That spring of 1875 the Rink Music Hall, down on Slater Street by the Canal, temporarily became Ottawa’s only theatre. It was far too cold in winter, and sweltering in summer, but until Feb. 1, 1875, it brought both “the Bard” and burlesque, to the rapidly growing city. On that date “The Music Hall” was relegated to the background with the reopening of the Grand Opera House, on Albert Street. A fiasco — Despite the attendance of a vice-regal party from Government House, the opening night at $5 a seat, was a fiasco. Management quickly adjusted the price scale and the opening week ended to packed houses and loud applause.
The roof was a slanting one, broken In two parts, the lower part covering the curling rink. It was Just a step from the ground to the lower roof, and at the comer of the building stood a large puncheon, half filled with water. Five little girls. “Divllsklns”‘ an Irishman called them, determined to hear the -opera of “La Sonnambula” in the music hall.
They climbed upon the roof, where they hung by their hands from the window sills. The sleep walking scene was on, and the thrills were great, but suddenly the atentorian voice of Chief Langrell was heard, saying, “Down out of this, every one of you; I put the boys down, and down you will have to go, too.” Great was the scrambling, and one could imagine the noise inside the theater. All cleared the roof, with nimble steps, but slow Sally Hurd, who, never looking, plunged heavily into the water puncheon while the rest, never waiting to haul her out, ran for their lives. The good natured constable had to stop and laugh, but be helped the sobbing, sopping little maid out.
There is no report that these pioneer leg-shows, played Ottawa but our citizens were not denied the excitement for long. By the summer of 1870 the reporter for the Ottawa Times wrote that Miss Lisa Weber and her girls offered the best burlesque show that he had ever seen, indicating that even at that early date Miss Weber had been preceded by other similar travelling beauties. The Queen of Burlesque, as she was billed, opened at the Ottawa Music Hall on July 21, 1870. It was an old skating rink on Slater Street at the canal and if there, was any ice left, it melted when Lisa and her girls sang and danced “The Grecian Bend.” The gentleman of the press noted, unforgettably, “you never saw such exquisite ankles.” For three nights the old rink was filled to the very rafters as the town ‘dudes’ caught up with this form of entertainment.
In 1875, on May 10, Madame Rente’s “Female Minstrels” appeared at the Music Hall and for the occasion as a special added attraction Mile Marie Delacour presented her “French Can-Can Dancers.” The two-day engagement must have been something! The local press contented itself with reviewing a production of ‘Macbeth’ at the new Opera House, merely mentioning in passing that the show at the Music Hall was very good if you liked that sort of thing. The photograph of Miss Livingston above is probably a souvenir of the event. It turned up in the 1971 exhibitions of pbotograpni ; “Reflections on a Capital”, that was such a success earlier this year at the Public Archives Building on Wellington Street The only details available considering the actual photograph are that it was taken about 187S. If so, then Miss Livingston must have been one of those female minstrels that beguiled the community for two evenings in May. The photo of Miss Annie Blake is equally mysterious. In the Canada of 1870, the year “the picture was taken, her costume would have been considered daring in the extreme. The permissiveness of the 1870’s rapidly disappeared as Victorian manners and morals took hold. Burlesque entertainment vanished from the Ottawa scene and it was not until 1912 that lusty Ottawans had an opportunity to once more ogle the chorus girls. It was quite an occasion. To make up for lost time the mob carried the doors away trying to gain admittance to the old Colonial Theatre on Albert street. The show was considered to be pretty Trot stuff and although The Journal found no fault with the songs and dances they decidedly drew the line at the jokes and at the flashes of near-nudity.
On the front page the paper called for the Chief of Police to see to it that the show was cleaned up, and quickly. In a matter of days the promoters changed their plans, wisely, and quietly left town. Nickel-movies returned to the theatre. After that withering blast the belles of burlesque remained out of sight and out of town for nearly a decade. But by 1920 the girls were back in “one-act musical comedies” at the little Casino Theatre on Sussex Street, right across the street from the present Grand Hotel., Fred Leduc, a pioneer Ottawa showman brought the ladies back to town in September, 1920. The newspaper ads for the adventure were cautious but the audience knew the real thing when they saw it, and “Ben Rosenberg’s Rip Roaring Girls” quickly caught on with the Ottawa public. In fact they were such a hit that they stayed all that fall, winning the audience with “Yes, We Have No Bananas” and other-vintage songs of the period.
