Saskatchewan Town Hall Opera Houses and Community Performance (ca. 1883-1913)
McWilliams, Ian Lee
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The construction of public spaces is just one mechanism by which a community builds and continually negotiates the idea, or mythos, of its identity. Communities, through their dominant groups (including economic, social, political, and religious), seek to adopt a dominant narrative regarding common community ideals and aspirations. Communities in Canada’s “new” West of the late 19th and early 20th centuries provide good examples of such community building where the construction of public spaces went hand in hand with the negotiation of collective ideology and identity. In particular, Town Hall Opera Houses (constructed early in the development of numerous Saskatchewan towns) were central to the formulation of community mythos and community capacity to achieve collective aspirations. Public spaces (specifically Town Hall Opera Houses) and their associated performative events are explored paying particular attention to negotiations of community mythos. What possible defining or constructive roles are played by performative events in communities seeking self-definition – culturally, morally, and economically? To what extent do such performances contribute to the cultural, social, and economic hegemony of their communities? What do performance spaces mean to their communities (socially, economically, architecturally, and artistically)? Connected to these questions are recurring themes of settlement and progress, boosterism, enculturation, “civilizing,” British Empire loyalty, gender and generational dynamics, ethnicity, and settlement and immigration. Central to these mythos negotiations are questions of who is included and who is excluded. Delving into such mythos-negotiations allows for the exploration of events as they connect to ideas such as space and place, sense of place, appropriation, substitution, effigying, and other-ness. Prince Albert and Qu’Appelle are good examples of communities in which the settler-mythos being negotiated reflected more widespread desires to fulfil a perceived destiny within Canada’s “new” West. Within these two communities, three sites of interest are the main focus of this study. The first site, Immigration Hall in Qu’Appelle, is atypical as a Town Hall Opera House form, as it was essentially appropriated by community members to serve as a town hall from 1886 until 1907 (when its replacement, the Qu’Appelle Town Hall Opera House, was completed). The second site of interest to this study, Qu’Appelle’s Town Hall Opera House, was a more typical, purpose-built Town Hall Opera House structure. The final site of interest is the Prince Albert Town Hall Opera House. Built in 1893 and in steady use throughout the period of this study, the Prince Albert site provides a contrast to the two Qu’Appelle sites. The period of main interest to this study will be (approximately) the three decades leading up to World War One – a time of dynamic changes for Saskatchewan, its communities, the prairies, the British Empire, and indeed the world.