A Historical Glimpse at the Past of the Gravenhurst Opera House
The Gravenhurst Opera House officially opened on March 12th, 1901 with the performance, "Days of the Year". The Opera House, referred to by many as Mickle's Folly, after staunch supporter and then Mayor Charles Mickle, for what seemed like a lavish dream for a town of its size. However, this historic gem has survived one depression, two world wars, weathered many a storm and the indignity of a wrecking ball. "So how is Mickle's Folly progressing?"
Charle Mickle, Mayor & Visionary
All residents understood Gravenhurst needed another Town Hall to replace the burned-out frame that remained from three years earlier at Brock and First. However, it was the size and expense of the growing structure that fostered concern. Emerging from a countrywide depression, the whole project seemed extravagant to those townsfolk struggling to regain their financial footing. By the time rumours surfaced of arriving fleur-de-lis stained glass windows and fancy brass electraliers that were delivered by boat, from France at a cost of $50 each to adorn a second floor opera house ... "An opera house?! All we need is a new Town Hall, don't we?! Does Mickle figure money grows on trees for all of us?" Keep in mind that 1900 Gravenhurst was, like all rural towns in Canada, a two-tier society. There were those with and those without and a minority with attachments to the money strings, made the decisions. Locals thought the whole town hall project was a white elephant; just another pricey indulgence by politicians at the taxpayers' expense! In spite of the grumbling, Charles Mickle's vision for Gravenhurst would prevail. It normally did. That's why Charles Mickle lived in the biggest house in town!
The Days of the Year, the first play to play at the Opera House on March 12th, 1901, was written by Hamilton, Ontario playwright Jean Newton. Tickets? They ranged from 25 - 50 cents each!
Designed by Architect, John Francis Brown, the Gravenhurst Town Hall and Opera House would officially open its doors to the public on March 12th, 1901. In the 100 years ensuing, this so-called pricey indulgence has witnessed more people crossing its threshold than the entire population of Canada in 1901. Over 6 million served. And that's by conservative estimate! This venerable town jewel has the distinction of being Gravenhurst's most-trod-upon public building; perhaps even Muskoka's.
John Francis Brown, Architect
Over the years, the Gravenhurst Opera House has served as host to a variety of events and functions, housing everything from criminal court proceedings to war rallies, bingos, art exhibits and even Santa Claus. But theatre productions have and continue to be the main attraction. In the years prior to World War I, Gravenhurst was on the tour circuit for travelling stock companies from both Canada and the United States. Repertoire companies would often present several productions along with vaudeville performances for between 25 cents and 50 cents a ticket during their three to four-night runs. Publicity for the Boyer-Vincent Company's visit in October 1914 promised "all attractions are presented complete in every detail with special scenery and electrical effects." In 1934, John Holden, a Toronto actor with a dream of reviving summer stock theatre in Canada, brought his Good Companions Theatre Company to the Gravenhurst Opera House. For eight consecutive summers, from 1948 through l955, the Straw Hat Players performed 63 different productions at the Opera House. Alumni included many of Canada's most talented performers, including Kate Reid, Ted Follows, Charmion King, Barbara Hamilton, Araby Lockhart and Donald Sutherland. Summer Theatre continued with the long running Muskoka Festival from 1972 until the fall of 1995 and returned in 2014 with the celebration of the 80th season of summer theatre in Muskoka!
Faces of the Opera House: (from left to right: Charmion King, Kate Reid & Donald Sutherland)
The Opera House weathered threats of closure over the years but on February 23rd, 1993, the Ministry of Labour closed the doors due to "unsafe conditions" and an Opera House Renovation Committee was formed to raise the over $3 Million to get the doors back open.
In retrospect, those millions of footsteps would suggest, even to last century's most grizzled skeptic, a demonstrable need for the structure. Mickle's Folly has endured to prove itself Mickle's vision and not a folly at all. With the Town's new Cultural Plan, a new Opera House strategic business plan and the return of summer theatre, it looks like Mickle's vision will continue for a long time to come. The Opera House is owned and operated by the Town of Gravenhurst's Department of Recreation, Arts and Culture and continues to host musical concerts, film, comedy and live theatre all year round and is very proud to welcome visitors from near and far, even those from the North Pole.
Royal Wood and the Stand By Me: Music of the Brill Building Shows
Did you know you can download a copy of this page as it was produced in colour format for the Doors Open 2015 Celebration in Gravenhurst? Click Here to download (.PDF File).