In the spring of 1921, Graham and Randall’s Rainbow Girls moved in, complete with their famous “beauty chorus,” if the ads are to be believed. And all for 10, and 20 cents in the afternoon; 15 cents in the balcony at night! The girls were a ‘hit’, and, in fact that delightful spring a chorus line danced out on the stage of no less than five local theatres. The ultimate seal of approval on this type of enter tainment came in May, 1921, when the Shubert organization in New York brought “The Follies” to the old Russell Theatre, then the town’s leading legitimate ‘house.’ The Ottawa Journal attended, and the headline read “Stand ing Room Only.” “While the average girl show is still frowned upon by many, this reporter came away greatly pleased with the performance. The showgirls were above average in appearance and the audience expressed their keen appreciation each time they appeared.” . Meanwhile, burlesque continued, at the Casino throughout the decade, with occasionally a season of French-Canadian vaudeville.
But as time went on the novelty wore off; the management and even the name of the theatre, changed they called it the Capital and by the end they were showing silent films only. The ‘talkies’ arriving in 1929, brought the era to an end and the little theatre reluctantly closed its doors. The building was converted to a hotel. This, in turn, has now been demolished. ( In this permissive age ‘burlesque’ has become a lost art. A century ago, when Lisa Weber and her London Blondes came to the Music Hall, the press raved, concentrating, for the sake of modesty, on her ankles! Fifty years later, in 1920, burlesque was still ‘hot stuff.’ Today, however, although the heat has long since cooled, many an old Ottawan well-remembers those Rip-Roaring Girls of the Casino Theatre of 1920.
Doris Blackburn/ Karen Blackburn Chenier gave me this beaded belt from the 1920s. What is the story behind it?
This very unusual beaded sash belonged to Vaudevillian Joe Mark’s wife Gracie. They were part of the illustrious Marks Brothers. From Perth, Ontario they toured North America from the 1870s into the 1920s.
As the Marks Brothers had grown up near Christie Lake they often returned there for a summer vacation. The rest of the year was spent travelling or performing in New York City. Read all about the Marks Bros. here.. CLICK
One day when Sophia accompanied Arden on his mail route, Gracie happened to meet them at their mail box. After a short chat she offered Sophia this belt to keep as a souvenir of their appreciation of Arden’s mail service to the Mark’s family.
Doris Blackburn 2008
Sophia was my Grandma Blackburn, *Arden’s wife who used to do the mail route every day with him. There is a book about my Grandpa Blackburn and his mail route stories His route ran from the Perth post office to Christie Lake and back. He delivered mail, groceries and even people. Quite the characters I met including a “hermit” named Dickie Peters who never came out of his little shack except to wave to Grandpa. As I often say to people “I can’t make this shit up.” Karen Blackburn Chenier
Theirs was a bond born in nature. United by water, the early inhabitants at Christie Lake were drawn into a community that came to transcend politics, religion and sometimes even family. Over time they gathered to work, to play and to celebrate the beauty that was around them. Located approximately 15 kilometres southwest of Perth, Ontario, Christie Lake is the third largest lake in what is known as the Tay Watershed. Follow the community’s mailman as he uses the North Shore Road to weave a thread that brings together this unlikely blend of permanent residents and summer vacationers
A staged promo shot for the Marks’s production of Bringing Up Father, with Tom as Jiggs and Gracie as Martha. 1920s
The Middle class Victorian families were at always happy at leisure in their drawing rooms or parlours playing chess backgammon or some other game board singing around their expensive upright pianos.
The Victorians had an appetite for the exotic and the strange, no doubt about it. They wanted novelty like the strange vaudevillian shows and feature presentations. They found joy in strolling entertainers around town such as dancing bears, *monkeys, the fire eaters and the jugglers. I have read many times that sometimes the Vaudevillian shows staying in our towns would provide a free street show at lunchtime… or some even sat in windows demonstrating their talents.
In October of 1887 a performing bear was listed as causing chaos in Lanark County. The postmaster of Perth shared his home with a travelling performer with his dancing bear. The postmaster accommodated the Bruin with a bed in the barn being careful to make sure he was chained at the stake.
In the small hours the bear got loose and went on a foraging expedition killing hens, skimming milk pans, and eating butter on the host’s supper table. The postmaster hearing a noise came down the stairs in his robe de nuit to see what was going on. When the two met face to face the Bruin hit down after feasting on the milk and butter. The postmaster escaped but his garment was rent. The bear’s owner was made to leave quickly after that and the postmaster demanded he had to pay $10.
