Welcome to the Fringes of Show Business in Canada West.
This project begins the process of creating a comprehensive on-line database of popular performance culture in Canada West (now 'southern Ontario') from its formative years prior to Confederation until just after World War One. Searching period newspapers, journals, and archives, it will record and make accessible information on a wide range of events, using a broad definition of the word performance--amateur and professional, resident and itinerant, narrative and variety, street performance and Grand Opera, church recitals and burlesque.
Researchers in any area of theatre history typically create, at an early stage of their project, a performance calendar (or itinerary) that structures and relates the 'brute events' of study--the performances. Only then can the historian of performance proceed to locate potential repositories of extant archival materials--through this 'mapping' of a performer's movements--and begin the process of accumulating documentary evidence, and writing history. The performance calendar is all the more important for popular performance, because the performances were unsettled, itinerant, ephemeral.
The development of powerful database software, and the ease with which the web can offer access, has begun to alter in a radical way the study of performance history and culture, by making this primary data available both during and after research. Two joint projects at the University of Toronto are representative of this kind of work: the Records of Early English Drama (REED) Patrons and Performers database, and The Juba Project. Both projects have been able to use the database to better explore a broader and more inclusive range of performances, from aristocratic venues to the back rooms of saloons and the courtyards of inns.
This database transposes the model to another time and place--that is, applied to the popular performance culture of 19th Century 'Canada West'. See HENRY LAMB AND MRS COWELL for more on performance culture.
Stephen Johnson, University of Toronto