Majestic Theatre – 390 Duckworth St.
This building dates back to 1919, but the site on which it rests boasts a much longer theatrical history. The Majestic Theatre rests at the bottom of what was once known as Playhouse Hill, and later Theatre Hill (the stretch of Queen’s Rd. that spans from Long’s Hill to New Gower St.). The first theatre to occupy this site was the new Amateur Theatre, built by the Masonic Order when the first Amateur Theatre became too small. A piece of land was granted by the governor and the new playhouse’s first foundation stone was laid November 8, 1922, following a ceremonial parade that moved west down Water Street and up Williams Lane. The modest saltbox building opened in February 1823 with a performance of The Castle Spectre. Proceeds from these early performances were often donated to charity. After 1841, the Amateur became known as St. John’s Theatre. We know that at least one dance performance took place here before it was destroyed by fire in June 1946: on April 28, 1843, Mrs. Chapman danced the Cachucha following a performance of Gentleman Grey or The British Soldier. After the Great Fire of 1846 levelled the building, another theatre was not built on this site until 1919 when Tom O’Neill and Tom Cody erected one of the city’s first cinematic palaces, the Majestic Theatre. (Tom O’Neill had frequently performed in tableaux vivants in patriotic performances during World War I.) The ramped theatre was built in a vernacular architectural style with a Romanesque Revival end tower and included a proscenium arch that was hand-carved by Dan Carroll and erected by the Shipbuilding Company of Harbour Grace. The stage beneath the proscenium saw several dancers grace its floors, including Miss Major in a Spanish dance before the film The Trap, starring Lon Chaney, in December 1922. In May 1923, a “smoking concert” consisted of dances, recitations, a horn solo and a lecture on Mussolini and fascism. Later that same month, variety entertainment and several tableaux vivants were performed in aid of the Girl Guide Fund. The Majestic was also the site of one of conductor/organist Charles Hutton’s last operettas. When the building was sold to Jack Condon and his son Stan, the theatre took on a more political role in the community and became a site for workers’ meetings, labour strikes and government rallies. It was here that 2000 people first gathered in a famous political riot of 1932 that continued at the Colonial Building, where Prime Minister Sir Richard Squires was nearly executed. And, during the confederation debate in 1948/49, it was the headquarters for the Confederate Party. In May 1953, City Council received a request to convert the theatre into an appliance store and warehouse known as Majestic Sales, later Heap & Partners (Newfoundland) Ltd. It was later revived as a dance club for some time. The Majestic was formally recognized as a Municipal Heritage Building in 1989, not only for its history but also for its aesthetic value as a rare example of a flatiron-shaped building in St. John’s. In 2012, the building was sold to the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland.
Total Abstinence Hall and Casino Theatre – 342 Duckworth St. (address has variously ranged from 282-324 Duckworth St.)
An Irish temperance group, the Total Abstinence Society, built its first hall on this site in 1873. With its second-floor auditorium, the T.A. Hall soon became an important site of theatrical entertainment in St. John’s. In February 1881, the hall was the site of Johnny Burke’s operetta The Battle of Foxtrap, about the attempts of Conception Bay residents to prevent the railway from going through in June 1880; and, also in the 1880s, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Hutton (owners of a music store on Water St. and responsible for staging many operettas in St. John’s) produced Black Patience with help from the Academia Club. When the first hall burned in the Great Fire of 1892, a second rendition (a three-storey, wooden structure measuring 106 feet long by 65 feet high) was erected in 1894. While the society leased the lower floor and used the second floor for its clubrooms, the upper level of the new structure contained the fully equipped Casino Theatre, which housed five dressing rooms, two private boxes, four hundred opera chairs, three hundred gallery seats and room for six hundred in the pit – giving it a total capacity of 1350. The Casino proved to be a popular venue for touring