Lewis and Wardrobe Hippolympian appeared many times at The Chatterton House Hotel. They performed songs and choruses, acrobatic and gymnastic feats, contortions etc. The Carleton Place Herald reported that Lewis and Wardrobe also formed themselves into a brass band and performed in the town streets wherever they went. Nothing but talented, unique, and beautiful people.–Part 6-The First Mosh Pits in Carleton Place — The Opera House of the Chatterton House Hotel
Original Marks Brothers Poster – now in the third floor exhibit at the Perth Museum. From left to right: Back – Joseph, Thomas, Robert, Alex, Earnest : Front – John, McIntyre
Did you know we had our very own version of the Marks brothers? Not Harpo, Groucho and Chico. I mean Joseph, Thomas, Robert, Alex, Earnest, John and McIntyre a dapper looking dramatic company of Perth, Ontario-based brothers and their wives who travelled across North America bringing Vaudeville-style shows to entertainment-starved towns, both small and large. Ernie’s wife Kitty also performed with the group but the main attraction was Robert’s wife, May Bell Marks. Most of them stayed at the Queen’s hotel in Carleton Place and if you have followed my other blogs see related reading below) I have written about several of them.
According to Amazon. com The Marks Brothers formerly known as The Emma Wells Co. may well have been the most remarkable theatrical family in Canadian history. A phenomenon on the vaudeville circuit, the seven brothers left the farm and took to the boards and the footlights throughout the latter part of the 19th century and into the 1920s.
From 1870- to the 1920 the brothers from Christie Lake, near Perth played to an estimated eight million Canadians, as well as to sizeable audiences in the United States. Their road shows, largely melodramas and comedy, kept audiences crying, booing, laughing and cheering until movies sounded the death knell for touring repertory companies. They played at our local Opera hall which was inside the Carleton Place Town Hall. It used to be a one week;s stand in most towns that they played with May A. Bell Marks playing the heroine’s role.
From all about Perth— Dec 27, 1923, Toronto – The Marks Bros Dramatic company presenting ‘The Sleeping Beauty’, an old English pantomime.
Marks Family of Christies Lake
The early history of Christies Lake is lost to posterity. “The Killarney of Canada” was the name given to it by the late Thomas Marks, the little bit of heaven set in the heart of Lanark County. It is situated 12 miles southwest of Perth in S. Sherbrooke. If there is a “Christie” who settled there and perpetrated his name in this lake no information is obtainable. The earlier known settlers in the area were the Thomas Marks family and theWilliam H. Patterson family. Thomas Marks was the father of the seven Marks Brothers who became known from one end of America to the other in the theatrical world. Robert Marks, the eldest brother, was the founder and manager of their enterprise which varied from solo tours and duos, trios and troupe entertainment all of which was in great demand by theatrical managers during the great era of vaudeville. One of the most outstanding landmarks on the shores of the lake is the old Marks homestead which is still in fairly good shape and as one ambles through the rooms one can visualize the Marks brothers practicing for a winter tour. This homestead is a great tribute to Canada’s greatest contribution to the vaudeville stage and the Marks brothers.
At the Queens and Leland hotel yards, agents were hiring teams of horses in December for winter work at Ottawa Valley lumber shanties.
Comedy Company Coming. “ The Marks Bros’. Musical Comedy Co. opened a week’s engagement in the opera house Tuesday night to a good audience. Tom Marks does not change, but is the same funny Tom as of yore, and his spontaneous wit as Dan McGinty in McGinty’s T.*oubles produces the laughter which ripplos unceasingly from curtain rise until its fall. Miss Emma Gertrude, who played the part of Ward No. 1, is a very pretty girl with a remarkably good controlled voice. The rest of the company are very good, and the show went with a snap and vim that is pleasant to see.”—Smith’s Falls News. The Marks Co. will play in the Town Hall, Almonte, for one week—Sept. 19 to 25—under the auspices of the Citizens’ Band
Perth Remembered–ARLIEDALE INN, CHRISTIE LAKE–This building was the original family farm house of the famous Marks Brothers of Christie Lake. When one of the brothers, Tom retired from the theatre he returned to Christie Lake and renovated the farm house into a hotel and named it Arliedale Inn, after his daughter Arlie.