We are committed to supporting our board members, members and staff with long-term strategic plans and management, financial stability, defined operating systems & procedures, and effective communication, to be an asset to our communities in theatre and Durham Region.
Oshawa Little Theatre owes its existence to a wonderful lady named Verna Conant. Verna was the wife of lawyer Gordon Conant, the Mayor of Oshawa in 1916/17. Conant later became Attorney General in Mitchell Hepburn’s provincial Liberal government. Hepburn resigned in 1942 following a feud with the then Prime Minister, William Lyon McKenzie King and named Conant, despite party objections, as his successor. As a result, Conant became the unelected Premier of Ontario in 1942 & 1943. Mrs. Conant was very involved with many initiatives in the Oshawa community and was responsible for founding a number of organizations that are still active today, not the least of which is Oshawa Little Theatre.
In 1928, Verna had a vision to create a community theatre and hired a professional director, John Craig from Winnipeg, to instruct local actors. Their first play was “The Private Secretary” that played for 2 nights (October 18th and 19th, 1929) followed a few months later by “Alice-Sit-by-the-Fire”, both directed by Mr. Craig. The shows were performed at the Collegiate Auditorium and tickets were sold for $1 at The Arcade or Mitchell’s Drug Store.
As a result of the Great Depression, the group could no longer afford to pay Mr. Craig’s fees and he left, but the group had sufficient expertise to continue productions for a few more years. Unfortunately, the theatre was dissolved in 1932.
Verna never gave up the idea and re-started the group in 1950 with two productions at O’Neill Collegiate, “Angel Street (Gaslight)” and “John Loves Mary”, both directed by Sarah Quinn.
It’s hard to compare today’s facilities with those used by the original OLT. Until 1956, members rehearsed in each other’s homes and in rented church halls and sets were built just about anywhere. Many times, the sets had to be carried down the street to the production venue (also rented). One of these venues was the old, unheated Rotary Hall which, according to one of our members, was so cold and draughty that the actors had to huddle over heat vents while awaiting their cues to go on stage for rehearsals.
Dr Glazier kindly offered OLT space to build its sets in the coach house behind his offices on Simcoe St. This was also unheated and sometimes it was difficult to get the paint on the flats before it froze.
Later, for an annual fee of one dollar, the City of Oshawa rented OLT a heated Quonset hut at the airport. This was a dream come true in those days. Members at last had their own clubhouse where they could meet, party, store props and build sets. But the dream was short-lived because they soon found that props and sets inevitably expanded to fill the available space.
In approximately 1975, the problem of sets, props and costumes was solved when a suitable space for a workshop and meeting place became available in a vacant factory, previously owned by Tripp Construction, located at 62 Russett Avenue.
However, before they could occupy the building, the membership had to raise $171,000 to pay for repairs and refurbishments. $30,000 came from the theatre’s building fund and Wintario agreed to give $57,000 providing the membership could raise the rest. So, a huge fundraising campaign was started. Member support was incredible with fundraising committee members donating an average of $555.00 each. Almost every member contributed something to the total effort. Frank Verwey, owner of Owasco Volkswagen donated a new Beetle which was raffled to the public.
In 1976 the renovated facility opened. It comprised the workshop and rehearsal rooms that are still in use today. The rehearsal room was equipped with theatre lighting and a lighting booth (now part of the costume room) although it was not used as a real theatre apart from a few performances during Oshawa’s Fiesta Week in the late ‘70’s and for some Youth Group productions. OLT continued to rent facilities for its shows (O’Neill Collegiate, McLaughlin Auditorium and Eastdale Collegiate exclusively between 1966 and 1983) and the company thrived.
In the early 80’s the membership decided to build their own theatre and, once again, obtained a Wintario grant. This, together with some amazing contributions from businesses and individuals, set the wheels in motion to build today’s 360-seat facility adjacent to the old rehearsal room and workshop.
Architect Peter Smith, designer of the Shaw Festival Theatre, was hired, and in 1983 the new building at 62 Russett Avenue was formally opened with a gala performance of “The Music Man”. In approximately 7 years, the theatre was mortgage free. OLT became one of the few theatres in the Province to own its own facility, which is still the case today.
For many years , OLT rented the parking lot at the back of the building. Then, in the mid nineties an opportunity arose to purchase the land. So, another huge fund-raising effort was launched which culminated in the purchase of the land but it took a few more years to raise funds to get it paved.
So, as can be seen, OLT is a fabulous legacy from Verna Conant and hundreds of amazing members both past and present.