artists and local performers, and even dance had its day at this theatre. When the Leighton Stock Company performed Arabian Nights in May 1894, new songs and dances by Mr. Whitman and Miss Davis were presented, and a Mr. Mack performed a reel that “brought down the house.” In December 1900, a moving tableau representing military movements and the Battle of Paardeberg was staged. In September 1902, Burke’s Minstrel Show offered a show of dancing, horizontal bar and a grand tableau. The Casino was renamed the Metropolis in 1908, after it opened a cinema; however, it reverted back to traditional theatre and became the People’s Theatre in 1910 (and later the Casino again). Throughout World War I, the theatre saw several benefit performances. A concert held in September 1914 in aid of the Women’s Patriotic Fund (WPA) included seven tableaux staged by Mrs. Rossley, as well as national dances like the Sailor’s Hornpipe, an Irish jig and a Scotch reel. In May 1915, Mrs. Helen Colville staged an eighteenth-century entertainment ballet Fete Champetre and the Triumph of Harlequin. A Miss E. and Miss D. Johnson were also very active in putting dance on the stage of the Casino during this period. In September 1915, Miss E. Johnson held a Ragtime Revue in aid of the WPA; in March 1916, the Misses Johnsons presented a Children’s Ballet for the same cause; and in May 1917, Miss Dorothy Johnson presented a musical comedy including a duet dance and a ballet dance. Later, in 1919, Dorothy would stage a Grand Classical and Ballet entertainment that included The Dance of the Four Seasons and dances of tambourine, fan, ballet, Dutch and Quaker, interspersed with songs and recitations. The Casino became the Capitol Movie Theatre when Famous Players took over the lease in 1935. When the building burned down for the second time in October 1946, the T.A. Society rebuilt again and rented the third floor as a CBC radio studio; however, this bankrupted the society, and they sold the entire building to Famous Players. The Capitol reopened on November 20, 1950. In 2007, the building was sold to developer Paul Madden who had plans to convert the former theatre into a live 500-seat performance space that would be more midsize than the smaller LSPU Hall or the larger St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre. The theatre conversion project did not come to fruition and the building is now a condominium.
King George V Institute – 93 Water St.
The King George V Institute was constructed between 1911 and 1912 on land donated by Sir Edgar Rennie Bowring. Simply designed, the four-storey structure was built by American architects Williams Adams Delano and Chester H. Aldrich in their typical neoclassical style and materials of brick and limestone. King George V (for whom it is named) laid the cornerstone on his coronation day, June 22, 1911, via electric current – though Governor Sir Ralph Williams physically laid the cornerstone on his behalf. Also known as Grenfell Hall and Caribou Hut, the building was originally constructed for seamen and girls working in the outports that lined the coast, and as a hostel for the crews of allied warships and merchant ships. It is well known for its role in the 1914 Sealing Disaster as a temporary morgue for unthawing bodies. The structure was designated a Municipal Heritage Building in 1989 for its contributions to the city’s military, maritime and medical history. However, what is less known is that it also holds a connection to St. John’s theatrical history. During WWI, and even later, it was used as a site for small concerts and benefit performances. For example, in September 1915, a concert including music, singing and dancing was given for the Royal Naval Reservists. In January 1916, another patriotic concert, The Suffragettes (which had previously been performed at Canon Wood Hall in November 1915) was given by Mrs. Herbert Outerbridge, Mrs. Colville and Miss Agnes Hayward. In November 1922, when the St. Andrews Social Committee held its Grand Concert and Dance under the direction of Mr. Bowes, a local newspaper reported that the building had a hardwood floor “unsurpassed in this city for Dances.” The following month, a concert was held in aid of the institute itself. For this, Miss Mews presented a dance and Mr. A.E. Holmes performed feats while his physical exercise class performed acrobatics at the horizontal bar. The building was converted into high-end condos in 2009.
Canon Wood Hall – 8 Military Rd.
