made up of veterans. The organization provided rehabilitation services for blind and partially blinded people in Ontario while focusing on creating living and working opportunities for Toronto’s blind community. Exploring the particular needs and varying conditions of blind people, the CNIB developed programs and staff positions that still serve as the primary structure of the organization that continues to support blind people across Canada. 

The Bulletin, first published in October 1918, served as a public notice for changes within the organization, its staff and board, and the programs in development. I discovered this publication after a trip to the CNIB archives where my experience went beyond the visual; it became a tactile search through an extensive collection of braille documents spanning the last hundred years of the organization. Held at Library and Archives Canada, The Bulletinwas generously shared by Jane Beaumont, CNIB’s current Archivist, upon preparations for the 2018 centennial celebration of the organization. Beaumont and her team created a “living history” exhibit based on these documents and many others like them to celebrate the conception of the organization, its growth and its future (visit the special online exhibit by clicking the link below).

The November 1, 1918 issue of The Bulletindescribes an exhibit in which blind people show “what they can do” at a local event called “Carnival of Nations.”  The carnival featured blind people performing activities in a curated setting. While this exhibit may invite comparisons to the more popular freak show of the late 19thand early 20thcenturies, the CNIB’s efforts centered on advocacy, showing blind people successfully doing “normal” things. These performances are the first recorded instances of shared experience between the private and public lives of blind Canadians and the general public in Toronto, which also suggests a context and relationship between the two. The need for blind Canadians to “prove” their competence while also showcasing their exoticized private lives gives us a glimpse into the CNIB’s understanding of public attitudes towards blind people; this is what needed to happen for their experiences to be understood and supported by the public. While the organization has developed extensively over the last 100 years it continues to showcase blind skills today in various ways.

An example of this would be in the November 1, 1918 issue pictured here The Bulletin editors chose to showcase an exhibit in which blind people show “what they can do” at a local event called “Carnival of Nations”.  Real blind people performing real blind activities in a curated setting, possibly a small hint of freak show, but more prominently the CNIB gravitates towards advocacy in showing a successful blind person doing those “normal” things. These performances act as the first recorded instance of shared experience between the private and public lives of blind Canadians and the public in Toronto, but also suggests a context and relationship between the two as well.  The need to “prove” their competence while also showcasing their exoticisized private lives creates an idea of what the CNIB believed the public thought of blind people, but also possibly hints at what needed to happen in order for their experiences to be understood and supported.  The organization has developed over the last 100 years but continues to showcase blind skills today in various ways.

In the May 1, 1919 issue of The Bulletin, the editors announced the inclusion of blind persons in the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) through a sensory experience of artifacts in its collection. The museum’s guided and tactile tours of exhibits act as a performance history: an experience that introduces blind people to historical artifacts previously understood through vision. The excerpt above reveals that CNIB’s advocacy within the community integrated performative qualities within everyday experience, enlivening the museum visit that is otherwise passive. The tactile tours at the ROM have developed over the past 100 years and remain a key part of blind culture and inclusion in Toronto today (blind patrons can request a tour at any time). These interactive explorations of exhibits have now been integrated into the patron experience, extending this particular performance history to the general public and normalizing the inclusion of blind people in Toronto’s popular culture.

 Link to CNIB’s special online exhibit:

The Great Wizard of the North

Written by Joe Culpepper
Curated by Jimena Ortuzar

Professor Anderson performing his famous bottle trick with his son in his illusion act "The Magic Scrapbook" at the Boston Melodeon in 1852. Image from Gleason's Pictorial Drawing Room Companion, an illustrated periodical digitized by the Boston Public Library.

John Henry Anderson, known as The Great Wizard of the North, was one of the most famous apparatus conjurors of the nineteenth century. He joined a traveling circus and then a theatre company with which he toured the smaller towns of Scotland as a young boy. Shortly thereafter, he witnessed a magic show (most likely a performance by Ingleby Lunar) and decided to become a professional magician. Though he spent most of his career performing in Europe, he also enjoyed great success in Canada and the United States during three separate tours beginning in 1850, 1860 and 1865 respectively.

