Our History

The Many Stages of Our Lives – A Historical Look at the GOH

The Days of the Year was the first ever performance at the Gravenhurst Opera House on March 12, 1901. It was written by playwright Jean Newton from Hamilton, Ontario and tickets ranged from 25 to 50 cents each! 

The Opera House, referred to by many as Mickle's Folly, after then Mayor Charles Mickle, who had 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?"

All residents understood Gravenhurst needed another Town Hall to replace the burned-out frame that remained from three years earlier. 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... "An opera house?! All we need is a new Town Hall! 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 the years prior to World War I, Gravenhurst was on the tour circuit for travelling stock companies from both Canada and the United States and “all attractions are presented complete in every detail with special scenery and electrical effects." Enlistment and the emergence of moving pictures were major factors for their eventual decline however. 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 1955, the Straw Hat Players performed 63 different productions. Alumni included many of Canada's most talented performers, including Donald Sutherland, Kate Reid, Ted Follows, Charmion King, Barbara Hamilton and Araby Lockhart. 

Summer Theatre continued with the long running Muskoka Festival from 1972 until the fall of 1992, and played host to some big names such as Diana Krall, Chantel Kreviazuk, Peter, Paul & Mary, Jim Cuddy, and Marc Jordan, to name a few. However, on February 23, 1993, the Ministry of Labour closed the doors due to unsafe conditions. An Opera House Renovation Committee was formed and raised over $3 million to get the doors back open. After 15 months of construction, the Opera House reopened its doors to a full house on February 24, 1995, featuring the Scarborough Philharmonic.

Designed by Architect, John Francis Brown, this so-called pricey indulgence has some of the best acoustics in Canada and since 1901 has welcomed millions of patrons. Important decisions were made under this roof and it has served as the community's gathering, whether as the warming centre during Winter Carnival, a place to sit on Santa's knee, a dance recital, high school performance, weddings, meetings, exquisite concerts, or the birthplace of summer theatre in Canada, it remains the beautiful, historic cultural cornerstone of Gravenhurst.

In retrospect, given its long-lasting importance to this community, ‘Mickle's Folly' has endured to prove itself ‘Mickle's vision' and not a folly at all. 

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