The St. Thomas Anglican Church, the oldest Anglican church in Newfoundland, opened in September 1836 and became known as the Old Garrison Church because it was used by the military garrison until the 1870s. In 1899, Canon Wood Hall (named for Rev. Arthur Wood who had proposed the idea) was built next to the church to provide an area for meetings and gatherings; this also provided a space for performances and benefit concerts. For example, on April 18, 1910 a concert of songs, dances and a playet was held in aid of the Bazaar Fund for the Church Ship. This ended with a farce, His Majesty’s Mail, in which Miss Gosling, Miss Withers, Miss Renders and Miss Furlong took part. A charitable group named St. Margaret’s Guild appears to have used the hall often. In November 1915, they held a sociable with performances including a sketch, The Suffragette, presented by Mrs. H. Outerbridge with assistance from Mrs. Colville and Miss Agnes Hayward. Outerbridge and Colville performed again at the hall in a Concert & Comedietta presented by the St. Thomas Women’s Association the following spring. In April 1917, St. Margaret’s Guild staged the musical Spirit of Service that included singing, dancing, recitation and a tableau in which Newfoundland figures prominently and the “Ode to Newfoundland” was sung. And, the guild’s annual sale in December 1918 included a concert of solos, duets and a sketch, A Weaver of Dreams, acted by Mrs. Colville, Miss Clift and Capt. Campbell. Although a fire destroyed Canon Wood Hall in 1966, the St. Thomas School (which had been built between the church and the hall in 1927) closed in 1974, and its building became the new Canon Wood Hall. However, this meant that when the church was designated a heritage building in June 1986, the hall was excluded from this honour.
St. Patrick’s Hall – 48 Queen’s Rd.
One of the few structures remaining in St. John’s that had been built before the fire of 1892, this stone, Second Empire–style building was built by the Benevolent Irish Society (BIS), an organization formed in 1802 dedicated to providing relief to the poor, educating children and caring for orphans. In 1870, the society began discussing plans for a new school building that would provide relief for the Christian Brother’s Orphan Asylum. Two architects, Charles Kickham and John Coleman, each presented plans. While most of the plans were derived from Kickham’s design, the tower and mansard roof can be attributed to Coleman. The three-storey BIS Hall (or St. Patrick’s Hall) officially opened August 15, 1880 with a grand entrance from Military Road. The original structure, capable of accommodating 400 students, included an assembly hall on the upper level and four large classrooms on the middle floor. When the Great Fire of 1892 struck the city, the exterior of the hall remained intact; however, the insides were gutted and had to be rebuilt. The hall reopened with a Grand Inaugural Ball in September 1894 and a modern theatre on the third floor hosted a performance of The Plunger by the Leighton Stock Company in December. Balladeer Johnny Burke (affectionately known as the “Bard of Prescott Street”) presented The Runaway Girl, one of his later musical comedies, at this theatre. In 1907, the theatre was converted into the city’s first silent-film cinema and renamed The Nickel – part of B.F. Keith’s chain of Nickel Theatres in New England and Eastern Canada. At The Nickel in 1925, a touring revue named “The Originals” performed their show Stepping Out, which included a tableau vivant called “Heroes”. (The Originals consisted of former members of the famous Dumbells WWI touring revue.) In addition to the theatre, which closed in 1960 and reportedly is the longest-running cinema in St. John’s, the St. Patrick’s Hall School also played a role in theatre and dance history. In the 1930s, an Irish step dance group was formed at the school by Brother Samuel Murphy. This group of five boys called themselves the St. Pat’s Dancers and performed at various festivals and events throughout St. John’s. Another Brother, Max Murray, brought dances from New York in the 1940s. This group continued for decades at the school and performed across Canada, including the Montreal Olympics in 1976, the British Commonwealth Games in Alberta and at Expo ’86 in Vancouver. The BIS Building has since been converted into a high-end condominium.
British Hall – 77 Bond St.
