The beginnings of the Garrick Club were noted by an article in the Hamilton Evening Times on October 8th, 1875 marking their debut performances of David Garrick and Raising the Wind.
The following day, The Spectator, even then venturing some criticism, said "David Garrick is a play which is a very hard one for amateurs to attempt. It is hardly fair to criticize the acting of amateurs in a piece like David Garrick. However, considering the acting difficulty of the play, the members acquitted themselves fairly well last night" They went on to encourage the public to lend their support to the worthy aims of the club.
With a break from production only from 1883-1886 they existed for about 35 years. By 1910 the group was beginning to falter, however, and the advent of WWI stopped any further productions.
In 1926, Caroline Crerar, who debuted with the Garrick Club in Kitty Cline in 1897 (at the age of 15) made an attempt to resurrect the Garrick Club but it was not until 1929 that she succeeded in re-establishing the group, now known as the Players' Guild.
As the early years passed the moved around seeking a permanent home for the Guild. They rehearsed for a while above Hall's Restaurant and in a room beside a bakers where both props and actors were perpetually covered by a fine coating of flour. They performed at the I.O.O.F. Hall until disaster struck in November of 1939 and the hall, as well as all the props and costumes burned down.
We finally established a headquarters at the corner of Main & Bay Streets, staying here until acquiring the building at 80 Queen Street South in 1951. In 1958 the rehearsal hall was added. In 1938 the Guild began their long-standing tradition of providing children's plays, and many Hamilton children's first taste of live theatre was at one of these delightful plays.
In 1949 the Guild won the W.O.D.L. with the play "John Loves Mary" and later went on to win amateur theater's highest award in the country the D/D/F/ Best Play Award for 1949. The guild is a founding member of both of these organizations.
The Players' Guild was the first group in Ontario to perform live drama on any independent television station when they broadcast over CHCH-TV. They beat Kitchener-Waterloo Little Theatre by a few days.
An active workshop programme has given many people their first taste of what theatre is like many fine actors have come from the Guild's ranks over the years: Robert Beatty, Amelia Hall, Steve Weston, Steve Ihnat, John (Johnathan) Frid, Michael Bradshaw, Domenic Hogan, Irene Hogan,. The guild was instrumental in raising funds for the construction of SirJohn A. MacDOnals Theatre and has supported many other local projects such as "New Faces" and Habitat for Humanity.
Amateur theatre has had a rich and varied existence in Hamilton for well over 150 years now. From the earliest days of the gaslight to the present days of the most advanced technology there has always been someone in Hamilton ready to say "let's put on a show!"
The Guild House
The land where the Guild House now stands was originally a Crown Grant to Caleb Reynolds on December 15, 1796. He sold it in 1803 to Jean Baptiste Rousseau, whose widow sold it again on June 12, 1816 to James Mills and Peter Hess. At that time the property consisted of all the land between Bay Street and Locke Street, and between the Mountain and the Bay. On June 24, 1816 the two owners divided the property in half and James Mills retained the portion west of Queen Street, about 240 acres (at $2.00 per acre). At his death on July 2, 1852, the property was inherited by his fourth son, James Nelson Mills, the seventh child in a family of eleven. He began erecting low cost housing on the property.
On January 5, 1876, Nelson Mills was attacked and stabbed 8 or 9 times by a market butcher, Michael McConnell, whose goods had been attached by Mills for non-payment of rent. He had been with-holding the rent ($14.00) to try to force the landlord to make some much needed repairs. Nelson Mills died on January 9, 1876, after an attack of the hiccoughs had caused an inflammation of the wound.
By 7:30 that evening a jury had been sworn in and had gathered at Palm's Saloon at the corner of King & Bay Streets (where the Regal Hotel is now). The coroner's jury found cause to send him to court on a charge of murder. McConnell was defended by John Crerar (one of the founders of the Garrick Club, coincidentally) who had him plead insanity, one of the first times this defence had been used in Canada.
This defence was supported by several expert witnesses but, nonetheless, he was found guilty and sentenced to death. He was executed by hanging on March 14, 1876 at the old Barton Street Jail.
Mrs. Nelson Mills, the widow, sold the lot to Valancey E. Fuller, a local lawyer and the son of Thomas Brock Fuller, the first Bishop of Niagara. Bishop Fuller lived nearby in the house where ONTV is now.
Valancey Fuller built the house on the lot in 1878. He then got himself into financial difficulties over a herd of Jersey cows that he had imported to his farm on what is now LaSalle Park. In 1889, the farm and all his assets, including the house, were sold.
The house was bought by Mr. Ward of Semmens, Evel & Ward Casket Manufacturers for $7,300.00. Mr. Ward lived in the house until 1897. By that time the name of the cross-street on which it was located had been changed from Maiden Lane to Jackson Street.
Judge Colin Snider was the new owner of the house and he lived there until his death on July 8, 1939. The house remained vacant from 1940-1942. From 1943 to 1951 the owner was listed as Mrs. Della Cullen.
In 1951 the Players' Guild of Hamilton Inc. bought the property and have owned it ever since.
In 1958 we added the rehearsal hall to the south side of the building. The only other structural changes to the building during our tenure were the removal of the large front porch, the grey paint job on the outside of the building and the bright red front door.
This is our home.
About Players' Guild
The Players' Guild of Hamilton has been involved in local community theatre for 140 years, making the Guild the oldest community theatre group in North America.
Having had many successful seasons, we are proud to be leading up to our 2016/2017 season.
All of our productions are held in our intimate Studio Theatre at 80 Queen St. South, Hamilton. You can enjoy our cabaret style seating with refreshments available.
Our Studio Theatre is air conditioned, wheelchair accessible, and has a wide variety of restaurants only a short walk away in the popular Hess Village.
Please come out and help us celebrate our 140th season of the best in community theatre!