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A Brief History of the Deep River Players

"In late 1946, a group of people, encouraged by Jill and John Stewart, started meeting to read plays. Inevitably some of them, led by Peter Stewart (no relation) soon began to think of staging. Two one-act plays were presented in early 1947, and, at much the same time, a public reading of The Importance of Being Earnest (Wilde) was given. A meeting was held in the room behind the old Post Office (now Ritters), a constitution was drawn up and the Deep River Players was formed."
(from the Deep River Players archive book)

Over the next forty years the Deep River Players brought over 200 plays, workshops, pub nights, and readings to the town of Deep River, Ontario. They participated in numerous Eastern Ontario Drama League festivals and often returned with trophies for their efforts.

In the beginning the Players were the life's blood of entertainment in an isolated hamlet lacking many urban cultural institutions. The town did not want for culture, however, nor talent, enthusiasm, or the peculiar limitless energy of a young and young-at-heart population.

The Players' home for most of their first four decades was Hill House on Ridge Road. It took a few years to acquire their beloved landmark however:

"1953/54 could have been disastrous for the Players. Many of the early members left town or were involved in a new round of babies. There were no directors, few members, little money and low morale. Two events waved the groupů Hill House and the Directors' Course run by Michael Meiklejohn of the Ottawa Little Theatre.

"Until 1953, the Players had no real "home". Rehearsals were held whenever space could be found .. the Community Centre, Staff Hotel, the old Yacht Club, members' homes. Sets also were built anywhere available, even, I believe, in one of the townsite labs. Costumes and props were stored (and frequently lost) in people's basements.

"During the war, a small POW camp was built along the top of what is now Hill Park. In 1953 the dirt road to the village dump (the top of Laurier) was still lined with barrack huts, empty of Germans, but crowded with junk behind their cracked windows and flapping tarpaper. In one small section of a hut where 1 Mountainview now stands, the Players stored flats among the Woodworking Club's tools.

"Early in the year AECL decided to destroy the camp. Dick Fowler was the moving spirit behind negotiations to save one barrack for club activities. The other huts were cannibalized to make repairs, the building was sheathed in asbestos shingles, and Hill House was handed over, one wing to the Woodworking club, the front section to the Scouts, and the other wing to the Deep River Players and the Choral Society.

"AECL provided some materials, but the groups provided the work parties. In our wing, all among choral rehearsals, and rehearsals and set building for "Bell, Book and Candle" and "Fumed Oak", every available minute went into fixing the inside. The consume room was partitioned off; the old shower stall was ripped out, and the space became kitchen and bar; the toilet was divided; lino was laid, and the walls and pillars painted (AECL green and ox-blood).

"The grand opening was Dec. 5, 1953, a party thrown jointly by the Drama Club and Choral Group, with the Players presenting "Fumed Oak" and the Choral Group doing the catering.

"A proscenium of some sort was rigged up, and one of the smaller blue curtains from the Community Centre was borrowed. (These "blues", incidentally, which we still use occasionally, came originally from Nobel, when the community Centre was moved over from Parry Sound). There was no money to spare to make a stage so "Fumed Oak" was acted on the floor level, in the space between two sets of pillars (13 feet X 9 feet). Staging cost 50 cents, costumes 25 cents, and the Treasurer raised Hell over the $15 royalty!

"The second play, "Rise and Shine", was performed on picnic tables, using the space between for the graves. And if I can remember rightly, there was yet another variation for the third show when we put part of the audience on the picnic tables. Finally, enough 4'X4' boxes were built for the stage area."

(from the Deep River Players archive book)

The sheer number and quality of productions over the years bespeaks the dedication and drive of the Players' core members, with the support (tolerance?) of their families. With time, however, the aging demographics and changing entertainment scene brought about the demise of the Players in the mid-Eighties.

Rather, it was more of a hibernation: Some twelve years later, in 1998, the Players were resurrected by a new generation of drama enthusiasts (with a few of the former Players rejoining). Very much a literal "renaissance", the club had to rebuild much of its infrastructure and talent pool.

The old drive and dedication are evident, however, and the Players continue to be a home and outlet for theatre lovers in the upper Ottawa Valley. Achievements of the "new" Players include, among other things, a well-remembered production of Jesus Christ Superstar in 2001, spawning a whole new group in town, the Deep River Musical Society.

Please enjoy the following brief sampling of photos spanning the first four decades of the Deep River Players, as preserved in the club's archive book (note: photos from the "new" generation of Deep River Players' productions can be found linked to the list of past productions).

"Monkey's Paw", one of first two one-act plays, taken on the road, including a radio performance on CHOV radio, 1947.

"Arms and the Man", 12th Annual Eastern Ontario Regional Drama Festival, Kingston, 1951.

1953 view of Deep River, with Hill House in the foreground (the left U-shaped building).

Director's course, 1953: Michael Meiklejohn (Ottawa Little Theatre)
Front row: John Stewart, Val Mackintosh, Jill Stewart, Dee Grummitt, Lorna Bourns, Sheila Ware, Freda Laurence
Back row: Bill Prosser, ?, Ray Bolger of Renfrew, six sisters from St. Mary's School.
Five days in total; "Michael presented a simple but detailed outline of the basics of directing. The course covered analysis of the script, set and costume design, casting meetings, blocking, French scenes, polishing, makeup, plus the duties of all members of the cast and crew.

"In the years since, almost all the Players who attended the course have directed at least one production , and the printed notes have been used to help start up group in Pembroke, Petawawa, and Wawa."

1953 workshop - a scene from Midsummer's Night Dream: Val Mackintosh as Puck, Bill Prosser as Srarveling, John Steward ats Bottom and Bill Beale as Snout.

"The Holly and the Ivy", Norm Russell, Harry Spenceley, 1957.

The Players' Val Mackintosh (best supporting actress) and the Ottawa Little Theatre's Rich Little (best actor), EODL Festival, 1960.

"The Music Man", Russ Merredew and Isabelle Holmes, 1974.

"Chinamen", Neil Smith and Nancy Winnegar, 1977.

"The Hollow Crown", Malcolm Harvey, Bill Buyers, David Ward on piano, 1979.

The view inside Hill House, circa 1980.

"The Twin Sinks of Allan Sammy", Chuck Russell and Jeff Brisebois, 1982.

"Oliver", 1981.

"The Puschcart Peddlars", David Thompson and Ron Davies, 1984.

"See How they Run", 1985.