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.
|Guelph Royal Opera House||The Guelph Royal Opera House was a theatre that featured live performances before being turned into a movie theatre. It has since ceased operation.||1873-1926|
|Guelph Spring Festival||A local festival that has been in operation since 1968 featuring both national and international talent.||1968-present.|
|Independent Theatre London (England)||A theatre that once put on a performance of Bernard Shaw's Widowers' Houses.||1891-1894|
|International Stage in the Bernhardt Era Conference||A conference that coincided with the Guelph Spring Festival in 1977.||1977|
|International Women Playwrights Conference||A yearly conference organised by women for women.||1984-1991|
|Jacob & Sparrow Opera House||A small opera company that functioned out of Toronto, ON. It is no longer in operation.||1891|
|Leonard Conolly fonds||Distinguished Ontario-based author, editor, teacher and theatre scholar.||1900-2017|
|Lighthouse Festival Theatre||A professional Ontario theatre in Southern Ontario that focuses on producing purely Canadian shows.||1980-2007|
|Linda Griffiths fonds||Scripts, reviews, posters, dvds, vhs, books, research material.||1978-2014|
|Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People||This is a smaller theatre company that produces Canadian works featuring school aged children.||1966-2003|
|Maxine Alexandra Graham fonds||original set and costumes designed by Maxine Alexandra Graham covering some of her work with Theatre Aquarius and major theatre across Canada dating back to 1965.||1965-2007|
|Museum Children's Theatre||A theatre company that offered opportunities for children to experience theatre and the arts.||1964-65|
|Native Earth Performing Arts||A topical production company focusing on providing opportunities both on stage and behind the scenes for Indigenous people.||1981-2000|
|Ne'er Do Well Thespians||This Toronto based company focused solely on Canadian content. It is no longer in operation.||1975-1982|
|Necessary Angel||Necessary Angel is a professional company that focuses on creating works that challenge and engage audiences. It is still in operation.||1978-present|
|New Theatre||This was an alternate theatre in Toronto.||1971-1982|
|Nightwood Theatre||The oldest professional women's theatre company in Canada, operating out of Toronto, ON.||1979-present|
|Open Circle Theatre||This topical theatre produced socially centred works as well as adaptations to classics and musicals. It is no longer in operation.||1973-1982|
|Outaouais Popular Theatre Archives||An Ottawa based topical theatre company that challenged the societal norms with its productions. It is no longer in operation.||1975-1994|
|Pacific Shaw Festival||An offshoot of the Shaw Festival taking part on the Canadian west coast, sponsored by the Coconut Theatre Society in Vancouver. It lasted for one season, 1990-1991.||1990-1991|
|Penguin Theatre||This company, formed in Ottawa in 1976, focused on small, intimate productions to allow interaction between the actors and audience. It has since ceased operation.||1976-1980|
|Phoenix Theatre||Founded in Edmonton in 1981 by Keith Digby, Phoenix Theatre focused on Canadian works. It has since ceased operation.||1974-1983|
|Play Actors||Play Actors operated out of Toronto from 1953-1958.||1953-1958|
|Playwrights Union of Canada||Having gone by many names, the Playwrights Union of Canada functioned from 1984-2002, when it was renamed the Playwrights Guild of Canada. Its purpose was to support playwrights locally and abroad.||1971-1985|
|Playwrights' Workshop Montreal||A play development organisation that was founded in 1963.||1963-2010|