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A Culture of Performing Arts in Kespukwitk
Performance has always been an integral part of life in the region of Kespukwitk, and especially in the Town of Annapolis Royal. The Mi’kmaq people have had a rich culture of theatre, dance, music and story-telling since time immemorial. Since European settlement in early 1600s, French, Acadian, British, Scot, Planter, Loyalists of European and African descent, and the varied international immigration of recent decades, have all contributed to the cultural vibrancy of this community. In 1606 The Theatre of Neptune by Marc Lescarbot was performed on the waters of the Annapolis River—the first European theatrical production in North America, outside New Spain. By the late 1800s, Annapolis Royal had a vibrant cultural scene.
Academy of Music and
the Bijou Dream Theatre
In 1892 eight local entrepreneurs, including Arthur M King, constructed the Academy of Music on St. James Street. It provided a venue for touring theatrical companies, lantern shows, and local entertainment. Eventually seven of the initial investors sold out their holdings until King became the sole owner. With the advent of motion pictures, the Academy became the Bijou Dream Theatre while continuing also to be a venue for live entertainment.
ARTHUR M. KING
Arthur M King was a professional photographer. His largest enterprise was the making and selling of clothing and shoes. In 1910, for example, his Annapolis Larrigan Company made and sold 17,500 pairs of larrigans or boots. In 1913 AM King & Son had the contract for making uniforms for the conductors, luggage masters and brakemen of the Dominion Atlantic Railway. On 21 December 1892, when Annapolis Royal became a town, Arthur King was one of the elected councillors. He would later serve two terms as Mayor, as would his son Claude. In 1919, Arthur King chaired the meeting that created The Historical Association of Annapolis Royal which in 2019 celebrated its 100th anniversary.
1921 Fire & King’s Theatre
On 7 September 1921, so he could watch the fire department in action, 13-year-old Tommy Miller, deliberately set fire to the barn behind the Queen Hotel, across from Fort Anne. The resulting conflagration wiped out much of the south side of St. George Street, going down St. Anthony and St. James Streets. It destroyed the Bijou Dream Theatre.
Arthur King got to work. He purchased the Corbitt property across from the Post Office, which had also been the site of the former telegraph office. At a cost of about $20,000, the King’s Theatre opened with a stage, dressing rooms on either side of the stage, an orchestra pit and seating for 400, as well as office rentals on the ground floor. Upstairs were the Odd-fellows lodge (40′ x 60′) and a dance hall (34′ x 36′).
The first event was a political rally with George Murray, Premier of Nova Scotia, on 26 November 1921, just 11 weeks after the fire. The first film was shown on 15 December, a four reeler, Land of Hope, starring Alice Brady and Jason Robards Sr. with the Annapolis Jazz Orchestra furnishing the music.
1922 to 1980
In 1922 Arthur M King took out a $12,000 mortgage on the Theatre. The 1929 stock market crash took its toll on him and his son Claude. On 24 October 1930 Claude King, who was running the King’s clothing business in the Annapolis Clothing Hall, now known as the Adams Ritchie House or Leo’s Café, took his own life there. Arthur died six weeks later on 3 December. Arthur’s wife, Janie was the executrix of his estate. On 6 July 1934 Eastern Canada Savings and Loan foreclosed. The original theatre with a flat roof to accommodate a dance hall and Oddfellows Lodge upstairs. Most of the upper storey was replaced circa 1939, giving the roof its current shape.
King’s properties, including the Theatre and Clothing Hall, were sold en bloc for $7,350 at a Sheriff’s Sale, 14 August 1934, to Fred W Harris. In the ensuing decades the Theatre changed hands several times. Probably while Arthur King was still alive, he leased the Theatre to Ernest Atkinson and AT McKenzie who continued with the new owners. They brought the capacity for “talkies” to the screen in July 1931. Atkinson and McKenzie retired in 1940. In the 70s, operating under the name of the Capital Theatre, the facility fell into disrepair. In its last years, customers coming to see movies would check the tide tables first, as at high tide the basement flooded, and the legions of rats moved upstairs into the auditorium. The theatre stopped operating in 1977.
The Annapolis Royal Development Commission
The Annapolis Royal Development Commission purchased the property in a sheriff’s sale in 1980. It then undertook a two-milliondollar renovation of the derelict theatre, adding the wing with the entry lobby, washrooms and green rooms upstairs. The first performance in the restored theatre was in March 1982. Until 1988 the Theatre operated under the direction of a Theatre Committee, later Board of Directors, responsible to the Development Commission.
King’s Theatre Society
King’s Theatre Society was formed In 1987, the Town of Annapolis Royal assumed ownership of the building and the King’s Theatre Society was formed to operate the facility. The Memorandum of Association was signed 22 December 1987 by Stuart Jamieson, John Peach, Christine Ross Harper, Nathaniel Tileston, Greg Hewey, Debra Ryan, Norma Fry, Peggy Armstrong, and Tom Bartlett. Originally an ad hoc committee comprised chiefly of members of the Annapolis District Drama Group, they became the first Board of Directors of the King’s Theatre Society. The Society was incorporated under the Societies Act of Nova Scotia on January 29, 1988. On the same date it achieved Registered Charity Status with the Government of Canada. Today, while the Theatre continues to be run by the King’s Theatre Society, the building is still owned by the Town of Annapolis Royal.