The British Hall on the southwest corner of Bond and Flavin Streets had multiple connections to dance and theatre history in St. John’s. It was once the home of Jack Rossley’s British Theatre, or “British Theatre-Paramount photo play picture palace,” which was the last in a string of theatres he managed in St. John’s between c. 1911 and c. 1917 (including Rossley’s Star Theatre, Rossley’s East and Rossley’s West). Introducing the films with live vaudeville was standard fare at the time, and in the fall of 1914 Rossley’s British Theatre saw multiple performances by The Four British Belles, whose act included songs, ballads, a skipping rope dance, eccentric ballet, Russian dances and a buck-and-wing (tap) dance. On January 1, 1917, a “Floral Fete” ballet was presented by a troupe trained by Mrs. Rossley. The Rossleys also had trained and managed a children’s vaudeville troupe dubbed the Rossley Kiddie Company, which performed several times a week at the Rossley theatres and also toured to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick between 1914 and 1916. After the Rossleys moved to Saint John, New Brunswick, around 1918, the Church of England purchased the hall, and it became the new home of Bishop Spencer Academy (later Bishop Spencer College), a Church of England girls school founded in 1845. Dance secured a special place at Bishop Spencer College during the twentieth century due to Violet Cherrington, headmistress from 1922 to 1952, who believed strongly in education that included physical culture and the arts. Under Cherrington’s leadership, special subjects such as dancing, elocution, music, singing, arts and crafts were introduced. A 1928 issue of The Spencerian (the school’s alumni association publication) reveals that two former students, Edith Crawford and Florence Mews, later attended the Margaret Eaton School of Physical Culture in Toronto. By 1938, a woman named Freida Berry was teaching dance at Bishop Spencer, and she choreographed a ballet entitled The Triumph of Spring. A dance entitled The Slave Girl was presented in the same program, and composer Frederick Emerson created scores for both. Hilda Brinton graduated from Bishop Spencer in 1936 and taught dance classes for many years. A 1947 Spencerian indicates that a group of people interested in the Art of Dance met once a week and presented a ballet at Christmas. Phyllis (Miller) Angel graduated from Bishop Spencer in 1952 and went on to become an influential dance teacher in St. John’s. It is likely she studied with Brinton, who was still teaching in 1953. When the Bishop Spencer School closed in 1972, its building was put up for sale. However, dance graced this site again when it was the location of the Judy Knee Centre of Dance (est. 1967) from 1978 to 1981.
LSPU Hall – 3 Victoria St.
This large wooden building known as the Longshoremen’s Protective Union (LSPU) Hall, and affectionately known as “the Hall”, was built in 1922. The site, however, dates back to 1789, when it was used as the location of the first Congregationalist Church in Newfoundland. Although previous buildings on this site burned in 1817, 1892 and 1922, the structure has retained original sections of the stone-rubble retaining wall that was built for the Congregationalist Church in 1789, as well as original windows. In 1976, the Resource Foundation for the Arts (now the Resource Centre for the Arts) purchased the building, which they had already been leasing for some time. It was used by local dance studios in the ’70s and was also a more popular venue for contemporary dance and independent choreographers (while the St. John’s Centre for the Arts was mainly used by touring companies). In 1978, the centre’s administrator, Lynn Lunde, requested funding from the Canada Council to bring a small dance company (Montreal’s Le Groupe Nouvelle Aire) to the Hall, arguing that it “would be invaluable to start building an audience for small dance companies in the province.” The dance group Sheila’s Brush (named after a Newfoundland weather legend) also performed here in the ’70s. One of the groups that call the Hall home today is Neighbourhood Dance Works (NDW), which was originally a performance collective founded in 1981 by Cathy Ferri and Agnes Walsh out of the classes they were teaching in the basement of the Hall. Initial members included Lois Brown, Beni Malone, Mandy Jones and Peggy Hogan. Today, NDW’s mandate has shifted to dance presentation including the annual Festival of New Dance, which celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2015. Festival curators have included Ann Anderson, Lois Brown and Anne Troake. Many independent artists have used the Hall including Lois Brown, Anne Troake, Louise Moyes, Sarah Joy Stoker, Jennifer Dick, Lisa Porter, Evelyne Lemelin, and the Louder Than Words Collective, among others. The LSPU Hall was recognized as a Heritage Structure in 1988, and although its interior has been renovated over the years, including extensive renovations in 2008, the exterior remains almost the same as it did in 1922.
St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre – 95 Allandale Rd.
