History of Opera in Nanaimo
Today, it is a well known that culture lasts for centuries and also helps communities to attract people.
Indeed, Opera is not new to Nanaimo. It made its way to Nanaimo well over a century ago when prominent Nanaimo businessman, brewmaster and city councillor, John Mayhrer, proposed building an Opera House, and it was agreed to.
The building was designed by a well known Victoria architect, William Ridgway Wilson, and Mayhrer built it. Its doors were opened on Church Street on a brisk fall day in November,1889, and from all reports, it was an immediate and positive success.
Considered grand and sophisticated for its time, the three-storey building housed a hotel on the upper two floors with a showpiece theatre at ground level below. It featured a mirrored rotunda, an 800-seat auditorium, royal boxes, red and gold-laced curtains, galleries, and a modern orchestra pit considered unusual at the time.
For many years, Nanaimo’s Opera House served as an elegant performance venue for many prominent and successful local and touring musicians, actors, poets, artists, and vaudeville performers. It was also used for important community events.
Local poet, writer, and artist Pauline Johnson, for example, read poetry to assembled audiences there and incorporated into her performances notes from her father’s Aboriginal (Mohawk) and her mother’s English backgrounds. One of Nanaimo’s first picture shows was also shown there, too: a series of over 10,000 animated images of Edward VII being crowned King on August 9, 1902 in London, England.
Sadly fire destroyed the building, and it was never rebuilt. The impressive structure stood near where the Dorchester Hotel is located today.