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The Westmount Thespians Fonds (P751)

Waitresses Collapse As Lady Smokes Big Cigar, newspaper clipping, excerpt from The Westmount Thespians scrapbook (detail), November 7, 1930. Gift of Mr. Mark W. Gallop, The Westmount Thespians Fonds P751, M2012.79.1.7 © McCord Museum

The lady and the cigar

"It is a well-known fact that nothing surprises a waitress at Murray's. At least, this was thought to be the case until a few days ago when, it is asserted, the stony calm of the purveyors of minced sirloin was rudely broken. At about seven-thirty on Wednesday evening last a sweet young thing wearing a green evening gown, the sheerest of chiffon hose and silver slippers, and accompanied by several gentlemen, entered the restaurant. [...] The lady and her escorts sat down. Cigarettes were passed, but the lady refused them. The waitresses nudged each other gleefully, but the derisive grins left their faces when the sweet young thing demanded in a deep bass voice "Take those things away, I want a cigar," crossed brawny knees, drew deeply on the cigar which one of her escorts had given her, and leaned back in her chair with her thumbs stuck in the arm-holes of her dainty dress. There was a crash, and two waitresses dropped to the floor."


The Murray's Lunch restaurant chain came to Montreal in the 1920s, and quickly opened branches downtown, in Old Montreal, Westmount and the Town of Mount Royal. Famous for its rice pudding and Mary Anne cake with blueberry compote, Murray's was also known for its unflappable waitresses. This quality seems to have been put to the test when a young man dressed as a woman visited the restaurant one November evening in 1930, as this newspaper clipping indicates.

The boy in question was none other than Douglas Vennor Hamilton, one of the founding members of the amateur theatre club, The Westmount Thespians. The male-only troupe was in its final rehearsals before the premiere of The Dover Road, a comedy in three acts by British playwright Alan Alexander (A. A.) Milne. Hamilton played the role of Eustasia, a tender-hearted, well-intentioned woman whose suffocating affection ends up driving away her lover Nicholas. His convincing performance, which evidently fooled the waitresses at Murray's, along with those of his fellow actors were likely part of the play's success. After playing in Montreal, it was performed on January 24, 1931, at the Château Frontenac, before the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec, Henry George Carroll, and his wife.


P751 The Westmount Thespians Fonds. - 1922-2001. - 24 cm of textual records. - 21 iconographic documents. - 1 technical drawing.

Administrative History

Initially named The Putnam Club, the St. Matthias Boys' Dramatic Club was founded in 1922. This group of teenage boys used the dramatic arts to raise funds for charitable works. Since only boys could join, they had to play both the male and female roles.

With the support of Westmount's mayor, Peter William McLagan, this amateur theatre troupe presented approximately one play a year from 1922 to 1930, first in the Victoria Jubilee Hall until 1924, then in the new Victoria Hall as of 1925 (since the old building was destroyed by fire). Although the group performed primarily in Westmount, some performances were also staged elsewhere in Montreal, like Point St. Charles and Rosemount, and in other cities, like Longueuil, Shawinigan and Quebec City. The list of plays produced by the club includes Beauty and the Jacobin (1923), A Scene in Bagdad (1923), The Masterpiece (1923), Getting Acquainted with Madge (1924), The Conjurer (1924), The Treasure Hunters or The Tiger Earl (1925), French Leave (1925), Adam's Apple (1926), The Bride (1927), The Cinderella Man (1928) - cancelled due to illness -, Tons of Money (1929) and The Dover Road (1930). Each performance was usually followed by a dance, also organized by the troupe.

Briefly renamed The Westmount Boys' Dramatic Club, in 1927 the group adopted the name The Westmount Thespians. By this time, most of the members were undergraduates at McGill University. In fact, they made legendary humorist Stephen Leacock (1869-1944), a professor in McGill's Department of Economics and Political Science, an honorary president of their theatre troupe.

The Westmount Thespians was an extremely well organized club. Members were designated either active or honorary and remained so for life or until they voluntarily resigned. In 1931, its executive committee decided to put an end to the group's theatrical productions and take a new direction. Although the troupe continued to organize charity dances until 1933, it became more of a social club where the same friends would get together for bowling, bridge, dinner parties, picnics, ski weekends, etc. To commemorate the anniversaries of the troupe's founding, the Thespians would plan formal reunion activities or trips. In its new vocation, the club maintained its committed membership, committee meetings and fundraising activities long enough to celebrate its 60thanniversary in 1982.

Scope and Content

The Westmount Thespians Fonds focusses on the activities of this amateur club, which took place in the Montreal area, primarily during the 1920s and 1930s. It chronicles the group's interest in the dramatic arts, for both recreational and charitable purposes.

