Victoria's Victoria: Theatre Royal

Local Theatre at the Theatre Royal in the 1860's.

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Theatre Royal : Main

The majority of performances at the Theatre Royal in 1860's were amateur. The Kean's performance was a notable exception.

The Theatre Royal (1861-1884) was a place of many performances throughout the decade of the 1860's. Amateur musical concerts, drama and fundraisers displayed the local talent in Victoria in the grandest theatre of the day. The newspaper of the day, the Colonist, reported that the "opening of the theatre was very welcome as a result of the current "available talent now in Victoria, (which) strengthened with new engagements."1

B.C. Archives 
Title: Theatre Buildings
Call # A-03008
Victoria's Theatre Royal 1860's
(Image courtesy of BC Archives)

One of the first performances in the theatre was the Victoria Philharmonic Society. The presentation had often been deferred due to a lack of proper venue, but on the evening of June 25, 1861, the Society performed "before a brilliant and appreciative audience."2

The Victoria Philharmonic Society was an amateur troop, but their acceptance by theatre attendees was indicative of the previous absence of musical performances. Another amateur musical association, Les Enfans de Paris, was a vocal ensemble. The colonist reported that " with two such societies (Victoria Philharmonic Society and the Les Enfans de Paris) as Victoria now possesses, we should enjoy many musical treats during the coming season."3

Drama was also presented in amateur form at the Theatre Royal. The Amateur Dramatic Association of Victoria, (A.D.A.V.) established itself in 1862 by "a number of prominent gentlemen…with His Excellency Governor James Douglas (becoming) the official patron of the association."4
Governor Douglas', successor, Governor Kennedy continued this tradition and in 1865 "he made a show of cultural philanthropy using…public funds (as) the town could not support a professional company."5
Over the years, monies raised by the A.D.A.V. went to support local charities like the Royal Hospital and the Victoria Cricket Club among others. Being amateur theatre, performed by socially prominent men, as well as being a charity fundraiser, the audience, like in the 1866 Cricket Club Benefit, were also the most prominent local citizens. Governor Kennedy and family, Chief Justice Begbie, and the Admiral of the British navy were all in attendance.

B.C. Archives 
Title: Royal Hospital
Call #:   C-08843
The Royal Hospital received money raised by the A.D.A.V.'s performance in 1862
(Image courtesy of the BC Archives)

B.C. Archives 
Cricket Team
Call # A-02589
The Victoria Cricket Club received funds from the A.D.A.V's 1866 Cricket Club Benefit.
(Image courtesy of the BC Archives )

Other than the Keans in 1864 and a performance by an Italian operative troupe in 1866, there was little 'truly' professional about theatre in Victoria in the 1860's. The lack of professional theatre allowed amateur theatre to become burlesque in style, and since "colonial life was a subject worthy of burlesque,"(while) high drama belonged elsewhere" political satire entered the productions.6
The A.D.A.V. often produced the "political satire of the state of the Colony."7
On February 22, 1867, they roasted the new governor of the united Colony of British Columbia. Governor Seymour, not being well liked in Victoria, was satirized as being "high and dry" in his yacht, the Leviathan, in Victoria's Inner Harbour, an event, which actually occurred.8

The city outgrew its near total dependence on amateur theatre in the 1870s beginning with theperformance of Ms. Anna Bishop in 1873.
B.C. Archives 
Call # D-07816
Title:  Victoria Theatre Corner of Douglas.

The Victoria Theatre at Douglas and View opened in 1885 replacing the Theatre Royal
(Image courtesy of the BC Archives)


1. Colonist, June 17, 1861 p. 3.

2. Colonist, June 27, 1861, p. 3.

3. Colonist, July 22, 1861, p. 3.

4. Chad Evans, Frontier Theatre, (Victoria: Sono Nis Press, 1983) p. 21.

5. Evans, Frontier Theatre, p. 22.

6. Evans, Frontier Theatre, p. 23.

7. Evans, Frontier Theatre, p. 23.

8. Evans, Frontier Theatre, p. 23.

A Look Inside Victoria's Theatre Royal

Charles and Ellen Kean : British Fame Visits Victoria

Colonial Politics and the Theatre


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