52 Ancestors: Week 33 – Finding Ancestors in the Theatre

Week 33\’s 52 Ancestors prompt is \”Comedy\”. I though it would be interesting to steer people towards information for ancestors who were employed in the performing arts. Because of the nature of their work, sometimes it would be hard to find them in one spot for very long. Immediately you would think of actors and actresses when you think of theatre,. But there was a whole host of people behind the scenes. And don\’t forget their predecessors, the variety and vaudeville performers.

Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia
One of the first places you should look for your ancestor is the Canadian Theatre Encylopedia. This great website has an alphabetized list of mini bios. Among the list are those connected with the theatre both on and off stage. It also includes theatre companies, plays, and theatres themselves. Run by Athabasca University, it is constantly adding to their list. I saw Dan Akroyd, Mary Pickford, and The Edmonton Actors Theatre. If your ancestor isn\’t listed, there are instructions on how to submit their name and mini bio.

Library and Archives Canada
I did an Archives search on the LAC\’s website using the word \”theatre\”. I got over 15,000 results! Most of what they have is offline, but there are over 1000 items online. Among that are over 700 photographs you can access from home. Here\’s one from 1937 during the Dominion Drama festival. It shows actors from the play Heaven on Earth, performed by the Medicine Hat Little Theatre.

University Archives
There are performing arts departments at many post secondary schools. Many of these would have an archives. You may get lucky and find that they may have archived not only materials from the school, but from local troupes as well. Here are a list of some Universities with theatre archive collections

Provincial and Municipal Archives
As keepers of provincial and local history, these places tend to have more eclectic collections. I did a quick search of each provincial archive and I found theatre collections in

Don\’t forget to check municipal archives as well, especially if your ancestor performed in a city., 
Individual Theatre Archives
If your ancestor performed in a theatre or theatre company that is still in existence today, chances are they will have their own archive. In researching for this blog post, I did find some websites for theatres and companies. Contacting them directly might lead you to where and how they preserve their history.
Peel\’s Prairie Provinces
As usual, this great website has a ton of images relating to performing arts in Western Canada. A quick search resulted in 1955 hits. Here\’s a poster advertising Lena Duthie\’s performance for a Burns Night in Calgary in 1909
Canadiana
Of course you can\’t complete the list without looking at what Canadian has to offer. A search there resulted in over 30,000 periodicals, serials and newspapersover 16,000 monographs, and over 500 government publications. Here\’s a picture of O.B. Sheppard. He was manager of the Princess Theatre in Toronto during the 1904-1905 theatre season.
If you know of any other sources for ancestors in the performing arts, feel free to tell me in the comments below.

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