The fonds contains governing documents, minute books and membership lists that provide information on the amateur troupe's administrative structure as well as the selection of plays produced and relations among the members and with the community. Correspondence documents the members' concerns and discussions regarding the logistics of social and theatrical activities, as well as diverging opinions as to the club's very foundations. For example, in a letter dated July 1932, John McNaughton reproaches the executive committee for the fact that meetings tend to be purely social occasions. He proposes that their evenings focus instead on discussions of timely political, economic and social issues. In a note from October 1937, Wilson Becket expresses his fear that allowing women to attend the club's get-togethers will weaken the bonds of friendship among the members. The lack of action taken regarding these two requests suggests that most members agreed with the club's new mission, that is, having members and their families socialize together. In addition, the fonds documents the members' special activities and various celebrations, as illustrated in a brochure produced for the club's 25th anniversary in 1947. There are also accounting records and financial statements that offer a clearer picture of how The Westmount Thespians operated their budget and spent their funds.

Ticket stubs, programs, and letters about booking performance halls document the organization of the troupe's shows. In addition, the fonds contains several theatre scripts, illustrating the group's predilection for comedies and British authors, such as Alan Alexander (A. A.) Milne (creator of Winnie-the-Pooh). Other information about the plays produced by The Westmount Thespians can be found in an impressive illustrated scrapbook, which contains some of the troupe's governing documents, the first membership list, ticket stubs and programs from the plays presented, props lists, lighting plans, dance cards, photographs of the actors in costume, press clippings and correspondence. Fake mustaches (made from human hair), used notably by Montague (Monty) Willis as part of his stage costumes, are also preserved in this document.

Finally, the fonds includes a collection of photographs depicting the members at annual get-togethers and on a visit to Shawinigan.

Source of title proper: Based on the creator of the fonds.

Physical description: The iconographic documents are made up of 20 photographs and 1 negative.

Physical condition: Some documents in the fonds are fragile and/or torn.

Immediate source of acquisition: This fonds was donated by Mark W. Gallop. His grandfather, Montague (Monty) Willis, and his grandfather's twin brother, Selwyn Willis, were both founding members of The Westmount Thespians theatre troupe. In 1955, his grandmother, Lorna Willis, became the first female president of the executive committee. The archives produced by the club remained the property of its members until 2000, the year that Doug Hamilton, the group's last president, died. The documents were then given to Mark W. Gallop, who in turn donated them to the McCord Museum in 2012.

Language: The documents are in English.


The fonds is divided into the following series and subseries:

  • P751/A Administrative Management
    • P751/A1 Governing documents
      • M2012.79.1.1 Preliminary report of the constitutional commission. - 1927. - 1 textual record ; 27.7 × 21.5 cm.
      • Digitized document
      • Scope and Content: This document is a preliminary report of The Westmount Thespians constitutional commission that chronicles the theatre troupe's existence and operations in 1927. It discusses the group's recruitment process and the different types of membership (active or honorary). It also illustrates The Westmount Thespians' orientations and objectives in the early 20th century, such as its contributions to charitable works and the organization of social activities for its members.

        Source of title proper: Based on the title of the document.

        Physical condition: The document is torn and fragile in some places.

        Language: The document is in English.

    • P751/A2 Club members

    • P751/A3 Executive committee
      • M2012.79.1.3 Letter from Hugh L. Trimingham to the members of The Westmount Thespians. - December 28, 1928. - 1 textual record ; 27.9 x 21.3 cm.
      • Digitized document
      • Scope and Content: This document is a copy preserved by The Westmount Thespians executive committee to document a decision taken by the troupe in 1928. The original letter, dated December 28, was sent to the members by Hugh L. Trimingham to inform them that the production of the play The Cinderella Man was cancelled. The letter explains that because many people in the cast, composed primarily of students, fell ill during the fall, the production was too far behind to be ready for the scheduled January 25, 1929, performance. The author closes the letter saying that, despite this unfortunate interruption, the club is confident that the 1929-1930 season will be a success.

        Source of title proper: Based on the type of document.

        Physical condition: The document has been folded. It is torn and fragile in some places.

        Language: The document is in English.

      • M2012.79.1.4 Letter from John Macpherson Almond to Robert Ian Cameron Picard. - April 30, 1930. - 1 textual record ; 27.8 × 21.3 cm.
      • Digitized document
      • Scope and Content: This letter, dated April 30, 1930, was sent to Robert I. C. Picard, then president of The Westmount Thespians, by John Macpherson Almond, Rector of Trinity Memorial Church (an Anglican church in Montreal's Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough). Reverend Almond notes the precarious situation facing amateur theatre troupes and repeats the suggestion made by D. M. Leggatt, of The Montreal Star newspaper, that these various groups be combined into a single association. Almond then proposes to organize such a meeting at Trinity Memorial Hall on May 8 to discuss this option.

        Source of title proper: Based on the type of document.

        Language: The document is in English.

