HISTORY OF LOCAL 56

Theater, live art, and the art of the moment.

When the curtain falls and the public walk through the aisle towards the exit, the room still vibrates with the last drops of passion. Behind the curtain, men and women are working to replace the accessories, decorations, and the lightings for the next show.

It is not easy to go back in time to find the beginning of local 56’s story. Many things are lost with time. There are a few photos and memories to remind us of who we are.

Our history is engrained with the history of theater in Montréal.

November 21, 1825, John Molson, a well-respected businessman, opened the first professional theater in Montréal : the Royal Theatre. Colloquially referred to as the “Molson Theatre”, it was located on Bonsecour street corner of St-Paul. Two storeys high, it could hold nearly a thousand spectators; it contained two rows of lodges as well as an orchestra pit.

Deciding to build this theater, Mr. Molson and his associates demonstrated vividly the interest of Montrealers for cultural and artistic activities.

The Molson Theater came under the wrecking ball in 1844 and was soon replaced by the Hays Theatre which was named after its owner Moses Hays in 1847. This bigger theater was located on the Champ-de-Mars. The imposing four-storey building which also housed a hotel and commercial space also enjoyed a brief career. It was devastated by the famous fire of 1852 that also destroyed much of the city.

Another Royal Theatre appeared. Bigger than its predecessor and it played an instrumental role in the evolution of local theater that soon became one of the most popular scenes of the city.

In these same years, Gesu Theatre (1865) and shortly after the Academy of Music (1875) appeared.

By 1860, the British and American troops came to Montréal and with them they brought actors and stage equipment. This was the beginning of the era of troop tours. They took turns regularly on the local scenes where they presented their latest successes.

In 1880 when Sarah Bernard undertook her first Canadian tour, the city already had five theatres.

At this time, in a predominantly francophone city, the only professional shows were in English. Showing no interest in English shows, the need for a francophone theater was felt by the French speaking population. The shows given in French accounted for only five percent of all theatrical activities.

From 1892, all important institutions in Montréal gradually came under control of New Yorkers.  Montréal wasn’t envious of other large cities in North America. It was living to the same rhythm and pace of New York. 

Montréal was affected immediately by the scenography and the technical progress of the end of the 19th century that brandished the theatre stage. The electric lighting gradually appeared on all local scenes.

The French-Canadian bourgeoisie decided to have their own theater. The Monument-National was born. It opened its doors on September 30, 1898.

Meanwhile, to oppose the New Yorkers plans: the English-Canadians, with the support from the municipal authorities, decided to build a prestigious theater that would recruit productions from independent producers or directly from Europe.

The “Her Majesty’s Theatre” was inaugurated on November 7, 1898. 

The theater which was located at the corner of Guy and Ste-Catherine was the most beautiful and the most modern theatre in the city at the time. There were nearly 2,000 seats. Its construction was made at a cost of $ 100,000. Montreal finally had its First World-class theatre.

On October 28, 1897, it signed a membership certificate with the American Federation of Labour. 

On July 25, 1898, it signed the official charter of Theatrical Stage Employees Union Local 56, that made the “Her Majesty’s Theatre” the first union run theater in the city.

Montréal is the first city to have an Employees Union Local in Canada. Its members were mostly Irish and British.