The Ottawa Little Theatre (OLT) has stood at the corner of King Edward Ave. and Besserer St. since 1928. Originally housed in a former church, it was forced to build the current facilities after a destructive fire in 1970.
The Theatre’s roots go back to 1913 when the University Women’s Club formed a Drama League to encourage amateur theatre in Ottawa. The purpose then was to ensure good attendance at deserving plays while ignoring unworthy ones. Under the leadership of Duncan Campbell Scott, the celebrated poet, the League raised enough funds to buy the Eastern Methodist Church whose congregation had recently moved after merging with the St Paul Presbyterian Church at Daly Ave. and Cumberland St.
When the Governor General, Lord Willingdon, officially opened the theatre in 1928, it was described as the largest and best-equipped of its kind in Canada. There was no local professional theatre in Ottawa and, after the Russell Theatre closed down, it was the only show in town. In the 1930s, an anonymous patron wrote that “the Drama League is entitled to public thanks for its continued good work in providing civilized plays in a veritable dramatic desert.” (Winston, 1997, p 34)
Under the Governor General’s patronage – Lord Bessborough not only attended plays but designed sets and his son played several roles – the Theatre thrived and became an important social gathering place, attracting diplomats and members of high society. The Theatre’s importance was further enhanced by hosting the newly-formed Dominion Drama Festival for its first five years in the 1930s.
Several well-known Canadian actors and comedians, including Rich Little, Dan Ackroyd and William Shatner, played at the OLT. Yusuf Karsh, the famous photographer, volunteered backstage at the OLT and credits his experimentation with stage lighting for helping him with his art. He not only met influential people there, such as Lord Bessborough whose portrait he took, but also his future wife Solange Gauthier.
The OLT has staged over 1000 plays in its first century and is one of North America’s oldest continuously-producing community theatre companies. All directors, designers, actors and stage crew are volunteers and the theatre earns most of its income through ticket sales, making the OLT truly a community-based organization.Today, the OLT specializes in popular dramas and comedies, offering a suite of nine plays a year.