M922.214.171.1242 | Theatre Comique
John Henry Walker (1831-1899)
1850-1885, 19th century
34.2 x 26.7 cm
Gift of Mr. David Ross McCord
© McCord Museum
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Keys to History
Theatre-going was less exclusive than other activities, but it was nonetheless aimed first and foremost at the elite. Theatres Royal, so called after the British tradition, were built in Montreal in 1825 and Toronto in 1834. Most plays put on then were drawn from the English repertory and performed by and for English speakers. An evening of stage entertainment was served in several courses: first, a multiple-act play, then a song recital, and sometimes a one-act farce or pantomime replete with sight gags. The price of admission varied with the location of the theatre and the comfort of the seats. It also depended on who was in the audience. On evenings when the governor or other distinguished guests were present, the price doubled!
Raymond Montpetit, "La construction des théâtres à Montréal au XIXe siècle," Rapport du Groupe de recherche en art populaire : Travaux et conférences 1975-1979 (Montreal: Université du Québec à Montréal, 1979), pp. 48-67
J.M.S. Careless, Toronto to 1918: An Illustrated History (Toronto: James Lorimer, 1984), p. 107.
Although the theatrical repertory was composed mainly of British and occasionally French classics, comedy and burlesque routines were gaining in popularity.
Prior to the construction of permanent theatres, shows and plays were staged in all manner of places, including hotel drawing rooms, meeting halls, the top floor of taverns and warehouses arranged for the occasion.
Once covered facilities were built, shows could be put on all year round.
Admission prices determined where people sat: the boxes were reserved for the wealthy and the parquet for the moderately well-to-do. On occasion, people of more modest means could afford a balcony seat.