The St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre is one of six provincially owned arts centres spread across Newfoundland and Labrador and was the province’s major Centennial project. Opened on May 22, 1967, the centre holds a 990-seat main theatre with a proscenium arch, a seventy-five-seat black-box theatre, as well as libraries and art galleries. It has been used frequently by local dance studios for recitals including teachers such as Sandra Blackmore, Judy Knee, Connie Parsons, and Kim Sorenson. It was also the home base of Judy Fagan’s dance school at one point, which had been founded in 1959. The Arts and Culture Centre has also meant that more dance companies could tour to Newfoundland, and major companies such as The National Ballet of Canada, Toronto Dance Theatre and Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet began including the centre on their stops in the 1970s. On January 26, 1977, Newfoundland Dance Theatre (founded in 1975 by Gail Innes and Lisa Schwartz), held a double premiere of their work Abandoned Ancestors and the National Film Board’s Blackwood, which also features Innes and Schwartz. Abandoned Ancestors was a choreographic work based on David Blackwood’s The Lost Party series depicting the 1914 sealing disaster. In 1986, The Friends of India Association presented artists such as Bageshree Vaze and Meetali Pujara in a gala performance. In more recent years, the centre has seen performances by Canada’s Ballet Jörgen, Atlantic Ballet Theatre of Canada, Mocean Dance and Compagnie de danse Sursaut. Notably, the building sits on the old site of the Church of England Boys Orphanage, and the double line of trees south of the building mark the location of where the orphanage’s driveway once ran.
Methodist College Hall (Long’s Hill)
This site was once the location of the Methodist College, which dates back to 1859. In 1886, the building was expanded to include a teacher-training school and a student residence, and the new Methodist College was opened in January 1887. Although it burned in the Great Fire of 1892, and again in 1894, it was rebuilt each time, and at some point a public hall was added to the building. Several performances were held in the Methodist College Hall at the turn of the century and into the 1900s including the first display of the Lumière Brothers films in St. John’s, which included Loie Fuller’s famous Serpentine dance in 1897. In February 1912, in a concert held by the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire, a series of tableaux were performed by Miss. F. Winter and G. Milley, and a Japanese dance was given by students of a Miss Warlow. During WWI the hall was used as a venue for many patriotic performances and benefit concerts. In May 1915, Mrs. Colville staged an entertainment to celebrate Empire Night in aid of the Newfoundland Beds in the St. John Ambulance Brigade Hospital. The program consisted of patriotic songs, a sketch called “Petticoat Perfitty” and a “Russian Fairytale”. In 1916, Mrs. Colville performed in two patriotic performances. In January she appeared in the variety show “John Bull’s Patriotic Pierrettes”, which included songs, dances, recitations, a playlet, operetta, as well as Charles Hutton’s orchestra. And in March she gave a “Dance of the Allies” as part of another variety show while Dorothy Johnson presented the Japanese fan dance from San Toy. The performance also included Irish songs and dances and a comedic Russian dance. The building burned down in 1925 and was reopened as Holloway School in 1926; it closed in 1979 and was torn down in the early 1980s.
St. Bride’s College – 220 Waterford Bridge Road
The Tower Corporate Campus, a unique business complex located in Waterford Valley, is a reimagining of what was once known as St. Bride’s College, a Catholic boarding school founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1884. In 1883, the organization had purchased what was initially a three-storey house (the Littledale Estate) from Phillip Francis Little. Following the addition of a dormitory and classroom, it opened as St. Bride’s Academy on August 20, 1884. The school’s connection to Canadian theatrical dance history centres around a woman named Mercedes Galway, born in St. John’s on August 17, 1918. After attending New York University, Galway returned to St. John’s in 1938 and began teaching dance classes in ballet, tap, pointe and acrobatics at Littledale. She also choreographed troop shows during WWII. Galway’s first students included her sisters Teresita, Carmel, Isabelle and Barbara Ann, and when she stopped teaching in 1945, her sisters took over as instructors (Teresita until 1948; Carmel until 1951; and, Isabelle from 1956 to 1957). Together, they are known as foremothers of dance training in St. John’s.
Star of the Sea Hall – 40 Henry St.
