Since 1969 the Library has been acquiring theatre collections, but it was really during the 1980s after the formal establishment of Archival and Special Collections that Leonard Conolly’s leadership as chair of the Drama Department (1981-1988) and later as Associate Vice-President Academic (1988-1992) helped firmly establish the University of Guelph as a destination for the study of theatre history. It was through Conolly’s contacts and discussions with significant Ontario theatres such as Phoenix and Tarragon in Toronto and the Grand in London, that soon led to their boards to agree to donate what was then a precious but endangered cultural heritage for Canadian drama and theatre. These rich and varied holdings, now known as The L.W. Conolly Theatre Archives, have become a major resource used by Guelph faculty and students as well as researchers within Canada and from around the world.
The collections are focused on the work of Bernard Shaw; modern Ontario theatre companies; and playwrights, actors, directors, designers, cutters, and administrators active in Ontario theatre life. Over the years, the Library's commitment has grown significantly to the point that it has become the largest collection of Canadian theatre and Shaw-related materials in Canada with more than 200 collections in its holdings.
Major theatres in regional centres are well-represented in our holdings: the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton, the Grand Theatre in London, and the Great Canadian Theatre Company in Ottawa.
A great many smaller Ontario companies such as the Blyth Festival, and Le Théâtre Français de Toronto, Theatre Terra Nova from Hamilton; the Blyth Festival; and the Lighthouse Festival from Port Dover are represented in the collection.
The records of many companies such as the Toronto-based Phoenix Theatre, NDWT, and Toronto Workshop Productions, as well as Theatre and Company (Kitchener), alas no longer in operation, have also been acquired and preserved.
In addition to holdings representing theatre in Ontario, many individuals have generously donated their own personal papers and materials which represent not just their work in Ontario but also internationally. Our library is much richer with holdings from Christopher Newton, William Hutt, Richard Rose, Judith Thompson, Hilary Corbett, Cameron Porteous, Tony van Bridge, Neil Munro, Susan Benson, George Walker, Barry Morse, and many others.
Children's theatre (Young People's Theatre, the Carousel Players, Theatre on the Move), First Nations theatre (Native Earth Performing Arts), LGBTQ theatre (Sky Gilbert fonds, Buddies in Bad Times), feminist theatre (Windsor Feminist Theatre, Nightwood Theatre) multicultural and community theatre (Black Theatre Canada, Cahoots Theatre Projects, Eramosa Community Players), and various forms of theatre outside the mainstream (Toby Gordon Ryan Collection, Theatre Smith-Gilmour, Theatre Columbus Outaouais Popular Theatre, and Necessary Angel) are other facets of the rich complexity of Ontario and Canadian theatre reflected in the Guelph archives.
Archives of major national professional organizations are also housed at Guelph, including the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres, the Associated Designers of Canada, and the Playwrights' Union of Canada, while the archives of the Association for Canadian Theatre Research and the records of the 1991 International Women Playwrights Conference provide two examples of the preservation of important research and scholarship resources.
By far the majority of collections relate to twentieth-century theatre, but there are one or two interesting exceptions, including the Garrick Family Papers. Other exceptions include small collections on a nineteenth-century Toronto Opera House, British actor Edmund Kean, late nineteenth-century U.S. and Canadian music halls and theatres, and London's Independent Theatre.
|Black Theatre Canada fonds||Primarily production and publicity records for one of Canada's best known late-twentieth century Black theatre companies.||1973-1988|
|Canadian Stage Company fonds||Administrative and production records of this major professional theatre company in Toronto, ON, formed from a merger of Toronto Free Theatre and CentreStage.||1988-present|
|CentreStage fonds||Production, publicity, and administrative files of CentreStage, a professional theatre company in Toronto, ON, which merged in 1988 with Toronto Free Theatre to form the Canadian Stage Company.||1965-1988|
|Guelph Royal Opera House||Collection of contracts, account statements, correspondence legal documents concerning the Guelph Royal Opera House.||1873-1926|
|Nightwood Theatre fonds||Administrative and production records of Canada's oldest professional women's theatre company. Located in Toronto, ON.||1979-present|
|Shaw Festival fonds||Administrative and production records of Canada's leading repertory theatre company devoted to the works by and in the spirit of George Bernard Shaw.||1962-present|
|Tarragon Theatre fonds||Administrative and production records of this major professional theatre company in Toronto, ON.||1971-present|
|Theatre Aquarius fonds||Administrative and production records of this major professional theatre company from Hamilton, ON.||1972-present|
|Toronto Free Theatre fonds||Administrative and production records of this professional theatre company in Toronto, ON, which merged with CentreStage in 1988 to form the Canadian Stage Company.||1972-1988|