Anderson, as suggested by the primary records of his performances in the Ontario region, was a master of publicity, mise-en-scène and presentation. Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin and Carl Herrmann were far better sleight-of-hand artists than their Scottish competitor, but Anderson owned beautiful, elaborate apparatus, was a shrewd marketer and presented himself well as an exotic performer. Part of his appeal for European and North American audiences came from his cultural identity. In his illusion, "The Magic Scrap Book," the Wizard of the North produced an impossible number of large objects and concluded the routine with the magical appearance of his son in full Highland costume. In addition to such references to his Scottish heritage, Anderson frequently ended a run of his magic shows by performing the part of Rob Roy in local theatre productions. His wife, four daughters and two sons all, at one time or another, were involved in magic acts, both before and after, their father's performance days, which ended with his death in Darlington, England in 1874.

Advertisement for Professor Anderson's magic performances at the Music Hall, Mechanic's Institute in Toronto during the Agricultural Exhibition of 1862 in Toronto. From the Global and Mail, 19 September, 1862.

Hodge Playbill

Written by Stephen Johnson

Hodge Playbill

This Playbill is a part of the history of the Peters Family, a large group of early settlers in Southern Ontario, stretching back to the early 19th century.  This particular document describes the performance of a boy, probably no more than twelve years of age, as a comedian, ventriloquist, character singer, and magician.  The source is southwestern Ontario, likely from the Chatham area.  The bill is from the early twentieth century, likely 1900-1905, based on the date of birth of this 'Boy Comedian.'  Herbert Omer Hodge was born in April 8, 1887, and would have been 13 in 1900; the bill itself advertises the entertainment as 'a rollicking twentieth century play,' as if that was something new. 

The only context to this document is oral history, through the grandchildren of this boy.  According to these stories, William Hodge, the 'director' of this performance, was a farmer and house-painter, who in the wintertime travelled to the rural communities with this son to raise additional funds for he family through performance.  Although information is difficult to confirm, there are some reasonable assumptions to be made.  They would have travelled by sled, the only means of transportation at this time of year in southwestern Ontario.  They would have performed either in church basements or halls, or in people's homes, the assumption being that the communities would have been too small for anything like a 'town hall.'  They would have had a minimal means of advertisement, primarily this handbill, which would have been distributed shortly before the performance.  This assumption is based on the fact that no post or advance announcement would have been possible--although it may be that the phone was then a means of advance warning.  The entertainment would have been family oriented, and wide-ranging, for an audience that was steeped in an English cultural tradition, but without any exposure to touring performance.  All performance they experienced would have been self-created, for each other.   

This kind of performance--the locally touring semi-professional--is particularly difficult to find.  There would have been on newspaper to advertise in; and in any event, the performers would not be able to afford to advertise, and no newspaper would have been delivered to potential audiences prior to the rather sudden appearance of the performers.  This kind of performance, in effect, was an elaboration on the kinds of amateur entertainments that were most prevalent, by default, at this time in the rural areas of the country.  A particularly enterprising (and needful) parent decided that his son was particularly talented--that is, capable of attracting a local audience, and perhaps more widely known than in his own community because of this.  News travelled from church to church during regular regional events, and a name might be 'known.'  There is little evidence of this kind of performance, making this document of particular importance.  It speaks to a local culture that had hierarchies of entertainment, from local amateur through local and regional touring, that was both an education and a preparation for touring professionals when they did come through town.   