This site once hosted the Star of the Sea Hall (aka Star Hall), a three-storey, wooden building that was built in 1922 by the Star of the Sea Association as a meeting place and social club for fishermen. Although the building lasted an impressive nine decades, it was preceded by two others that both fell victim to fire, first in 1892 and again in 1920. The second Star Hall was originally used for the Supreme and District Court Quarters for about a decade, but following their move into a new courthouse, the hall was rented to travelling companies and local amateurs. A March 1914 concert presented here included the tableaux “Erin Before Home Rule” and “Erin After Home Rule”. When the third hall opened in 1922, it contained a move theatre named the Star (after the Virgin Mary) and evidence shows that, like most early cinemas, live vaudeville was performed onstage before the feature film. For example, on December 9, 1922, a Miss Major performed a Spanish dance before the film The Trap, starring Lon Chaney. Even the third version of the hall retained the same basic structure as the original 1874 building and was an example of neoclassical style with a central tower projecting from the front, four columns on the third storey and a mansard roof. The Star came under the management of Famous Players in 1951 and discontinued as a cinema in 1957. After serving as a post office for a couple of years, it became a bingo hall. It earned a Municipal Heritage designation in 1991. Despite this, in 2010, City Council decided to tear down the building and replace it with a forty-eight unit condominium.
Bannerman Park (Military Rd.)
In the 1800s, this Victorian-style park held two skating/curling rinks, the Avalon and the Victoria. However, they were used for a much different purpose by Charles Henry Danielle, one of the city’s first dance instructors and costume makers. In the late 1860s, Danielle used the Victoria as a venue for his costume-dancing parties and fancy dress balls, while using the Avalon as a costume-rental agency. (He also taught dancing from the Victoria rink and in communities around Conception Bay.) These parties were very popular, and it was reported that for one “near three thousand dollars’ worth of Costumes have been brought to the country (Newfoundland) to give the Ball. It has cost weeks of labour in classifying and fitting these costumes …” Although the costumes were reportedly insured for ₤1000, Danielle suffered a financial loss when both the Victoria and the Avalon burned on July 17, 1878. The newspaper also reported that the fire was likely set by someone with a “grudge” against Danielle. After leaving Newfoundland for some time, Danielle returned in 1888 and set up shop at Foran’s City Rink. At the end of August 1888 he hosted a grand juvenile fancy dress ball at the British Hall. Two weeks later he staged a carnival and grand oriental costume ball for more than 1,000 people, including Governor Henry Arthur Blake and his wife, at the City Opera House (or City Rink) – possibly in City Hall across the street from the new Amateur Theatre on Duckworth Street. This event included a series of historical and mythological tableaux. Danielle moved on to the restaurant business for some time but eventually built a roadhouse named the Royal Lake Pavilion. In 1895, he transported the pavilion by rail to his new home at the magnificent Octagon Castle, near Octagon Pond. Octagon Castle became a resort for the public and social clubs of St. John’s until it was destroyed in a 1915 fire. In contemporary times, Bannerman Park is the home of the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival, Canada’s longest running folk festival. Over nearly four decades of activity, the festival has presented the Irish Newfoundland Association Dancers, St. John’s Folk Arts Dancers, Sheila’s Brush and Renaissance dance expert and artist Andrew Draskoy, among others.
Vigornia – 21 King’s Bridge Rd.
The Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador (Family Division) rests on the site of John Browning’s former estate known as Vigornia. Browning, owner of a substantial bakery business that would later become Browning-Harvey, and his wife Adeline, offered their residence as a venue for several benefit concerts and garden fetes during WWI. In July 1915, two showings of the pastoral play On Zephyr’s Wings were held to raise money for cots for wounded soldiers. On August 2, 1917, a Garden Fete was held in aid of Jensen Camp, a tuberculosis hospital for war veterans. The afternoon opened with a dance of the seasons and Mrs. Colville and Miss Flora Clift danced Narcissus and the Nymph, while the evening program opened with tableaux including one titled, “Woman Before and During the War,” showing the advancements that women had made. The entire show, which had raised $1170 in August, was repeated in September 1917. Jensen Camp benefitted again from the Sunshine Entertainment held at Vigornia in August 1918, which included dances by Miss Louise Orr, Miss L. Reid and Miss Joan Rendell, a series of eighteen tableaux vivants, as well as social dancing until midnight. The proceeds of $1121 went towards installing an electric lighting system at Jensen Camp. Mrs. Browning, who was an active member of the Women’s Patriotic Association and often opened her home for women to gather and make bandages and knit socks for soldiers, received the Order of the British Empire for her contribution to Jensen Camp and the war effort. After John Browning died in 1922, the estate was auctioned off and purchased by Herbert Outerbridge whose wife was a frequent cast member and organizer of the patriotic performances held at Vigornia and many others around the city. The Outerbridges renamed the estate Happy Acre. The original house burned down in the early 2000s.