      • M2012.79.1.5 Letter from Wilson Becket to Stephen Greenlees. - October 25, 1937. - 1 textual record ; 27.9 × 21.6 cm.
      • Digitized document
      • Scope and Content: This letter, dated October 25, 1937, was sent to Stephen Greenlees, at that time secretary of The Westmount Thespians, by Wilson Becket, an inactive member of the group. It addresses topics that had been discussed at the troupe's meetings. In this document, the author indicates that he learned "with disgust and misapprehension" that some recent activities of The Westmount Thespians had been open to the members' "wives and lady friends." Becket shares his apprehensions about allowing the fairer sex to attend such gatherings, fearing that this will ultimately weaken the bonds of friendship among the group. He concludes his missive by asking Greenlees to bring his letter to the attention of the members, "and especially those of them who have been unwise enough to place their lives in the hands of a woman, to ponder deeply on the full, tragic effect of such a policy for the Club."

        Source of title proper: Based on the type of document.

        Accompanying material: A second letter, dated October 27, 1937, accompanies the document and demonstrates that the letter signed by Wilson Becket was sent to Stephen Greenlees by Robert I. C. Picard, then treasurer of The Westmount Thespians.

        Language: The document is in English.

  • P751/B Management of Financial Resources
    • P751/B1 Accounting records
    • P751/B2 Financial statements

  • P751/C Theatrical Productions
    • P751/C1 Programs and ticket stubs
    • P751/C2 Scripts
    • P751/C3 Performance logistics
    • P751/C4 Philanthropic involvement

  • P751/D Social Life
    • P751/D1 Social activities and celebrations
      • M2012.79.1.6 The Westmount Thespians. Twenty-fifth Anniversary Celebration. -1947. - 1 textual record ; 20.8 × 16.2 cm.
      • Digitized document
      • Scope and Content: This souvenir booklet, written for The Westmount Thespians' 25th anniversary, summarizes the lives of the group's members from their academic, military and professional achievements to their marriages and personal interests. There is an introductory note in memory of Thespians member John Gardner McNaughton, a journalist for the British United Press, who died November 21, 1936, following a climbing accident at Rochers-de-Naye, Switzerland. The document also indicates that the celebrations marking this 25th anniversary were held at the Gray Rocks Inn in St. Jovite, October 11-13, 1947. A detailed schedule of the activities organized for the event, which included a cocktail reception, supper, show, dance and golfing, is found at the end of the document.

        Source of title proper: Based on the title of the document.

        Language: The booklet is in English.

    • P751/D2 Relations among members
    • P751/D3 Personal achievements of members

  • P751/E Illustrated Works
    • M2012.79.1.7 The Westmount Thespians. - 1922-1934. - 1 textual record ; 38 x 25 cm.
    • Digitized document
    • Scope and Content: This scrapbook contains various printed ephemera chronicling the activities of The Westmount Thespians between 1922 and 1934. Organized by type of document, the scrapbook includes press clippings, ticket stubs, programs, props lists, lighting plans, dance cards, governing documents, correspondence, and photographs of troupe members.

      Among the press clippings preserved are several announcements of upcoming plays, along with several newspaper reviews praising the talents of the actors and their credible performances despite the group's amateur status. One such review from 1923, speaking of the plays Beauty and the Jacobin, A Scene in Bagdad and The Masterpiece, noted: "The boys, all of whom are under fourteen years of age, had made their own scenery and costumes, organized their own orchestra, and produced and mounted the plays themselves [...]. The performances were marked by enthusiasm and unusual sincerity, and in several instances strangely promising talent was revealed." The ticket stubs also indicate that, although most of the shows were presented in Westmount, some evenings took place elsewhere in the Montreal area and in other Quebec cities. This was notably the case with the play Adam's Apple, which in 1926 was also presented at Grace Church in Point St. Charles, the Rosemount First United Church and in Shawinigan. The troupe's production of The Dover Road was staged at All Saints Church in Montreal's Plateau-Mont-Royal neighbourhood and at the Château Frontenac in Quebec City in 1930 and 1931. In addition, the scrapbook contains fake mustaches (made from human hair) used by the actors as part of their costumes. Handwritten notes near these hairpieces, "Shades of Monty! Also Wilson B." indicate that they were worn by Montague (Monty) Willis, one of the club's founding members, and Wilson Becket.

      Although no one is identified as the author or authors of the document, there is a full-page portrait of Theodora Mary McConnell, the wife of Rodolph Ferdinand Leopold Picard and mother of Robert I. C. Picard, at the very beginning of the scrapbook. Given her prominence, it is possible that the scrapbook was produced by her or for her, by her son.

      Source of title proper: Based on the title of the document.

      Physical condition: The scrapbook is fragile and its pages are slightly damaged.

      Language: The document is in English.

  • P751/F Photographs

 

Last update: January 31, 2019