As an addendum:  I have an eyewitness account that saw a performance by Fred Hodge, Herbert Hodge's brother, circa 1948, in the Odessa Methodist Church Hall.  The performance was a marionette show, using puppets that were family heirlooms, as I understand it from other accounts, belonging to the father, William, and to Herbert.  These 'puppets' (as they were called--not marionettes, which is what they were), were well-remembers in the Peters family, as a part of the expertise of one part of the family, as a regular feature of the family and the community performance experience, and as artifacts.  I have recollections of performances in the 1950s at home, and one reference to seeing the puppets in disarray in a garage later.  They are long gone.  What is of interest is that the culture of performing, and the expertise, persisted so long.  It is also of interest to compare the existence of these marionettes with the handbill, which mentions no puppetry, and yet in the family memory is closely tied to those other, long disappeared artifacts.  It may be that the puppetry was a later addition to the 'act'; surely if they had been a feature of this performance, they would have been advertised! 

If further research was to be done on this subject, a tour of archives in southwestern Ontario would be important, a look through local newspapers (just in case), and a concerted effort to find the descendents of this family, in case there are family archives.   


Written by Stephen Johnson, with information supplied by family members James Johnson (brother), Pearl Johnson (mother), and Terry Johnson (cousin).  The original of this playbill has not been located, but early photocopies are extant.   


Montreal Catholic School Minstrel Show

Written by Martin Julien

This image shows my father, Leo Julien, as the interlocutor in his Anglophone Montreal Catholic school minstrel show circa 1940.1 The interlocutor was a central figure in minstrel shows, a master of ceremonies who made announcements to the audience and played the straight man to the endmen’s jokes. My father told me he was twelve years old in this 8' X 12" black-and-white picture. He ended up estranged from much of his large Irish-French family in later years, and so spoke of his youth haltingly, with gaps. While he no longer remembers the name of the school, I know that he lived off rue Clark at this time, near Parc Jarry and the Jean Talon Market. He always said about this picture, ironically, that he never met a black Canadian until a very young Oscar Peterson played his high school dance a few years later.

Blackface minstrelsy was a popular form of entertainment in American and English-speaking cultures from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries, with vestiges of the form persisting to the present day. Based on racial stereotypes depicting African American culture, both on the southern plantation and in northern cities, it was a blend of popular music, dance, comedy, and variety acts, performed (with some exceptions) by white entertainers in ‘burnt-cork’ facial makeup, and extreme clown-like. It entertained with a mix of sentimental harmonic song, dialect and physical humour, and dance, in the midst of its persistent and pervasive racism introducing audiences to syncopated music and tap dancing. It was arguably the single most popular form of entertainment in North America and Britain around the turn of the 20th century. Blackface performers appeared in the European settlements of Canada from its earliest days, and professional troupes appeared on stages across Canada from the 1840s.2 Very quickly, this form of entertainment became a mainstay for local amateur groups, used as charity fundraisers by schools, police forces, community groups, churches, and charities as late as the 1960s.3

Memories of performing blackface among Canada’s aging population appear to be widespread. As scholar Cheryl Thompson explains in her research of Canada’s history of blackface, “every time I mention my work to someone over the age of 50, they recount a

story about themselves or a family member taking part in a blackface performance as a youth.”4 These stories and images reveal just how ubiquitous blackface minstrelsy was in community spaces—a century-long practice that shaped conceptions of blackness and perpetuated racial stereotypes in Canada. The popularity of blackface performance in Canada has certainly diminished but it is far from over. Incidents of contemporary blackface continue to occur, often in university campuses, sporting events, and comedy fests, which suggests (paradoxically) a collective national amnesia around Canada’s history of blackface minstrelsy.5

1 Other entries on the website that relate to minstrelsy are ‘Al W. Martin’s Mammoth Production,’ ‘A Cross-burning on Hamilton Mountain,’ and ‘Rise Up Against Racism.’

2 See Stephen Johnson, "'Shield us from this base ridicule': The Petitions to Censor Blackface Circus Clowns, Toronto, 1840-1843," in New Essays in Canadian Theatre: Canadian Performance Histories and Historiographies, series editor Roberta Barker, volume editor Heather Davis-Fisch. Playwrights Canada Press, 2017; and “Introduction: The Persistence of Blackface and Minstrel Tradition” in Burnt Cork: Traditions and Legacies of Blackface Minstrelsy (University of Massachusetts Press, 2012; edited by S Johnson) pp 1-17

3 Lorraine Le Camp, Racial Considerations of Minstrel Shows and Related Images in Canada. PhD Dissertation. University of Toronto, 2005, 327-329.