Mechanics’ Hall (Water St. near Haymarket Square)
In 1827 a fraternal club named the Mechanics’ Society was founded as a self-help and educational institute for working-class Irish Catholics, who were unwelcome as members in the similar, but higher class, Benevolent Irish Society. Within ten years, the Mechanics Society built a meeting hall of its own, called the Mechanics Hall, on Water Street near Haymarket Square. It was rebuilt following the Great Fire of 1892, and the new 1895 edition would eventually house Rossley’s East, one of several St. John’s theatres managed by a theatrical family named the Rossleys. Jack and Marie Rossley moved to St. John’s from New York and established a children’s vaudeville troupe named the Rossley Kiddie Company circa 1911. The Rossley Kiddie company performed several times a week at the Rossley theatres, which included Rossley’s Star Theatre, Rossley’s East, Rossley’s West and the British Theatre at 77 Bond St. (Rossley’s East and West Theatres combined slightly vulgar vaudeville with movies and preceded the opening of the British Theatre.) The troupe also toured to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick between 1915 and 1917. Jack and Marie were performers themselves, and Marie directed the vaudeville troops. In addition to the Rossley Kiddie Company, historical records reference the Rossley Dumbells, Rossley Company, Rossley Group, Sunshine Girls, Merry Minstrels, Pickaninnies and the Pantomines. The Rosselys moved to Saint John, New Brunswick, after 1917. The Rossley Kiddie Company appears to have been active in Saint John in the 1920s under the direction of Marie Rossley and B.F. Keith Imperial Theatre Management. Dancing was revived at the Mechanics’ Hall in the 1960s and ’70s, when it was used as nightclub, but it was torn down in the mid-1980s. Learn more by checking out the Rossley Kiddie Company Collection at the Archives and Special Collections of Memorial University of Newfoundland. http://collections.mun.ca/cdm/search/collection/rossley
Phyllis Angel School of Dancing – 87 LeMarchant Rd.
From 1962 to 1979, children of St. John’s could attend the Phyllis Angel School of Dancing at 87 LeMarchant Rd., which, in its most successful year, had four instructors and approximately 600 students. Though we know little about the life of Phyllis Angel, she has been recognized for her contributions to the development of a dance culture in St. John’s. According to Heritage Newfoundland and Labrador, many of the established dance teachers who trained in St. John’s once studied with Angel and another woman named Judy Fagan. A 2005 issue of the Spencerian (Bishop Spencer College’s alumni newsletter) indicates that Phyllis (Miller) Angel graduated from Bishop Spencer in 1952. The same issue announced that Angel had been named to the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council Hall of Fame for her work in dance and that she had been one the first honorary members of the Dance Teachers Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. Angel had also received an award from the Dance Teachers Association in 1996 – recognition that Judy Fagan would also receive in 2003, the Galway sisters in 2005, and Linda Rimsay in 2009. Interestingly, students from the Phyllis Angel School of Dancing appeared on an episode of the children’s show Skipper and Company in March 1978, performing a clown dance as Paula Walsh entertained the Skipper with the song Will Ye No’ Come Back Again, and as the children from the Newfoundland Chinese Association performed a “Chopsticks Dance”.
Kittiwake Dance Theatre – 155 Water St.
Kittiwake Dance Theatre is Newfoundland’s oldest non-profit dance company. A semi-professional company, it was founded in 1987 by Linda Rimsay, an American émigré with a background in modern dance and dance education. Rimsay arrived in St. John’s in 1978 and immediately got involved with Newfoundland Dance Theatre (NDT), which had been founded by Gail Innes and Lisa Schwartz in 1975. It was from the young performers’ group of NDT that Kittiwake evolved. The company’s repertoire over the decades has included many original works such as Mermaids of Avalon, spring showcases and choreographic workshops, as well as its annual Nutcracker, which has included distinctly Newfoundland references such as mummers at the party scene. (Mummers dress up in disguise and make house visits over the Christmas season.) Currently, the company is under the direction of Artistic Director and Choreographer Martin Vallée and Artistic Associate Jennifer Foley.