Museum Moment: Performing in Early St. Albert

 

Many years ago, the museum received a trunk full of clothing from the Edmonton Opera Society. We were told that the items, dating from the turn of the 20th century, had been given to the company to use as costumes and were found in a steamer trunk in their warehouse. It is unclear when and if any of the pieces made it to the stage, nonetheless they have given us the opportunity to tell the story of the beginnings of musical performance and opera in the Capital region.

With little else for entertainment in the early 1800s, people created their own music for dancing and to pass the long winter nights at Fort Edmonton. The Métis residents of Edmonton and St. Albert had their own vibrant tradition of dancing reels and jigs accompanied by drums and fiddle music and European fur traders brought their musical traditions to add to the mix.

The musical and theatrical history of St. Albert’s Francophone community initially centered around church activities or was organized by Catholic groups like the Sociéte Saint-Jean-Baptise and l’Alliance nationale. There were a wide variety of opportunities to perform and by 1912, David Joyal had built the Empress Hall on Mission Avenue, which hosted dances, performances, movies, meetings and an athletic club.

The first organized theatre group in St. Albert was the Cercle Grandin, started in 1914. It was an off shoot of the Edmonton Cercle Grandin, Alberta’s first francophone youth group, formed by a large number of students from Collège Saint-Jean in Edmonton in 1913. Another youth group, which promoted language and culture through theatre and the arts, was the Cercle Jeanne d’Arc. Le franco-albertain, November 14, 1997. 

Join us next May for Our Songs are Our Roots – Music in St. Albert, an exhibition at the Musée Héritage Museum.

For more information about our exhibitions, collections or archives, please contact 780-459-1528 or email museum@artsandheritage.ca.