4 Cheryl Thompson, ‘The Complicated History of Canadian Blackface,’ Spacing Magazine, October 29, 2018.

5 Philip S. S. Howard, “On the Back of Blackness: Contemporary Canadian Blackface and the Consumptive Production of Post-Racialist, White Canadian Subjects.” Social Identities 24, 1, 2018, 87-103. See also Burnt Cork passim.

Al W. Martin's Mammoth Production

Written by Kelsey Jacobson

Image courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-24432

This advertisement from 1898 similarly describes “Al W. Martin’s Mammoth Production,” and the same company continued to produce and grow Uncle Tom’s Cabin until at least 1912 in one form or another (For more information, see also Stephen Railton’s site from the University of Virginia for details of the company and two maps of its tours in the United States). The vast size of this production also points to the presence of a Canadian market interested in such performances; audiences of a certain size, and sufficient enough popularity to warrant such a large-scale show touring to Canada, are implied. Further research to be undertaken might consider mapping the routes of popular touring companies through Canada using resources such as the Canada West database as well as additional primary source examination.

New York Dramatic Mirror, 5 January 1907, pg. 11

 This artifact is a short snippet found in a theatrical trade newspaper, the New York Dramatic Mirror, in its January 5th 1907 issue. A special column titled “Christmas in Stageland” contains one sentence mid-way through the column that reads “The members of Al W. Martin’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin company had a Christmas dinner in the Boston Café, Montreal, Can.” While the entry is perhaps slim on details at first glance, it provides several suggestive pieces of evidence when considered more closely. There is, first, its suggestion of the presence of large-scale touring companies from the United States in Canada, including minstrelsy performances. The company was to perform in Ottawa from December 31 to January 2 after its brief stay in Montreal, as detailed in a different section of the same edition of the New York Dramatic Mirror, before heading back down to the United States (5). The company described in the column, Al W. Martin’s, was also evidently popular enough to warrant the details of their Christmas activities being published, and indeed other secondary sources corroborate this. John W. Frick’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin on the American Stage and Screen (2012) details that “Al W. Martin’s Famous Ideal Uncle Tom’s Cabin Company was so large that it required three railroad cars to transport the performers, animals, and scenery,” which reportedly included sixty performers along with a veritable menagerie of donkeys, oxen, dogs, and ponies (Frick 141).




Painting by the Quebecois artist Joseph Légaré

Written by Justin Blum

A painting by the Quebecois artist Joseph Légaré, called in French "Paysage avec un orateur s'adressant aux Indiens" ("Landscape with an orator addressing the Indians"). Musée de Beaux-Arts, Montreal, Canada. ca. 1843.

Joseph Légaré is today considered a minor painter of landscapes and portraits, with his chief distinction being the fact that he was the first Canadian-born person to own and operate an art Gallery. Légaré lived and worked for most of his life in the vicinity of Québec City.

Since the 1960s, this painting has been described by English Canadian historians of art and theatre as a depiction of the famous British actor Edmund Kean meeting with members of the Huron-Wendat band of First Nations in the countryside outside of Québec in 1826. John R. Porter, the author of the only catalogue raisonné  of Légaré's work, supports this attribution; and the Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project categorizes it as a depiction of "Shakespeare in Canadian Art.

But is this attribution accurate, particularly since it seems not to have been made until more than a century after the work was painted? And if it is, how accurate a depiction of an event that took place almost 20 years before it was painted, and that instantly became part of the mythology surrounding the larger-than-life figure of Kean, can this image be said to be? Whatever this painting really shows, what can we learn from it about the history of British celebrity actors in Canada and the role that Shakespeare and his plays have played in the Canadian public imagination?