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Sandwell, Bernard Keeble

Canada's most cultured and influential theatre critic, reviewing between 1900 and 1951, B.K. Sandwell was born in 1876 in Ipswick, England, the son of the Reverend George Henry Sandwell and Emily Johnson. He received his education from Upper Canada College and the University of Toronto, from which he graduated with a BA in 1897.

Beginning 1 September, 1900 and concluding 25 July 1914, Sandwell wrote approximately one thousand drama columns for the Montreal Herald under the pseudonyms "A First Nighter" (1900 to 1902) and as "Munday Knight" (1902 to 1913). He was an associate editor of the Montreal Financial Times (1911-18), became the founding editor of the Canadian Bookman in 1919, and was one of the founders of the Canadian Authors Association in 1921. After working as assistant professor of economics at McGill University (1919-23) and head of the Department of English at Queen's University (1923-25), Sandwell served as editor and theatre critic of the influential national weekly Saturday Night (1932-51). He died in 1954.

Sandwell wrote his Montreal Herald drama column at the height of professional American and British touring in Canada. His Herald reviews are characterized by his search for artistic beauty and poetic truth in drama rather than in the external realism prevalent in the American theatre, and by his belief in the illuminating and cathartic function of the stage and in the necessity of theatre to express both universal values and its own people and community. Sandwell encouraged his Herald readers to support significant local and foreign French-language theatre productions in Montreal and vigorously protested the American control of Canadian stages by monopolistic New York touring syndicates.

In his Saturday Night reviews from 1932 to 1951, some written under the pseudonym Lucy Van Gogh, Sandwell stimulated Canadian playwrights and the Canadian Little Theatre movement in its aim of creating an indigenous national theatre and drama. By helping to form a cultured public supportive of Canadian theatre and theatre artists through his coverage of the arts in Saturday Night, Sandwell facilitated the establishment of indigenous professional companies beginning with the Stratford Festival in 1953.

Readings: Anton Wagner. "Saving the Nation's Aesthetic Soul: B.K. Sandwell at the Montreal Herald, 1900-1914, and Saturday Night, 1932-1951," Establishing Our Boundaries: English-Canadian Theatre Criticism. Ed, Anton Wagner, Toronto: U of Toronto Press, 1999.

Profile by Anton Wagner, York University

Last updated 2021-06-11