Niagara’s Shaw Festival Theatre celebrates half century of entertainment

While the Shaw Festival is currently in its 61st season, the organization’s main theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake officially opened its doors 50 years ago on June 28, 1973. Photo credit: Shaw Festival


As the calendar turned to July last weekend, the 2023 season at Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake was already well underway. However, this is no ordinary season.

Tim Jennings currently serves as the Executive Director at Shaw. 

“This year marks the 61st season of the Shaw Festival and the 50th anniversary of our Festival Theatre building,” Jennings shared in a recent comment to The Niagara Independent. “How a summer theatre that ran only a few weeks a year back then managed to build such a facility and attract the heads of state of several nations (Canada, India, and the U.K.) to its openings remains a theatre miracle.”

The Shaw Festival Theatre officially began operations on June 28, 1973. It was an historic day not only for Shaw and Niagara-on-the-Lake, but also for the nation.

The grand opening ceremony took place while Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip were completing a 12-day visit to Canada. Her Majesty, who also had engagements scheduled in Toronto, came to Niagara, where she officially opened the new theatre.

The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh attended a performance of George Bernard Shaw’s You Never Can Tell.

None other than Queen Elizabeth II (pictured) and Prince Phillip were in attendance on opening day for a performance of You Can Never Tell. Photo credit: Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library

“We owe a huge debt to Paxton Whitehead, artistic director from 1967-1977; and Tom Burrows, managing director from 1971-1975; as well as Calvin Rand, founding board chair; and so many others,” Jennings shared. “(We thank them for) creating such a wonderful space from which to showcase our work to the world.”

The Shaw Festival prides itself on providing a wide variety of performances, which span across many rich genres and original plotlines. Those who visit this year will enjoy some unique offerings. 

After four years, the Narnia storyline is returning to Shaw, with a live performance adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian (Royal George Theatre). The ‘Outdoors @ The Shaw’ line-up includes A Short History of Niagara, a Gospel Choir, as well as various Coffee Concerts, just to name a few. 

The 2023 campaign will conclude during the holiday season with Christmas performances of Brigadoon and A Christmas Carol

“Much like it has from those earliest years, The Shaw continues to be a place where stories are shared, celebrated and experienced, and where people gather to explore big, unanswered questions through art,” Jennings said. 

“Though things have certainly changed since the Festival Theatre opened, it still remains the place where real human connections are created and deepened.”

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